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 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.
“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.
- Rubber Cement
- 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 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 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.