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.
Like many quilters who have been at it a while, I have plenty of fabric. Years of trips to quilt shops and gifts from former quilters have fleshed out my stash. And the internet has made it so easy to acquire more. I keep swearing I’ll use only what I already have or create myself.
Then comes the message about the sale – 50% off on fat quarters! And it’s from Spoonflower, which means I can create my own fabric without any mess. The offer was too tempting for me to pass up, so I edited a few photos, including collages I’ve made, and sent them in.
This is a large collage with many different thicknesses of paper, which caused the piece to buckle. I should have done it on a board or heavier paper. However, I now have a non- rippled version.
I won’t use the above fabric as is, but will cut it up in some fashion.
I plan to cut up the three fat quarters into blocks and make an almost traditional quilt with them. Knowing me, it will be a summer project.
Here’s hoping I ignore all future fabric sale come ons. It’s not so much the money, but how many more quilts can I make, honestly?
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.
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.
My January line a day challenge did go for all 31 days, though I stretched some work out over a few days. While the original intent was to keep the time spent on each response short, sometimes that didn’t happen. I am sure Penny, my friend who did this challenge with me, spent way longer than 15 to 45 minutes on many of her pieces. In our defense, if you’re in the zone you want to finish your vision.
One of my prompts was to create collages from magazine images with linear elements. In some cases I didn’t glue down the pieces, but tried several arrangements.
Then, I returned to fabric to use bias tape and free motion stitching for lines. I tried a sepia edges effect with Inktense pencils.
Next, I decided to make hard line acrylic paintings on vinyl wallpaper samples to test how well acrylic paint would stick to that surface. First, I covered the wallpaper with an ombre effect wash. Then I put down masking tape and painted tones of blue, red, and yellow. I can see I need to work on getting the tape to stick down better. However, the paint does stay on.
Since January obliged me with snow I took photos of lines from my window and used Photoshop filters to add textures to them. You can see how often the deer tromp through my yard.
In the last few days of the month I combined the fabrics I had printed with other linear fabrics to make a small quilt.
My notes indicate I made something linear every day in January, but I’ve shown only some of my output.. Not all the results are worth showing, though they were worth doing. I learned that a set daily theme made it easy to get right to work. I tried to use different media to expand my artistic toolbox, though I can see how that could lead to a “master of none” situation.
As you can see, I often responded to different prompts than Penny, and produced different work. Aside from cheesecloth, she didn’t use fabric. My work is more hard edged and boldly colored than hers, in part due to the different media we used. However, Penny’s palette is softer than mine and she likes to create layers. But, the challenge wouldn’t have been fun if we had the same responses, so vive la difference.
My husband and I were fortunate enough to be able to self-isolate for much of 2020, so we’ve remained untouched by the Corona virus. Self-isolation gave me lots of time to devote to my art, and I think I made good use of the time to explore different media. After all, I have been saving collage making material for many years. It became if not now, then when? I know many artists found themselves too distracted for sustained creative work, but art became my escape hatch from grim reality.
I was also fortunate to have a friend who was eager to try out some online classes and videos with me, and we shared our efforts with each other thanks to technology, as well as art supplies through porch drop offs. You can read about our different takes on a Jane Davies class here.
Of course I continued to make art quilts, and you can check out that work on the “My Quilts 2019 On” page of this blog. A few were major projects, but many were experiments in using scraps.
I’m not one to choose a word of the year, but my word for 2020 would have been adapt. I tried to play the hand I was dealt. Thank goodness for Jane Davies, Julie Fei-Fan Balzer, and YouTube. With the help of these online guides I took up collage, acrylic painting, and monoprinting. I tried to combine all three in mixed media work.
I learned with “Fiddleheads” not to use canvas as my backing fabric as it is so hard to hand sew through. The matte medium on top of the paper didn’t help either. I had planned more handwork, but scrapped that notion in favor of markers. The work combines woven and non-woven fabrics, magazine pages, and mulberry papers.
“Take A Seat” started with chairs stenciled on fabric scraps. Then I stenciled on monoprints, and combined all the stenciled bits with fabric shaped like the profile of a chair.
“Covid” was my attempt to use found and made paper images in a collage. I had saved photos of sunglasses ads for years. Those glamorous models got masked and covered up with the reality of the pandemic.
“Shadow” was an early collage made up of magazine images with a bit of marker line added. Thank goodness for my years of NYT Magazine page collecting.
My untitled felt piece, backed with canvas, came about after a friend gave me her felted wool scraps. They were already backed with fusing. There’s a woven paper strip background in there, as well as shiny patterned dress fabric scraps.
A monoprint exchange with a friend led to a tribute to autumn. Felted wool, organza, and paper were given a boost with markers and embroidery.
I hope to continue mixed media explorations in 2021 and improve my integration of paper and fabric. I made lots of work I’m not including here as it shows what went wrong. Practice leads to better work, but you don’t want to wade through the beginner pieces unless you’re a masochist or closely related to me.
In parallel with my fabric activities, I have been taking another Jane Davies online course called Mini Collage. Both activities call on color theory and experimentation with color adjacency, but with Jane’s class I get to mix all my own colors rather than choose from my scrap bins.
I won’t bore you with photos of my painted papers. Suffice it to say we were to mix white and black paint with hues, and develop a range of color values. Some of my fellow classmates painted hundreds of papers in glorious colors. Mine were more modest. Many of us had trouble with streaks in our painted surfaces. Some (not me) painted over our papers to get rid of the streaks.
Once I had a large pile of painted papers I cut out shapes and positioned them so they would relate to each other in an interesting fashion. I was to balance light and dark neutrals, brights, and lighter colors in my arrangements. We were encouraged to do several. Here’s my personal best.
Next, I got to actually glue paper down, in many, many three (no more, no less) shape collages on 4.5 by 6 inch pieces of bristol board. The instructions said to do at least 20 and more was better.
I am struggling with getting my papers to lie smoothly, despite copious amounts of matte medium and lots of finger smoothing. I’ve done five so far. I did find that I could smooth out wrinkles with my iron.
Some of my classmates have done 30 already, and theirs are so much more interesting than mine. It’s all part of the learning process, right? I know, I know. Comparison is the thief of joy.
After years of avoiding color theory practice (the practice means you have to make a color wheel) I finally broke down and signed up for Jane Davies’ downloadable class, “Unlocking The Secrets of Color.”
I have to say that color theory seems much more relevant for mixing paint colors than for quilting. When I want to make a quilt I go through my fabrics and decide which of the already dyed/printed colors I want to work with. When it comes to painting there’s usually no such already determined color starting point. You could work only with colors directly out of the tubes but that would get old fast. The tricky part is to figure out what colors you want for your painting before you actually see the color. Needless to say, there’s lots of trial and error.
The class begins with paint mixing to create a 12 part color wheel from blue/red/yellow. Then you move on painting grids using only colors on your color wheel. I won’t subject you to photos of my efforts, but will note that getting an evenly graduated color wheel is harder than you’d think.
Other lessons involve one color collages; and painting value scales with black, then white, to create graduated analogous colors. The class moves on to paintings/collages of one color and analogous colors, and finally a series of abstract landscapes (cool/warm) and color moods.
The landscapes assignment was designed to help you learn how much warm tone you can/should put in a predominantly cool toned piece, and vice versa. It’s a personal decision, but even a touch of a contrast adds interest, I think.
My take away from this class is that I need to whisper more and shout less in my color choices. I like the ring-a-ding-ding of bold colors and color contrasts, but for my artistic development I need to cultivate the quieter side. It goes along with trying colors you don’t much like. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.