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The Art of Collage: Making Art From Trash

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Collage piece titled "Home Plate."

Collage piece titled "Home Plate."

The Sin of Hoarding

It started out because we were moving from a large house to a small one-bedroom apartment. In packing you find things you never knew you had been hoarding and usually are embarrassed to admit you have and how long you’ve had it. I found that I must have had hundreds of magazines and old calendars I had hung onto because they were either pretty or there was some article I wanted to save. The funny thing is that none of the articles I saved magazines for did I ever revisit. I was hoarding trash. How embarrassing.

"Still Life"

"Still Life"

I Was Hooked

I had seen a few things done with collage in the '70s and '80s but I was never impressed. Not until I came across the work of Derek Gores. His work is truly masterpieces of design and color. I became obsessed with his work and technique. Eventually, I wanted to try it with my own style and subject matter. Derek creates mostly beautiful model-worthy women in collage. I, however, love children and children’s book illustration, so after doing a collage of two using my niece and stepdaughter for models, I was hooked.

I won the Portrait Award for the SWA Annual Show in San Francisco, 2014.  My stepdaughter "Kim."

I won the Portrait Award for the SWA Annual Show in San Francisco, 2014. My stepdaughter "Kim."

Art does not reproduce what we see. It makes us see.

— Paul Klee

Children's Images

When I began my Master’s in Illustration work I showed the panel some of my collage work and they were impressed and intrigued by the idea of using collage for the illustration of a children’s book. I hadn’t thought of that before. The collage was just something I did for fun and for me. But I like the idea of using my passions, children’s book illustration and collage, for a project. Since then I’ve been working on this book project.

"Hmong New Year"

"Hmong New Year"

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

— Pablo Ruiz Y Picasso

Long Process

The process, however, is very arduous. It takes a good deal of time to search for just the right colors and values to create the tones on a face. Then it takes even longer to cut or tear the pieces and glue them in place. I work for weeks sometimes on a single illustration. If I were working with oils, acrylic or watercolor, for example, I would simply blend the colors and tones I wanted and apply them. With collage I must search through stacks of magazine photos to find just the right transition value that will make the shadows and create the form. Often I think I have found just the right value and glued it in place but after standing back and looking it over, I decide it isn’t quite right and have to start the search again.

"Friends & Family"

"Friends & Family"

Materials

  • Paper
  • Rubber Cement
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Pencil and Eraser
  • Magazine or Calendar photos

Illustration for My Children's Book, The FairyTale Alphabet Book

The Process Steps

  • To start, choose a good piece of drawing paper or watercolor paper depending on the size you want to work. I find that larger pieces warrant heavier paper.
  • I use rubber cement for the adhesive glue for these collages because it doesn’t shrink and buckle the paper after it’s dry.
  • I find a pair of tweezers indispensable for placing the small pieces in the right places. I use a pair of tweezers made for stamp collectors.
  • Draw your design in pencil and only begin after you are happy with the drawing. It’s pretty difficult to change things after you have glued paper over the drawing. Work your drawing till it is perfect but don’t worry about any smudges or erasure marks since they will all be covered up with glue and collage.
  • Gather magazines, calendars, catalogs and circulars that have good weight paper and a glossy or semi-glossy surface. Try not to mix glossy and matte finished photos together on your image. It will look off in the finished product.
  • Decide on your color theme and begin gathering appropriate photos from the magazines and calendars you have assembled. I like to keep them separated by color and value in little folders for ease of searching later.
  • Don’t forget to also gather words. The fun thing about collage is that you can purposefully add words and phrases to the image, whereas in oil painting, words painted on the image look ostentatious.
  • With oil painting, it is the norm to start painting the dark colors first and apply the highlights last. With collage, you can really begin anywhere. However, I have begun working from the back to the front. For example, I will put in the background first so that when the foreground needs to go over it there won’t be any problems with gluing over it.
  • On a face, I often put the facial features last and put the skin of the face first. Next, the hair over the skin and last the eyebrows, eyes, lips, etc.
A little neighbor girl posed for me.

A little neighbor girl posed for me.

“A good portrait… has more than just accurate features. It has some other thing.”

— Alice Neel

Words

The last step is adding appropriate words or small images like catsup bottles just for fun. When my work was being juried for an art show, one judge was heard saying that the artist was portraying more than a face but also telling a story. It’s true. I want the image to have more than pleasing colors and form. I also want a story to come through.

"Ivy and the Chicken"

"Ivy and the Chicken"

“He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”

— St. Francis of Assisi

My Children's Book

As of today, I am have finished and self-published my children’s book on Lulu. Now I have more books in my mind to create. There is much more to do but I am enjoying the process and the work. It may take me another year to complete the next one but the end product will always be unusual and unique.

"Scottie and Cat"

"Scottie and Cat"

Comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 22, 2021:

If you like this one on collage, look for some more collage work. I am constantly turning out more collage pieces and love the process. Hopefully, I am getting better with each one.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 22, 2019:

Jeff Zod,

I'm so happy that I inspired you to create again. Happy collaging! Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Jeff Zod from Nairobi on May 22, 2019:

Hi Denise,

I loved this article and your amazing art pieces. Your work is so inspiring and uplifting. Art makes the world a beautiful place to live in. I used to create collage pieces when I was young, you have rekindled my flame again.Thank you so much.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 19, 2018:

Bede,

You always truly make me laugh and blush. So sweet of you to say. I'm happy you think so. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Bede from Minnesota on August 19, 2018:

Hi Denise, I hope you don’t have to wait till you're 105 to receive the recognition you deserve. These are masterpieces! I truly appreciate the skill and labor involved…you need just the right color.

I have little doubt that your work will be in famous museums someday. Keep going with this genre. The historians will call you the Mary Cassatt of collage.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 18, 2018:

Mercedus Long,

I'm so happy you enjoyed my work. I do love what I do. Have a great weekend. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 18, 2018:

Izky,

Thank you so much. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Mercedus Long from Maryland on August 18, 2018:

Wow your work is very nice. It's great to not only do what you love but have others enjoy it as well. I really like Ivy and the Chicken.

Keep up the great work.

Izky on August 18, 2018:

good

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 17, 2018:

Shyron E Shenko,

Thank you. I'd love to see some of your work if you try it. I think you'll find it challenging and fascinating. What and unusual name you have (or maybe just the spelling). Do you have a lot of trouble with people misspelling it or mispronouncing it? Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 17, 2018:

John Hansen,

Yes, please do send it. I will let you know what I think and we can discuss particulars like how many pages you are thinking of etc. Since I have done it before with Create Space I know just how to format the images and text so it comes out perfectly.

Blessings,

Denise

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on August 17, 2018:

Denise, this is amazing and I would like to do something like this. You are a beautiful artist.

Blessings my friend.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on August 17, 2018:

Yes, Denise, I will probably self-publish through Create Space or Lulu, but not sure how to go with illustrations. I can send a copy of the poem to you via email through here if you wish.

John

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 17, 2018:

Mary Wickison,

Thanks. I love trying different mediums and stretching myself. I had one artist friend and peer tell me that buy not focusing on just one medium in my work that I was scattered. He said I would never get into a gallery with a scattered portfolio like I have. I don't know what to say to that except it's my passion and I do what I love and what motivates me. What else can I do? I know it makes me sound stubborn and contrary but I hate have art dictated to like that. Anyway I'm glad you like the Susie video. I had fun making it and creating the collage. I'm gifting the finished collage to Susie. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 17, 2018:

Dora Weithers,

I wasn't sure anyone would want to hear about the process since very few have the patience or desire to try what I'm doing with collage so I'm happy you liked that part. Thanks for being a faithful follower. Have a blessed day.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 17, 2018:

Carrie Kelley,

Thank you so much. I'm so happy you like them. Sometimes we artists get more from the appreciation of art lovers than we do from a sale. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 17, 2018:

Catherine Tally,

Thank you. I am working slowly but steadily on it and doing other collages just for me from time to time... and entering them in art shows or putting them on Etsy to sell. I've sold quite a few already. It's such a thrill when someone likes my work enough to pay money for it! I appreciate your compliments. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 17, 2018:

By the way, Bill. I don't know the story about billybuc but noticed with a smile for some time that that is your handle. It may give you a chuckle to know when I was a kid, my dad nicknamed me neesiebuc. No one seems to know why but he called me that for years. I have fond memories.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 17, 2018:

Thanks Bill. You are my biggest advocate and fan next to my husband. I appreciate your kind words and faithful friendship.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 17, 2018:

John Hansen,

Thank you. I love Ivy and the Chicken too. Ivy is my youngest granddaughter. You can't see him but her older brother picked her up and is holding her in one arm and the chicken in the other arm. I decided to focus on her and the chicken and not on him. It was cuter, I thought. To answer your question, yes. I would be interested in reading your manuscript when you have it reading and talking about a quote. Are you thinking of self-publishing? I've done that with a number of my own coloring books and craft books and really like it but the marketing can be problematic. Let me know.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 17, 2018:

Mary,

What a good question. I didn't mention that in this article. I don't spray them or anything but I have been toying with the idea of painting a Mod Podge over them to seal them. I just not sure if that would discolor the paper at all. After all, it is only old magazines and therefore not archival quality. I do suggest those who have purchased one to frame it behind glass to keep out dust and air and some atmosphere. That isn't sealing them but it is the next best thing. Thank you for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Mary Wickison from Brazil on August 17, 2018:

I am so in awe at your talent. The use of magazines gives these an extra dimension. I love the fact that you work in so many different mediums.

I also enjoyed watching your collage of Susie.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on August 17, 2018:

Thanks for this lesson in creativity. I appreciate the Process section.

Catherine Tally from Los Angeles on August 17, 2018:

I am a fan of both recycling and collage, so I was immediately drawn to your article. I love your creativity, helpful suggestions on this art form, and the great quotes too! Keep moving ahead on the children's book. No doubt it will be great!!

Carrie Kelley from USA on August 17, 2018:

These are really beautiful and creative, Denise. Thanks for sharing :)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 17, 2018:

I love the title and I love your art. Well done, Denise!

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on August 16, 2018:

Wow! I absolutely love these collages, Denise. My favourite is Ivy and the Chicken, but they are all wonderful. You re such a talented artist. I have long been considering writing a children's book, instead of being a ghostwriter for others. In fact, I have the text just haven't formatted it yet. If I do I would need an illustrator. Would you be interested in reading the work and giving a quote if that happens? I am talking painted illustrations not collage though.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on August 16, 2018:

These collages are so expressive, some of the best I have seen. Do you spray something to protect it once it is finished?