Friday, December 31, 2010

Transfiguring the World with Scissors and Glue

Making collages is something I have greatly enjoyed doing for years.  I love the whole process, the  intuitiveness and magic of it.  I love making meaning out of randomness, taking images that seem to have nothing to do with each other and interlacing them.

I don't consider myself an Artist, and it's unlikely that my collages would ever be gallery quality, but their value to me is greater than any fine work of art.  I love it when other people appreciate them, but unlike my writing, they are made mainly for my own viewing.  I do enjoy sharing them though, and especially turning people on to the joys of collage-making.  If you've never done it, give it a try! 

I start by picking a theme and motifs; it has to be something fairly loose so that I'll be open to what unexpected images reveal themselves.  The collage I started yesterday afternoon and finished this morning is my 2011 collage, with the primary themes/motifs of the color green and its associations, the heart, earth and air.

I also choose a background "canvas" right away too, as it will obviously determine how many images I can use, but it defines the collage in other ways too.  I've done several collages on mirrors, for instance.  I did one on a piece of a brown paper grocery bag, which I then burned around the edges.  I think I want to get into shadow boxes next, try some 3D stuff.  The only 3D collage I've ever done was actually more like a mosaic and was on a pencil box.  I used keys and large glass beads, and pennies.

Next I heft a stack of magazines, and sometimes old books and calendars, to my bedroom, most of which I choose randomly, but with my themes in mind I might deliberately pick some types that will be more likely to contain related images.  I then try to stick to only the stack I've chosen, although at the end of the process, if there's a gap in the collage that needs filling by something of a particular color or size, I might go look at a few others.  I didn't have to do that this time, though.

The stack I ended up with consisted of many copies of Oprah's magazine, a couple of Vogues, a jewelry-maker's catalogue, a little book about Zen called The Art of Happiness, a couple of New Mexico magazines, a couple of issues each of National Geographic, Spirituality & Health, and Garden Design, a tiny book called Roman Wisdom, and one copy of Martha Stewart's Living.

I love the indulgence of closing myself in my room and flipping through magazines with scissors in hand.  A friend once gave me an X-Acto knife for collage use as a gift; I gave it a try but found that I much more enjoy using scissors, and I'm pretty darn good with them.

So I cut out a bunch of stuff I think might work, and once I've gone through all the magazines I start laying out pieces on the background.  It's really like putting a puzzle together, and I'm always amazed how certain things fit together as though they were made for each other.  Other pieces are trickier, and sometimes I have to just put one aside and realize it's not going to work.  But if there's a piece I really want in there, I'll find a way to fit it.

This is what my bedroom looks like when I'm in the middle of a collage:

Once it's all arranged the way I want, I usually leave it overnight.  I think of this as a steeping or gelling process.  The pieces need time to get to know each other and see if they're going to ultimately be compatible. And I need to be able to come back to it with fresh eyes.

Then the gluing begins.  This is the trickiest part, because the puzzle can become extremely intricate, where several pieces have to be joined very precisely or they won't blend in a way that looks organic.  And so a big part of this step is figuring out what order everything needs to be glued in.  I have tried different glues, but always use good old glue sticks these days, because they cause the least possible amount of air bubbles and wrinkles.  They're also easier and less messy.

Once it's done, I'll prop it up somewhere and gaze at it for a ridiculously long time.  Then I'll go have a cup of coffee or something, and come back and gaze some more.  I begin to see patterns I hadn't intended.  I tell myself a story about it, interpret it.  In the past few years I have more consciously created collages as a sort of prophecy, a picture of my intentions.  It's rather like spellcasting, really; or prayer.  And then the finished collage becomes an ongoing meditation as well as a way of tracking my progress.  There is a poetry and fluidity and mystery to a collage that opens me into deep self-discovery.  The meaning sometimes seems to make itself.  To make me.

The collage below I made shortly after my 13-year-old son was born.  It hangs in my living room and I still muse upon it:  where I was then, where I am now, what has been fulfilled, what is timeless and essential in it and becomes more obviously so over time.

One of my favorite collages because it was so fun and felt so deliciously subversive to do was on a print of Van Gogh's Starry Night.  I call it The Starry Kosmos.

  And here's the one I finished today.  Out of all my collages, I think this one inspires the most joy in me to look at.


  1. Oh, wow -- your new collage is gorgeous. Eye popping! I can identify with this post -- even though I don't do collages, my quilt art is kind of the same idea only done with cloth and then there's the addition of the stitching. But the cutouts are the really fun part. I think it's good to be a little bit of a crazy artist person. Never stop creating!

  2. Thank you!

    I would love to get into quilting but don't have the time or space. Yet.

    You're right. It's good to be a crazy artist at times. My house was a wreck while I worked on this collage, but it was totally worth it to ignore housework for a bit and indulge this side of myself.

  3. These are fantastic! you are DEFINITELY an artist! Wow.

  4. Thank you so much, Reya! It really makes me happy that you like them.



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