Collage Queen Paria has created collages for everyone from Olivia Rodrigo to Rihanna. Here are her expert tips for how to make unique, eye-catching digital designs.
Instagram is full of rich, visual content – from photos and graphics to mesmerizing video. However, there’s one medium that really stands out in the feed: collage. The technique has become a popular digital art form thanks to creators like Paria Mahboobi, AKA Labyrinth of Collages, who’s a driving force behind the rise of Instagram collage.
Inspired by her ‘Magic and Muses‘ philosophy, Paria has created eye-catching, dreamy collage designs for some big names, including Interscope Records artists Olivia Rodrigo and Lana Del Rey. She’s also collaborated with the world’s biggest brands and celebrities, from Elle, Vogue, and Netflix, to Savage X Fenty founder and global superstar Rihanna.
I started creating digital collages when I was in high school. It was something I did as a creative outlet, as I wasn’t great at drawing or painting. I studied Media and Communication with a major in public relations at University with no intention of studying art and design. I’m a self-taught artist, so my style has gone through many changes over the years.
For the most part, it’s an expression of myself and my creativity. When I was creating collages as a teenager, I wanted to focus on empowering figures – women mostly – while incorporating my love for fashion and popular culture. I was learning about feminism and reading a lot on fashion at the same time. Now I like to express my own thoughts and interpretations of things while still drawing inspiration from fashion and pop-culture.
I wish I could give an in-depth explanation, but a lot of it is simply experimenting with Photoshop (and clicking an excessive amount until I reach the desired effect). I like to take pictures of sunsets and draw inspiration from the colors – I’m drawn to a lot of pinks, oranges and other warm hues. The rest is just having fun with the image until I’m happy with the end result.
A lot of it starts with how I’m feeling – whether it comes from a place of happiness, excitement or the opposite. Then I’ll start searching for images that express those emotions for me. Last year, I found myself using a lot of tiger and lion images captured in mid-roar. It was my interpretation of expressing empowerment and finding a voice when things feel hopeless.
I’ll often add my own words or quotes that express the way I feel, and that becomes the theme of the collage. I like awards season because then I can incorporate inspiration I draw from the films I’ve watched. Slim Aarons and Sofia Coppola are on my mind a lot for those kinds of collages. A lot of it is just taking in inspiration from films, books, music and my own emotions.
In a literal sense, ‘magic’ was how I explained the creative side of collage – such as Photoshop, cutting, scanning and layering. The ‘muse’ aspect refers to anyone I use as the hero of the work. Especially in the beginning, I was looking to women and fashion houses I was inspired by, and who were unapologetic and taking control of their own narratives. ‘Muses and Magic’ also has a nice ring to it, so I’ve always loved using it to sum up my work. It definitely has led me to create things with intention and collaborate with brands and people that are are aligned to the philosophy.
As of right now, I love creating Hollywood-inspired collages. Growing up, I was always fascinated with Hollywood, and even now I appreciate the glitz and glamour of it all while still watching it from afar and seeing through the facade. I have fun creating those collages and I love mixing references from old Hollywood with the new.
Mostly though, I love the Met Gala. That’s when my creativity is at its peak. I love researching the theme weeks ahead of the event, creating the collages and uploading them in real time. It’s fun, challenging, and Met Gala-inspired collages do really well on my page.
Adobe Photoshop is the main program I use for my work. I also use Illustrator and have experimented with other Adobe programs, but I always go back to Photoshop. I love to scan things like flowers, paper, and my own writing to include in my work. I think it adds a personal touch and makes it feel more authentic.
I think I can rightfully brag about working with Savage X Fenty until the end of time. It’s still a ‘pinch me’ moment. The project came around in late 2020 when we were still in lockdown, so it gave me something to look forward to and be excited about. I have also loved working with Netflix and Interscope Records. I hope I can continue creating and collaborating on meaningful and exciting projects with incredible artists and brands. I’m truly just so grateful for everything.
The events in my life, the films I watch, the books I read and the songs I listen to all give me inspiration in one way or another. If I’m in a creative block, which happened recently, it’s usually because I’m putting too much pressure on myself for a collage to look perfect. So, I stop creating collages for a week or two and give myself a break. A lot of the time, journaling re-inspires me. It puts things into perspective!
I was in disbelief that I ended up working with a brand as incredible as Savage x Fenty. I doubted myself through the entire project until I saw the end result! It was surreal to know Rihanna approved my collages and wanted to work with me in the first place. I loved the entire process and the team. It really made me more confident as an artist. I think the Savage x Fenty team had their eye on my work for a couple of years before they even approached me. A lot of the time it’s like that – people will keep an eye on your work for weeks, months or even years until they find a perfect opportunity to work on a project with you. That’s why it’s important to always keep creating and posting consistently – you never know when an opportunity might be right around the corner.
I’m not an impulsive person, and I had every intention of working a “normal” job after I got my degree. It wasn’t until the last year of university that things took off and I thought about pursuing this full-time. I gave myself a year to see if I could turn my art into a career, and it paid off. It’s made me realize I don’t need to stick to a career trajectory that is deemed “normal” or “safe”.
I’ve grown up knowing I never wanted to settle for anything. I wanted to pursue what I loved, even if that made it unconventional. I just needed the confidence to do it. The challenging part was having the “unconventional” job, and getting over my self-doubt. It still happens, but I’m steadily learning to stop caring about what other people think of me and where I’m going in life. I have a feeling I won’t be doing this forever, so I’m just making the most of it. The most rewarding part is the custom collages I get to make for people, brands and publications on social media. Sometimes they send me pictures of them framed in their houses, or share the reaction of the person they gifted it to, and it truly makes my day.
Know your worth and set boundaries! I wish I had known this when I first started out. Learning how to do this will help you avoid burnout.
I think trusting your gut is also a big part of wanting to turn your passion into a career. Being realistic is important too. Give yourself a month, two months, or year doing it full-time before you decide. There’s more to it than just the creative aspect, so be sure you want to do it for the long haul.
We hope you enjoyed this inspiring interview with the incredible Labyrinth of Collages. While you’re here, read up on these 10 Expert Tips for Mastering Digital Collage, and don’t forget to check out our Photoshop Trends and Illustration Trends for 2021. Or head to our Community Stories section for more expert interviews!