A quick browse of Etsy for art journals will reveal a dizzying choice of journals that range in price from $15 to $150 plus. Some are so gorgeous that I would be afraid to even write my name in them for fear of sullying their loveliness.
For those of you who have yet to encounter the art journal, here’s a quick rundown. They are a way to express yourself visually in a blank book with no rules and no judgment. Some art journaling proponents claim that doing it will help you realize you’ve always been an artist. Whatever. Many descriptions of the process begin with the all important physical journal. It can be bought or hand made. There are many blogs and websites that will tell you how to make one and give you ideas for content.
Obviously the type of paper in one’s art journal depends on the medium you want to use. I decided to use collage simply because I have lots of papers thanks to all the less than stellar monoprints I’ve made and the papers I used to clean my brayer. My journal of choice? Used children’s board books.
I got the idea from Drew Steinbrecher who often features collaged board books on his Instagram feed.
I thought it was a great idea and scoured my local library’s book sale for such books. I bought six for a quarter each, and am now sorry I didn’t buy more. Some of my purchases looked brand new.
Yesterday my friend Penny and I began our collaged board books. Supplies were simple – board books, papers, matte medium, brushes, and some kind of nonstick paper to keep the finished pages apart. The process was simple, too. Design a layout and glue the pieces down. No prep needed. In an hour and a half I managed to create three full page spreads.
I’ll trim the edges once the book is full and everything is dry. That might take a while as the heavy board can absorb a lot of moisture.
Earlier in the week I dry collaged two more pieces made with papers coated with gloss gel medium. You can see the sheen from the medium in the first one.
I’ve have fun playing with glue and paper, but my excuse for not working on the quilt now on my design wall is gone. I just got the fabric I ordered for it. It even came early, drat it.
Almost all paper collage techniques involve glue – gel medium, glue stick, Sobo, wheat paste, rice paste, etc. Because my fine motor skills are subpar I usually end up with glue, and sometimes bits of paper, all over my fingers. So I was intrigued to read about another way to collage, thanks to Julie Fei-Fan Balzer. She hosts an online monthly art book club, and one of her picks was Gerald Brommer’s “Collage Techniques.” Her review highlighted a different kind of adhering process Brommer describes.
The secret to the process is gloss acrylic medium. You coat both sides of your papers with the medium, allow them to dry, arrange them to your satisfaction, and then iron them down using release paper between the iron and paper. The iron melts the medium. The joy is once you’re happy with your composition you don’t have to take it apart to glue it down.
Yes, it has to be gloss medium because it gives paper a sticky surface, and you’d better use release paper if you value your iron.
I coated many magazine pages with medium (it dries fast) and made several compositions on watercolor paper and bristol board. The base also needs to have a gloss medium coat. The finished product has a glossy finish and is best stored covered with a nonstick sheet like wax paper.
I have several coated pages left for still more compositions. Goody, yet another form of scraps.
I can recommend Brommer’s book for serious explorations of collage. It is old, published in 1994, and the author is no longer with us; but it brims with wonderful examples of all kinds of art collages. It covers design, approaches, and specific techniques. I consider it well worth the $12 I spent for a used copy.
Infrastructure has been in the news lately, with the ongoing federal efforts to fund overdue repairs. I certainly want safe roads, dams, bridges, etc., but I confess to a tendency toward ruin porn. I find a strange beauty in dilapidated, rusted structures. I even enjoy an Instagram account that features photos of peeling, beaten up, scrawled over walls (@revenantreclaimer.)
This attraction is manifest in several of my works, including “Urban Decay.” I wrote about the piece earlier, but I’ve now finished it. Because the matte medium I used further stiffens the already painted fabric, I didn’t use batting but sewed the pieces directly onto the fabric backing. I also added tangles of thread ends and ribbon.
The fabric layers give additional texture, not unlike the buildup of paint layers on a wall. The different thicknesses of the fabrics I used (denim, damask, cotton, netting, hopsacking, interfacing) also contribute to the bumpy look. The edges are finished with yarn, and the back is covered with black felt.
Here are a few other works in my ruin porn series.
I hadn’t realized I was creating another bottomless source of scraps when I started making collages. The courses I took had us make collage papers from monoprints and paintings, and I already had a stash of magazine pages thanks to the Sunday New York Times. Pretty soon I had overflowing, unorganized piles of all sorts of papers from cut out photos, to failed monoprints and paintings, specialty papers, and postcards. And then I decided to collect text as well.
The good news was I didn’t have to iron them and these scraps took up less space than fabric, but I knew I had to bring some sort of order to my mess. Plastic pocket dividers and recycled envelopes have helped, as well as a larger plastic box for all my tissue paper. While my fabric scraps are sorted by color (mostly) I grouped my paper by photos, solid colors, cut up bits of failed collages and paintings, and text. Of course there’s still a pile of miscellaneous, but it’s much smaller now.
Lately I’ve been using my starter pieces to make collages as it’s great to have some of the work already done. My most recent collages are sewn to wallpaper samples and old sketchbook pages.
While “Blue Leaves” came together quickly, “Roundabout” took a more circuitous route. The photos are in order from first draft to finished work.
I still find myself in a quilting mindset as I seem to have a horror of any background left showing. My next collage challenge will be to leave lots of white space.
On a totally unrelated note, I came across this quote by Pablo Picasso while I was watching “Great Art Explained” about Guernica:
We are know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth, at least the truth that is given to us to understand.
Thanks to my brother I have a digital archive of photos passed down from several family members. Many identify the people and places shown, but some are just plain mysteries. My cousins have tried and failed to name the people, an unfortunate byproduct of our departed older generation who didn’t write anything on the backs of those photos packed away in old stationery boxes.
I decided to create a multi-panel mixed media piece with some of the mystery photos, which I call the unknown family. Here are some of my candidates.
I’ve settled on three panels: children, women, and groups. I plan to construct each separately, sewing on paper copies of the photos, and then connecting them with some sort of old cloth/lace, etc., so they will hang together. So far I have old linens for a base and decorations. I’m trying out various backing materials for support, but don’t plan to use batting or quilt these.
For a dry run I made a piece that features ancestral houses and an old embroidery sampler.
My test showed me the difficulties of using photos with different degrees of clarity and styles. I edited all but one to print in sepia, but still many details don’t show. I also used a lace doily of unknown origin and the decoration from a cotton lawn hanky that belonged to my mother. I added a few more embroidered flowers to try to blend the photos with the background. It’s backed with acrylic felt and a cotton print, both fused on.
I would love to see other pieces that attempt what I’m trying for, either ones you’re made or seen. Cautionary tales about what didn’t work are welcome as well.
I’ve been paper collaging like mad the past week or so to give my brain time to develop quilting plans for a few pieces. Ignoring something is often a surefire way to have solutions find me. And I wanted to work more with paper anyway.
Thanks to collage classes that have you create papers to use, I have a healthy supply of solid and patterned papers. In addition, I have a backlog of magazine pages from the Sunday NY Times, plus lots of monoprint rejects from my friend Penny. Then there are the wallpaper samples she gave me, and my rejects from monoprinting and painting classes.
So now I have a paper scrap glut in addition to a fabric one, but I’ve been organizing my papers while I work on collages.
I set out to assemble collage parts that could be used to quickly make a larger composition. I got the idea from Mary Beth Shaw of Stencil Girl, but many others have a similar approach. That went well with organizing my papers as I combined color families and similar styles and cut out images.
Then gradually the parts became whole compositions.
As per usual I crammed too much into each piece. However, I am learning to use realistic images and rely more on a glue stick rather than matte medium. (I also learned that not all glue sticks are created equal. I was satisfied with the Leeho brand I had on hand, but not with the Scotch brand.) It was making me crazy to find that each collage class I took (I relied mostly on free Creativebug classes available through my library) called for a different way to adhere paper. I found that medium is too heavy for thin magazine papers and can cause the ink to smear, especially if you use medium below and over the image. However, if you use a heavy paper like bristol or watercolor you need the medium for staying power.
I hope to continue the use of photographic images in my collages and allow for more white space. My quilting background makes me think every space has to contain some material. At some point I’ll learn that paper doesn’t fall apart if you leave part of it empty. Maybe by then I’ll have learned to keep the glue on the paper and off my fingers.