I love a good daily creative practice. I recently started a daily collage challenge, to continue until the end of quarantine. It’s only the fourth day, but I already feel like my love of collage has been rekindled. And as I was making these I realized that I’ve been a collage artist since childhood and in these past 30 years I’ve accumulated a good mix of techniques and tips for getting the most out of a collage experience. And I’d love to share those with ya’ll!
Paint the background first. This is one way to just get started and defeat the intimidating blank page. You might end up covering the whole background with your collage or it might show through.
Draw a shape, then collage inside of it. This is a relaxing way to collage, it’s like coloring in a coloring book. Just fill the shape, la la la. It can produce some surprising results. It’s also satisfying to see the chaos contained in this way.
Cut something out, then flip it. Displays a predictable form in a surprising and surreal way.
Layering. I would argue that layering is essential to collage. Ways to do this are using translucent paper or transparencies, tissue paper, netting, watered down paint, etc. My favorite technique is using (usually white) watercolor or watery acrylic paint on top of the collage when I’m done, allowing some images to come through more vivid, and some more subdued. It also gives the whole shebang a nice cohesiveness. It really ties the room together.
Try different ways of cutting. Fringe, weaving, confetti, open a window.
Find your focus, then work around it. Find one image that speaks to you, that you know is a necessary component. Let everything else support it.
Find a starting point, then discard it. Sometimes an image pulls you in and then later becomes unnecessary. Nothing is sacred. Let it fall away if it’s holding you back.
Consider your composition. Pretend you are a chef in a fancy restaurant. The plating is as important as the flavor of the meal. Make it exquisite.
Images of people and text: use with caution. A person or a sentence included in your collage can be distracting. It can become the focus and overwhelm the overall feel and meaning of the collage. Since I gravitate towards abstract collage, I don’t want to be telling the viewer what it’s about. I want it to be open to interpretation. Which leads me to:
Try not to “say something” with your collage. Let it speak to you. Your collage will show you what it’s about, if anything. When you’re stuck, ask the collage what it needs. Usually it will tell you.
Stay connected to your intuition. Wait for that internal click that lets you know things are how to want them. Listen for the “no, no, no, no, YES.”
Don’t just look for images. Also collect colors, textures, words, shapes.
When you do choose an image, don’t always cut along its outline. You can also just use a piece of the image.
Let it breathe. Allow for space.
Use a variety of materials. Go beyond magazine pages and use different kinds of paper, pages from old books, discarded art, photos, scraps, trash.
Places to get good materials: thrift stores, used bookstores, re-use stores like SCRAP, yard sales. My favorite resource is old National Geographics, especially ones from 1930-1970. These can be hard to find and expensive, but they’re collage gold.
You may have impulses you don’t understand or even agree with. Go with it. Let it be weird. Let it be ugly, uncomfortable, let it be beautiful. Try not to get in the way.
Okay! Now I want to show you my process for the collage I did today:
Here’s the page I started with. I painted this on a different day so it was already dry.
I was really drawn to this page of the blurry pink stuff, so I cut a few shapes from it to see how it looked against the background.
Since I had some woven pieces I’d made for this demo, I tossed that on to see how I liked it.
Pretty cool! But it was getting pretty geometric and sharp. I need something round in there to balance it out.
Not bad, not bad. But not quite there yet. Suddenly, I came across this nest.
Oh yeahhhhh. That felt really right. Plus the woven sticks in the nest paralleled the woven collage bits. I’m cookin now.
Once you have things more or less how you want them, start gluing. Don’t wait until things are perfect to glue because you’re going to have to disrupt everything anyway to get the glue underneath.
After I glued it down I went over it with some subtle blotches of watercolor, and of course some splatter paint because why not.
A couple of final touches and it’s done. I often like to add fragmented words that you can barely read, I think it adds a nice texture.
And there it is. I think I spent maybe 30 minutes on this one. Quick and easy. I don’t usually name my collages but I named this one “Exploding Nest.”
Well, I hope this inspired you to get into collage!