I have made paper collages since I was very young, maybe 4 or 5 years old. One of the first pieces I remember making was a butterfly. I used the image of a carrot as the body of the butterfly, but I do not remember what I used for the wings. I wish I could see it again. I do recall that I had to use “baby scissors”. They had small thin embossed metal blades that had little rounded tips so I could not cut myself. I was also given a bottle of mucilage, a plant-based non-toxic glue, which I don’t think they even sell any more. (That kind of adhesive is not very useful in the long run as it turns yellow or brown with age. So, even if I still had that butterfly piece today it would probably look like a monochrome moth now.)
I now follow a more introspective practice, using slightly more dangerous tools. I will outline my process here as I have found it to be a very relaxing, contemplative and often insightful exercise. It can be completed in an hour, a week, a month, or a year – as it is totally up to you to decide how far you want to explore a topic.
Preparation – I like to make a cup of tea and remind myself that whatever I create will be for my own enrichment and pleasure, not for the public. I do this in order to be more free while I work. (This might not be a necessary step if you are a person who does not overly criticize your own work in progress.)
After I lay out all the things I will need to make a collage, I get into a meditative frame of mind–I clear all stray thoughts, I ground myself. If I have not already done so, I choose my inspirational thought – something I wish to ponder and reflect upon, anything I wish to attain a deeper knowledge of. This inspiration could be as simple as how I am feeling at that moment, or bigger ideas like what goals I am pursuing, a powerful word, an affirmation (for example, I AM creative!), or a longer quote I am studying.
Supplies needed – There are many books available that can instruct you on how best to adhere the elements of your collage. In this post I will only touch upon the construction steps using very basic supplies. You will need to have only 5 items on hand to create a simple collage: 1. old magazines (and other paper products with images and patterns); 2. a sharp scissors; 3. a glue stick or other adhesive of your choice; 4. a pencil or pen; and, 5. something to adhere your collage to like a sturdy piece of cardboard. (Additionally you can gather together other supplies you might like to use, like – gel pens, stickers, rubber stamps and ink pads.)
Gathering without analyzing – Now it is time to gather together the wide range of images, ideas and materials you will need to draw from when working on your collage. (You may wish to start playing some music in the background at this point.) This is the stage of the process which partially determines how long the project will take. If you have appropriate materials and images on hand you can complete this step quickly, if you don’t, or if you feel you do not have enough to work with, you will need to go out and search for good materials.
Flip through the magazines cutting or ripping out pages that you are attracted to, don’t analyze any of your choices at this point, just keep flipping and ripping. As you sort through your images repeat the word or quote in your mind, look for any free associations that occur. Set aside anything that you feel goes along with your theme, a certain shade of paper, a certain word that pops out at you from an advertisement, a large landscape, a golden candy wrapper. These pages might contain images, colors, patterns, text, or other items that consciously, or subconsciously, you feel fit in with the theme of your inspirational thought.
This is a very meditative practice. I happen to have a couple of boxes full of ripped pages and images saved over the years, so I go through them first before I go through new magazines I may have. (This takes me a couple of hours.) I enjoy this part of the process almost as much as making the collage itself.
Okay, so, set these ripped pages aside and keep going until you want to stop. If you don’t want to stop, don’t! There are no rules here. Set aside these things until you feel a shift, a gut feeling that you have enough, and that’s when it’s time to get to work.
Culling – Clean your work area a bit. Keep only your ripped pages and place all the other magazines where they will be out of your way. Make yourself a another cup of tea if you need some hydration. Sit back, and slowly look at all the materials you’ve selected. Read or think about your inspiration again and decide which of the items you really feel pulled to, which are the most attractive? At this point I take out my scissors and begin cutting out images, elements, and text and other details I especially like. Cull the pages that you do not feel strongly about. But, keep them close at hand in case you need just “one more” element to complete the collage later.
Arranging and re-arranging – Lay out a nice sturdy piece of illustration or cardboard, something appropriately sized based on the images you intend to use. Decide if you will “treat” the board in any way by applying paint, an overall background image, or sheet of solid-colored paper. Without using any glue, begin arranging your images on the board, think about whether or not you intend to place the text of the quote on the finished collage and where you would want it.
Finishing – When you feel you have a final composition, when it makes you happy, take a photo of it on your phone, or use the “old fashioned” method and lightly mark the placement using your pencil. (This way when you have applied the glue to the back of each element you will be able to place it back where you intended it to be.)
Glue everything to your board. Of course, you must glue the background elements down first and then layer the other elements on top. I use a glue stick for paper elements and a strong tacky glue for heavier items.
You are done! Give your finished collage a title and make sure to write it, along with the date completed and your name, on the back of the board.
Final thoughts – I sometimes attach all the paper items to the board using an acrylic medium (available at art supply stores in a gloss or matte finish.) However, I do not recommend using medium without practicing first with paper scraps because it can create bubbles and wrinkles if you are not used to using it. It can also make certain papers soggy and they might get damaged. I will sometimes coat the finished piece with a layer of the same medium as a “varnish”. This not only gives the piece the look of a painting, but it protects the surface as well. If you decide to finish your piece with this method I recommend that you “varnish” before you attach any heavier, not paper, items.
COLLAGE PARTY / WORKSHOP
For an interesting “workshop” consider inviting some friends over to create pieces inspired by a particular word, quote, or perhaps an entire book that you have all read.
Mail the selected word/quote/etc. with your invitation; or choose a theme and have each person come with a quote of their own choosing.
You provide food and other refreshments, as well as a couple of collage making supplies like backing boards, magazines and glue.
Have each of your guests bring their own scissors, more old magazines, and maybe some other fun elements like old greeting cards, wrapping paper, rubber stamps, fabric scraps, notions and ribbon.
Set all the materials on a table, or in the middle of the floor on a washable tablecloth (like a picnic); Have some quiet music playing. And, encourage “parallel play.” (It’s what two and three-year old children do– making your own little mess, and learning something on your own, but with the comfort of having your friend right beside you making his/her own little mess. You can glance over and talk a little while you play, maybe steal a neat idea or two without guilt, each one coming into his or her own, and reaching their own conclusion, their own finished piece.)
After everyone has created a collage, go around the room and each person can tell their story and share what each of the elements in their collage means to them.
Although my collages do contain images and pieces of material copyrighted by other photographers and artists, I consider them new creations. I am thankful and grateful to anyone who has inspired me with their art work or provided wonderful photographs that I’ve clipped from major magazines such as National Geographic, and I hope that you (the artists and photographers who created these original images) will allow me to display my collages in this venue. All the work displayed here is ©Laurie Early No use is permitted without permission from the artist