The Art of Collage: Making Art From Trash
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.
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.
Art does not reproduce what we see. It makes us see.
— Paul Klee
When I began my Master’s in Illustration work I showed the panel some of my collage work and they were impressed and intrigued with 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.
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
— Pablo Ruiz Y Picasso
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.
“Every time I paint, I throw myself into the water in order to learn how to swim.”
— Edouard Manet
- Rubber Cement
- Pencil and Eraser
- Magazine or Calendar photos
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 perfection but don’t worry about any smudges or erasure marks since they will all be covered up with glue and collage.
- Gather magazines, calendars, catalogues 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 good portrait… has more than just accurate features. It has some other thing.”
— Alice Neel
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.
“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 only half way through my children’s book effort. There is much more to do but I am enjoying the process and the work. It may take me another year to complete but the end product will be unusual and unique.
What Is Art?
I think that art is such a joy for me and a joy for others to view. The world would be a bland and colorless place with the dedication of artists. Art in all it’s many forms is what makes the world beautiful and intriguing. Art is what sells products and magazines. Art is what we drive to work everyday. Art is the music we listen to and movies we watch. Sure, I may never be paid what I think I’m worth, but I do this for the passion I have for it more than the paycheck I receive or don’t receive. Very few artists ever received in their lifetime the recognition and compensation they deserved for their life’s work. Still they painted on. I will do the same. I have often said that I will never retire. I will stop painting when they pull the paintbrush from my cold dead fingers and not before. Like Grandma Moses I hope to be doing just that until I am 105.
“There are three forms of visual art: Painting is art to look at, sculpture is art you can walk around, and architecture is art you can walk through.”
— Dan Rice
“How important are the visual arts in our society? I feel strongly that the visual arts are of vast and incalculable importance. Of course I could be prejudiced. I am a visual art.”
— Kermit the Frog