When it comes to collage, it took me quite awhile to warm up to it. I think a lot of my earlier dislike for it was that I saw one too many examples that seemed as if the artist was on a psychedelic trip or something. It wasn’t until I really exposed myself to a wider variety of collage work, including that of Teresa Petersen, whom I interviewed here, that I really started to appreciate it. My first real stab at collage was through an altered book class I took at Castle in the Air with Ulla Milbrath, but I found the multi-page canvas that is the book quite overwhelming for a beginner like me. I thought I’d do better if I learned the basics of collage art first, a single canvas at a time, so when the opportunity came up to take a two-part collage and photomontage class at San Francisco Center for the Book, I jumped at the chance.
Our instructor was Mark Faigenbaum, a local collage and assemblage artist and printmaker.
He looked very familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him. He started the class by giving us an overview of some noted collage artists. It was a really nice overview as it covered a broad range of styles and helped expand our ideas of what collage can be.
Mark then went over the various adhesives we could use, including gel medium, PVA (or bookbinding) glue, which is similar to white glue, and Yes! paste, a thick, solid adhesive that you mix with water to loosen it up to the desired consistency.
The nice thing about Yes! paste, as opposed to many of the other adhesives, is that it doesn’t crinkle your paper like a lot of liquid glues do, though I did find it a little difficult to mix, given how stiff it was.
Mark also demonstrated how to use a X-acto blade. One helpful tidbit he provided was to visually break down a large image into smaller components to make the task of cutting less daunting.
Our first exercise was to practice cutting out images with our X-acto knives. Since my preferred way to cut paper is using my trusty scissors, I decided to try my hand at cutting out an entire image with my X-acto:
I cut out this small image of an angel:
Not too bad if I do say so myself :0) Like Mark said, it really helps to have sharp blades to get nice, clean edges around your cut-outs.
We then cut out random images from vintage magazines that Mark had brought along. Since I didn’t have any particular plan in mind, I just cut out images that looked interesting to me.
Our first collage was done on a plain white cardboard background. I thought the shark in the above photo would be an interesting addition to my collage because its shape conveyed a lot of action. I decided to contrast it with more sedate images, so I chose the images of the car, the prim and proper lady in the hat, and the picture of Monticello in the above photo to go alongside my shark, along with a few other images. I ended up with this:
I had toyed around with adding a military plane instead of the rooster:
It changed the feel of the piece for sure, proving that one image can change the overall feel of a collage.
One interesting tidbit Mark shared with us is that it’s easier to use images of the same vintage together, rather than mixing pictures from different periods. I can totally see how that can give your entire collage a certain cohesiveness that would be lacking otherwise.
I felt my collage was missing something, so when I got home, I decided to add another image to close the gap between the shark and the tree.
Since I had already glued down the other images, it was rather tricky to cut out the additional image so that it fit seamlessly with everything else, but I think I did okay.
Our next exercise was to create a collage using another image as our canvas. I decided to use a landscape image as my backdrop and had the perfect image in my box of magazines that I had brought to class with me.
As you can see, there was text in the above desert scene, so I had to make sure I covered it up in my final collage. Since this was a contemporary image, I stuck with images from my stash of contemporary fashion magazines.
Some of the collage examples that Mark had shown us used text and words. You can use words for their meaning or for their shape. I decided to use this image of the word, “beyond,” for its shape:
Mark explained that the trick with using words in collage is that they have meaning and may affect how your collage is viewed or interpreted.
This time I decided to glue down my images using matte gel medium that I had left over from another project.
Gel medium comes in different consistencies. This particular one was very, very thick, which made it messy to use.
I tried thinning it down a little bit with some water, but given the fact that I tend to be messy in my gluing, it was tricky to use. I think as I get the hang of it, it will be less difficult to use. The hardest thing to glue down was the cut-out of the word, “beyond,” given how narrow the letters were, but I did it, as seen in the earlier photo. It’s not perfect, and you can see bits of white gel medium, but they cleared up once everything dried.
Helpful hint: Once you decide on a layout for the images of your collage, it really helps to take a photo of it, so that when you’re gluing everything down, you can refer to it. That way you’ll get exactly the right placement of all your elements.
My completed collage, which I’m calling, “Desert Dream”:
I’m pretty happy with my results. I really preferred using an image as a backdrop for my collage over using a plain background.
An interesting observation – What became apparent to me as I was cutting out various images to use in my collages was that it helps to include images that are “dramatic,” whether it be a picture of something or someone in motion, or a picture of someone striking an interesting pose. Otherwise your images will look a bit disparate and disconnected, although I guess it wouldn’t be such a big deal if you were doing a still life of sorts, like Picasso 😉
I can’t believe I had such an easy and enjoyable time making these collages, given my past failure with this technique. Something opened up inside me and broke down my creative roadblocks regarding collage. Of course it helps to have plenty of images to choose from. Whereas in the past, I was overwhelmed with the sheer volume and variety of images at my disposal, Mark helped break down the art of collage into manageable, digestible pieces. Thanks to Mark, I really feel I’ve reached a milestone of sorts in overcoming my fears with this technique.
This was just part one of this two-part class. Stay tuned for part two, where we tackled using transparencies and photos in our collages.
Do you love collage? Have you ever tried your hand at it? Who are some of your favorite collage artists? Please share in the comments.
Please note: I have not been compensated in any way, nor will I be, for mentioning any of the artists or organizations in this post.