So far my goal to not buy fabric is holding up well and I’ve been patting myself on the back for my restraint. I don’t count fabric I’m given as that’s simply recycling. Then I look around my studio and notice that I have substituted mixed media supplies for fabric accumulation. Oh dear.
It began with paint and a bit of glue. I already had fabric paint, but I got serious about decent acrylic paint for gelli printing. Since different collage artists use different glues I added several types to my stash to see if I liked them better than matte medium. Then of course I needed different types of paper (sulfite, mixed media, watercolor, bristol.) Followed by markers – Posca, india ink, Stabilo; I had inherited colored pencils and an assortment of drawing pencils, but found I needed markers that could work on different surfaces. And speaking of surfaces, I learned about white, black and clear gessos; and what they could do. Then came good watercolors and good watercolor brushes. Supply accumulation was somewhat easy on my purse as my family was happy to give me Dick Blick gift cards and I was happy to use them. Also, a friend generously shared her extras with me.
By this time I had swapped a small chest of drawers for rolling supply carts, and built up a stash of collage papers. Some are paintings and prints that aren’t works of art but are starting points for more work. Others are old books and music scores to print on and children’s board books to use as journals. I scrutinize all our mail for collage possibilities.
I found there are whole classes devoted to creating collage fodder. That’s one area I don’t need help with as fodder creation is the easy part. The good thing about paint and collage is that the work goes fast; the bad thing is it can go wrong really fast. Of course painting or pasting over such areas is easier than ripping out seams as long as you let the paint dry enough.
My latest mixed media forays attempt to blend fabric with paper. I enjoy all the work on paper, but so far I don’t think the compositions are as strong as my fabric work. Of course I haven’t been at it as long.
While I’m resting up my arms and shoulders from a quilt wrestling project (why did I choose a circular quilting design?) I’ve been playing with paper. Some efforts I’ve framed, and some I’ve created as part of Willa Wanders‘ free Fodder Challenge lessons.
After living with so-so framed art for many years I decided new art in the frames would be nice. One is a collage, two are gel plate monoprints, and one is a weaving of collaged strips sewn onto paper. I had forgotten what a pain it is to frame stuff.
In between faulty measurements, I watched several Fodder Challenge lessons. Many were too cute for me. I cannot collage inspirational sayings with a straight face. However, I tackled three projects in my own way.
First I used Drew Steinbrecher‘s collage methods for gel plate printed papers, where you create one large collage and then cut it into several smaller collages, which you work on individually. The last work was done in a board book, and uses illegible words stenciled with modeling paste on tissue paper.
Next I tackled paper strip weaving with Rebecca Sower, an easy way to use collaged papers. Besides the framed weaving shown above, I wove another with strips leftover from that one, and yet one more that used a quilt calendar photo as the base. Some challenge participants wove cool diagonal versions.
My last challenge project involved Jane Chipp‘s button collage with printed tissue paper. The instructor used vintage photos printed on tissue with a home printer, and her results were charming. However, I found that my glue would smear the ink from my printer, so I used a sheet of deli paper I had brayered off on and then drawn and stenciled on. You need large, flat-back buttons, printed tissue, gesso, and matte medium (plus patience) to do this.
Finally, since I had all my collage supplies out, I made two more mixed media pieces from previous starts. My goal was to see how far I could go before the piece was overworked. I toned down some of the black on the left hand piece, which helped pull it back a bit from the overworked edge. The right hand piece began with gold blobs and ink lines on watercolor paper, got some paper glued on and cording sewed on, and ended with Posca pens and acrylic ink.
Now that I have gotten almost all the matte medium off my fingers, I hope to return to quilting in the round. Maybe next week I’ll have a finished quilt to show you.
In the week since I wrote about the Map Play class I took with Valerie Goodwin, I read two posts about art classes. The first by Jane Davies responds to a student’s comments that she wanted to play and have fun at a workshop and then had a meltdown when she was asked to dig deeper.
Making art IS about play and it IS fun, but that is not all it is, usually. If you are always playing and having fun, with no angst or frustration, and you are also generating images that really speak to you, that you find compelling, then that is just GREAT! Congratulations. Most of us also have moments of frustration and occasional meltdowns or at least self-doubt. Learning how to navigate these skillfully is part of the process.
The second, Chris’ Quilting Universe post, Am I Addicted to Taking Classes?, reviews all the quilt related classes Chris has taken and the work that resulted from them. She has taken a wide variety of classes, ranging from year long master classes to online multi-lessons to one shot workshops.
Do you take classes to learn a process or leave with a product? Do you want to learn to make art like that made by the instructor? Do you want a two hour class at a quilt show or a five day immersive course? Do you want a deep dive into one teacher’s methods or a potpourri of many teachers’ approaches?
A further permutation is in-person versus online classes, and a distinction between live online and prerecorded. An additional nuance with any online class is the amount of interaction possible with the teacher and other students. I have taken classes where I had access to videos with no interaction, to videos with a class blog, and to videos with some sort of proprietary discussion forum. Some classes use Facebook.
These are very different animals, and I believe one’s expectations should reflect the differences. For example, I took a three hour Zoom class on sewing paper collage with David Owen Hastings. I learned a well explained technique that required a minimal amount of supplies. All interactions occurred during the class, with no subsequent followup.
I also took Elizabeth Barton’s year long master class that required a deep commitment to developing designs and executing them each month. While the students could and did comment on each others work, the main focus of the class was improving our designs through Elizabeth’s critiques, which were copious. Each month we developed sketches in response to a theme, chose one to turn into a quilt, and then made the quilt.
Right now I’m taking a year long set of mixed media classes called Wanderlust. The classes are loosely organized around basic art supplies like gesso, acrylic paint, modeling paste, etc., but each instructor pretty much presents her own thing. (I have yet to see a male instructor.) While I have learned a lot about materials and techniques, I find some of the instruction to be overly focused on “playing and having fun” and what I call greeting card art. To me the missing element is learning to evaluate your work. With so many instructors and students, comments on anyone’s work is pretty much limited to “great,” “nice,” “how sweet,” etc. It’s hit or miss whether the instructor comments on student work.
Such an approach is great if your goal is to play. I have to say I had hoped for less overlap of techniques and more building on previous techniques. Again, that’s probably not doable with so many instructors. I have learned there are as many ways to glue paper as there are teachers.
This week I’ve reflected on all the quilt/art related classes I’ve taken thanks to Jane and Chris, and decided that the ones I benefited most from were process related, with a critique/feedback component. The absolute worst class I ever took was on paper and cloth marbling. All the students shared one container for marbling and we were to take turns. Let’s just say there were some interpersonal issues. I figured the two fat quarters I marbled cost $25 each, and they were ugly. I won’t try to name the best class I ever took as there are too many candidates.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with art classes, both in person and online. Do you have any recommendations for outstanding classes/teachers?
Each year the National Collage Society holds a small format members’ exhibition. Since the the exhibit of eighty-six 4 by 6 inch works was held at Summit ArtSpace in Akron, I made a point of going to it. At first it seemed out of scale to walk into a large room with one horizontal line of very small works on three walls, but you forgot that once you drew closer to the pieces. I was amazed at the detail the artists packed into such small real estate.
While almost all the works merited close examination, here are the ones that really caught my eye.
Speaking for myself, it’s much easier to work at small scale with paper than with fabric, unless you’re only fusing. And that’s essentially collage with fabric. Now, that’s a thought – a paper-fabric collage using Mistyfuse. I’m sure many have already tried that, but it’s a new idea to me. I certainly have plenty of paper and fabric scraps to use.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m enrolled in a mixed media class called Wanderlust. The idea is to learn to use several mixed media materials that are considered staples. We’ve run through gessos and image transfers. Now we’re doing modeling paste.
While I had seen modeling paste mentioned in more craft oriented mixed media publications, I had ignored it. I didn’t see it being applicable to fabric (in all senses.) Now that I’ve expanded my universe to paper I’m trying it out.
Of course there are several weights of the stuff – light, regular, heavy. No art supply is ever simple. Since the class focuses on art journals we need to use the lighter weight. Otherwise no one could close their journal. All the instructors compare it to cake icing in terms of texture and spreadability. In a nutshell, you spread it on paper with something like a palette knife and then stamp on it or score it with tools. You can also apply it through a stencil. The base color is white, but it can be tinted with about any kind of paint – acrylic, watercolor, gouache, or ink.
Here are my efforts so far.
I’m working now on tinting the paste, and stamping it with watercolor painted stamps. You get an impressionistic effect. Here’s a trial sample.
Maybe I’ll try it on fabric, though I think a heavier type like canvas would be best. You certainly couldn’t stitch over it as it dries hard, so perhaps it could be a final layer. More discoveries await me.
Sometimes I like a continuing program of classes rather than a one shot deal, and Everything Arts’ Wanderlust lessons in mixed media and art journaling are delivering weekly doses of something new. Since I started exploring mixed media in 2020 I have learned much about paper and fabric collage, monoprinting, and even painting. But I don’t have a broad exposure to all the materials and techniques possible in mixed media.
From the video lessons so far I’ve learned about clear and black gesso (who knew there was more than white?), compressed charcoal pencils, and modeling paste, to name a few materials. As lessons are given by different teachers, most new to me, I am seeing diverse ways to approach the same materials and techniques.
Confession time: I don’t really follow the lessons, but I do try out the materials and techniques. The broad idea of the class is to create your work in an art journal. At the end of the course you have a consolidated arrangement of all you’ve created. I grab whatever’s on hand and work on that. So far I’ve used wallpaper samples, old pre-stretched canvases, children’s board books, and watercolor paper. I do indeed have nice unblemished paper, but somehow I feel constrained to reuse stuff. It must be the result of a childhood of saving the “good” dishes for company.
None of what I’ve made is finished work, but messing around is lots of fun.
The next lessons will delve more into modeling paste, so who knows what I’ll make. If I don’t like this week’s lesson there always will be a new one next week for the next few months.
Apparently I was overly enthusiastic in coating magazine pages with gloss medium for ironed collages. I had lots of colorful pages left so I created a few more collages, using the technique I mentioned earlier from Gerald Brommer’s book, “Collage Techniques.” This time of year around the winter solstice I need all the brightness I can get.
And I still have a few bits left, though my inspiration will have quite a stretch to make anything coherent from them. I realize some of you may think I’ve already reached incoherence in the above work.
Why make these? I find them helpful exercises in composition as colors and some shapes are predetermined. They also help me learn to step away from the original photo subjects to create a new context. Finally, they scratch my scrap itch, only with paper.
Over the years I have received many arts and crafts leftovers – fabric, thread, paper, paint, frames, patterns, books, quilting rulers, etc. This Thanksgiving I’d like to thank the donors, and especially three people who have given me a lot of goodies.
First, Penny has generously shared any collage bounty that’s come her way – papers, wallpaper samples, and less than perfect monoprints she’s made. She’s also given me lots of fabric, plus other crafting supplies. Some of the fabrics can be seen on the fronts and backs of my quilts. I’ve used her castoff monoprints in many collages. The wallpaper samples are great for rubbing textures, backgrounds, and even holiday cards.
Then, Felice, a talented embroiderer and quilter, gifted me large scrap bags of felted wool, left over from her many quilts. The scraps have spoiled me for hand stitching. I don’t want to work with anything else. Many of the scraps are in an incomplete project, but I’ve used a few in mixed media pieces. As a bonus, many pieces already had fusing on the back.
Finally, all my glittery fabric desires have been fulfilled by Jasen, the costume designer at Weathervane Playhouse, where I volunteer. Occasionally he’ll save leftover hand dyed fabric for me as well. In return, I’ve made him art quilts that used his fabrics.
Many others have shared their bits and bobs with me through give away tables at quilters’ meetings, online giveaways, or “here, would you like to have this?” casual conversations. I have been inspired by and used much of the bounty, and have in turn shared stuff that I know I won’t use. Still, my fabric/textile closet is full, and then there’s the chest of drawers that’s also full of fabric.
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.