Resilient – Torn Paper Collage

As I was creating this collage, the word “resilient” seemed to leap off the page. It’s definitely the theme for this, though I won’t pretend I understand the significance of everything in this mixed media piece. (I work intuitively. If a collage element seems to make visual sense, I use it.)

At the moment, we’re in our sixth week of interrupted sleep. We live in an apartment, and – overhead – our new neighbors are waking us most nights. We’re still trying to resolve this with the property managers, but my optimism is starting to fade. Moving may be our only option.

So, that’s where the word “perseverance” comes in. (The word is deliberately broken. Because that’s how it can feel when you persist… but you persevere, anyway.)

For others facing challenges right now, this collage may have its own meaning.

Whatever you’re hoping will improve in this new year (2021), I hope that the words resilient and perseverance resonate with you.

You’re not alone. We’ll all get through this, together.

Resilient is approximately 8″ x 10″ on poster board. Materials: torn magazine pages, Yes paste, and lines drawn with a gold metallic marker.

 

Disrupted – Whimsical Fine Art Collage

A dog in a bow tie. A tux. A swimming pool. And then a classic grey-and-brown sitting room or parlour.

Those are the main elements in this mixed media collage.

I photographed this collage as I finished it, early this morning (in low light). The deep teal colors in the photo are far more vivid in real life. (The background was hand-painted, and the color is a mix of Yale blue and Dartmouth green… a nice, juicy – but sophisticated – dark teal.)

Mostly, I absolutely LOVE how my collages are moving in a fine art direction, and couldn’t wait to share it. The finished piece is 12″ x 12.5″.

This collage started as a jest, responding to Robert Presti’s joke’s about puppies in some of my collages. (Bob is a childhood friend from Belmont, Massachusetts.)

Then, as I collected elements that appealed to me, the collage took on fresh depth. I decided to make it a comment about disrupting staid boardrooms and others’ expectations.

Note: The cotton swabs at the left side of the photo are what I use to tidy glue and glitter paint when I apply them. My favorite magazines for collage are the same ones I read: Town & Country (American edition), Vanity Fair, Wired, English Home, Yankee, and National Geographic.

This collage also appears at my Aisling website for fellow mixed-media artists.

Unexpected Solutions

This collage is bubbled and irregular. That’s largely because I was trying to use Golden Gel Medium as the adhesive. It’s what I’d used almost 20 years ago, when I was art journaling through a difficult divorce.

And, for this collage, that’s sort of appropriate. Since the start of the 2020 holiday season, I was beginning to feel as if our extended family was fracturing. Perhaps it was politics. Perhaps it was distance. Or maybe it was something else.

I just had an uneasy feeling. (In retrospect, I should have trusted it.)

Of course, my writing career was in a holding pattern as well. Covid-19 had a significant impact, and – by October – I’d seen that book sales weren’t bouncing back.

When I created this collage, I was beginning to see that, perhaps, everything does happen for a reason.

The “unexpected solution” was to return to my first love: my artwork. In this case, my torn-paper collages.

And, as the collage says, perhaps the message was: Liberte. Egalite. Anime! (In this case, liberty, equality, and energy/life!)

So, I’m making art again, and it feels very good.

Even better, in later collages when I switched to Yes Paste as an adhesive, the results were vastly better.

This collage is about feeling adrift, looking forward, and realizing that challenges present possibilities.

Size: 8.5″ x 11″

Materials: Poster board, torn magazine images and text, Golden Gel Medium (Matte).

 

Return to Your Roots – A Collage About Home

Our roots… what are they? Are they about home and traditions? About family and friends (or perhaps friends who’ve become our family)? About authenticity? About a sense of self, independent of external cues and constraints?

Or, can we embrace all of those elements in unique ways that are about us, personally?

For me, this torn-paper collage was a deeply personal expression of who I am and what represents the many faces of my self.  

In a way, it’s where my internal compass points. Wherever I am, this is the essence of “home.”

I’m not sure I can articulate what each element means, but it felt intuitively right and familiar, and each belonged in this statement.

Size: 8.5″ x 11″

Materials: Poster board, torn magazine images and text, Yes Paste

 

Peace of Mind – Torn-Paper Collage

What does this collage mean…? I have no idea. My creative process is intuitive.

(And yes, this photo is blurry. I took the picture, hand-held and in low-light conditions. For now, it’s “good enough,” at least until I decide whether to do more with this piece. Then I’ll scan or re-photograph it.)

Here’s how I work on art like this:

I gather pieces. I see which make visual sense, together. I don’t go looking for logic. Not intellectually, anyway.

The process is entirely visual.

Then I assemble the collage elements – loosely and without adhesive – and see if they still work.

This one is still a work in progress.

I have no idea how “peace of mind” relates to kale, some New England gardens and front doors, the colors of the Paris sky, and the cast of The Lion King.

But there it is. And, stepping back from it, I can see a symmetry in the design that echoes the costuming of the Lion King cast.

I’m not 100% pleased with the balance… yet. It needs something… maybe.

Or it might be “creative ennui.” I seem to go through that with some pieces, and – a few days later – decide that the piece is actually fine, as-is.

I’m posting this anyway, because I want to represent the process as I go along.

And, at some point, I may realize what this piece means. Until then, you may see things in it that make sense to you. Or not.

I’m pleased with the visual logic of this, and – sometimes – that’s all I’m aiming for.

Play… with Elegance – Torn-Paper Collage

It started with a puppy’s cute face.

Then, because my humor is quirky, I realized the puppy’s face would fit perfectly on an Hermes ad from a British fashion magazine.

With a few added details, this torn-paper collage – the only one I created this past weekend – seemed complete.

Sometimes, the simplest collages are the most effective.

Play, and spread some cheer!

P.S. The support for this collage was painted green, and then applied a slightly sheer layer of iridescent teal blue. I’ll replace this photo with a better one, later, but – for now – it conveys the general idea behind this art.

(And yes, my husband quoted “Ghostbusters,” saying something like, “Okay, so she’s a dog.” Because his humor is quirky, too.)

Things I learned, creating this collage:

Simple can be fun. It’s far to easy for me to keep adding collage elements when the work might be better with a greater sense of space.

Using glue stick as the adhesive prevents more buckling and bubbling than gel medium, but the adhesion isn’t as consistent, especially as glue stick dries so quickly. And, once placed, the glue holds almost immediately, so fewer adjustments are possible.

But, for small collage elements, where I can place the piece lightly (and make minor adjustments) and then press it down, glue stick can be better than gel medium.

A Winning Vision? Collage Enigma – The Viewer Decides

This morning’s collage is a deliberate enigma. Also, I’ve decided that – after yesterday’s efforts – it may be best to leave the meaning of the collage to the observer. After all, that was my initial plan for this series.

So, is he thinking of her (and perhaps the rustle of her blue dress), of the landscape, or something else?

Is she wondering about him, and is he the one that sent her flowers?

Does the finger point to what they’re both dreaming about?

Do their dreams – their visions – intersect? Or, is this very early in the relationship?

Or, do they even know each other… yet?

It’s definitely an “..in the eye of the beholder” kind of piece.

divider

Things I learned, creating this collage:

Most American magazines seem to be printed on cheap, thin, very porous paper. National Geographic is an exception. Town & Country (American magazine) is on better paper than, say, Better Homes & Gardens, Wired, and Vanity Fair.

The British editions of Harper’s Bazaar and Elle are on paper close to the quality of Nat’l Geographic. For collage, it’s worth spending extra for them.

When working with cheap paper, it’s best to apply the gel medium (adhesive) to the support rather than directly on the collage element. This makes element placement far more challenging, but it reduces buckling and bubbling… only slightly. (“Slightly” may be as good as it gets. So, I’m reminding myself that this shows the process in the finished art, and that’s okay.)

Some collages have a vision (no pun intended, with this work) from the start, while others – like yesterday’s piece – are a process.

It’s probably similar to the writing process: Some authors are “plotters” (plan the story, sometimes in great detail, ahead of time) but others are “pantsers” (writing with a vague idea, and making it up – flying “by the seat of one’s pants” – as they go along).

And sometimes, even the most dedicated, focused “plotters” suddenly find their stories going in a weird (but wonderful?) direction, and they go with it.

 

Authenticity in a Time of Challenge – Collage

Today’s collage is – like yesterday’s – not quite finished. But, for now, it’s going to sit. I want to look at it for a while, and see what else it says to me. See if anything is missing or needs… something.

That’s a challenge for me, because this isn’t my usual design style.

The foundation

This piece started with the first layer, showing a smiling model in a tangerine/orange satin gown and an almost ostentatious amount of glittery jewelry.

But – for me – the model’s eyes didn’t match her smile.

Years ago, looking at portraits, I learned to ignore (or even cover) the lower half of the person’s face. The eyes showed the person’s real emotions.

So, as I built this collage, the first thing I did was to cover the lower half of the model’s face. The new layer featured seasonal plants and berries. The colors resonated with the background image, but the texture – and the almost-careless untidiness of Nature – was a sharp contrast.

Suddenly, this collage was about authenticity. The look in the model’s eyes… what is it? Sadness? Distance from everything around her?

That’s when I tore the background image into strips. I chose to apply them randomly, out of order, and with emptiness between them.

Again, that’s a reference to an emerging sense of artifice as I studied the photo.

Next, contrasts and similarities

The next step was to study other magazine photos. I wanted to see if the expression in other models’ eyes were lacking, or at least didn’t match the rest of the face.

When I found the black-and-white image, it seemed perfect. That model’s eyes and mouth, and the tilt of her head, all delivered the same message. I emphasized that by disconnecting them – tearing that image in half. It’s a harsh contrast – in color (b&w), in consistency, and style – against the original layer in this collage.

I began gluing the collage elements in earnest when I found an ad for macaroni and cheese. The colors in that advertisement perfectly matched the orange satin gown. It’s almost difficult to tell what’s macaroni and what’s the gown. And, in contrast with the lifestyle represented by the amount of jewelry in the original image, I also wanted to note the number of people for whom macaroni and cheese – from a box – is considered a luxury meal.

It would be trite to talk about the shallow lives of those driven by status and symbols of wealth, but – as I kept working on this collage – the reference was almost unavoidable.

Final clues

The words “who I am” are almost lost in the busyness of the design. “Personal needs” is slightly tilted, as much of the rest of the images is. And then there’s the crisp statement, “self-deception” in black and white, with a childish scribble leading to it.

The final elements – the heavily made-up “lucky cat” (Maneki-neko) and ragged gold leaf – fit both the color & theme of this piece.

In some ways, this collage lacks drama, deliberately. It’s less visually appealing than what I usually aspire to, with my art.

But, at a time when – wearing masks – we rely so heavily on the emotion expressed with one’s eyes, and we’re witnessing a stunning, rapidly expanding gap between the “haves” and “have-nots,” I’m pleased with the statement of this piece.

It’s about authenticity.

In a world where things can feel tumultuous and destabilizing, maybe authenticity is the touchstone… the sense of self that keeps us grounded.

Empowered.

Able to achieve what we’ve always suspected we can do.

And, once again drifting into irony, I’m remembering the song lyrics in “Grease.” Perhaps – more than ever, as we choose our personal paths to the new “normal” – it’s time to believe that we can be who we are.

Click here to see all of my recent collages

Dreams / True Story Collage

What kinds of stories can art tell? And can you be part of that process?

I believe most artists want their work to be interactive… emotionally, anyway.

My collages used to be about me. The art was mine. The stories were mine, too.

Now, with this new collage – the first in about a decade – I see myself assembling pieces of a story.

It’s not necessarily my story.

In fact, each viewer is the owner.

The story they see in my collages is theirs alone… unless they share it with others, of course.

The scan of this collage, above, is preliminary. The bottom edge of the torn paper (below her left boot) is actually just as ragged as the rest, but the scanner didn’t include it. (I’ll fix this, later.)  Also, the gold trailing behind her is bright & shiny, but – in the scan – it’s dull. (I’ll make sure it shows when the collage is fully finished. At this point, it’s not actually mounted on a contrasting background.)

So… what is her story?

Here are elements and questions to consider, looking at this collage:

Is she walking – perhaps running – towards something, or away from it, or both? The right side of the collage support (white) is torn and untidy, while the right side was cut with a ruler. Does that mean anything in the context of her story?

“Dreams” and “true story” are separated. Are they still connected? Does her true story support her dreams, or has the truth fallen off and it’s now at odds with her dreams?

Likewise, “a voice”… is it fractured? Or is her inner voice leading the way, a little here and a little there, and how long will her journey be? (As I see it, both “a voice” and “How long” are sort of floating in front of her.)

Perhaps the building (a symbol of tradition, or authority?) supports her. Maybe it’s interrupting her progress, and she’ll soon leave it behind.

There’s a shark at her leading ankle. Has it already passed her, and does she care?

And the figure in the 60s-style fringed jacket, possibly pointing at the male figure in the shadowy background. Is that a warning? If so, is it to her or to the mostly hidden man?

But, of course, the big question is: Is she ready?

Click here to see all of my recent collages


If you’d like to create your own collages – visit my original mixed media art site, Aisling.net

(It’s been online since the mid-1990s. Back then, women were very much in the minority, online, so some of us chose to use pen names to protect our privacy.)

A Different Route – Collage and How-To Tips

This was one of my 2002 articles about torn-paper collages for art journaling…

I’ve been doing these quick collages for months now, though not consciously doing them daily. Now, I’m starting each day with a collage, the same as I used to to morning pages. I allow myself a half an hour for the collage process, and often go back several times throughout the day to add things until I’m pleased with it. But it all starts with the determination that, whether it’s good art or not, there will be a collage when I’m finished!

Here’s what I do…

I start by using gesso throughout my journal so the pages are strong enough to support collages here & there.

I’ll leave a few pages for writing, then two or three pages that are prepared for collage. That forces me to avoid having an all-text journal. My current journal is fully gesso’d pages, because this one will be entirely art.

I use any gesso that’s cheap, from the fine art supplies section of Michael’s. Gesso makes the paper stronger, so it doesn’t suck up the glue or paint so much, and it has “tooth” to grab whatever I apply to it in layers. I buy only the white gesso. Yes, you can buy it in colors, but if you start with white, you can add color to it (in small batches) with watercolors (including Dr. Ph. Martins), acrylics, even food coloring or unsweetened KoolAid if you like!

But I’m happy working with white, usually.

I have images stored in folders, kept in a heavy cardboard portfolio, to use when I want to do a collage. I also keep a stack of magazines & newspapers on hand for my collage work. And I go through and grab whatever images, words, and phrases strike my fancy at that very moment. If they connect somehow, great. If they’re completely disrelated, that’s okay too. It usually makes sense to me when I put it all together, in the context of my thoughts at the time.

Applying collage layers

I love layers in my work. For this reason, I’m very big on using colored tissue paper. I use Golden Gel Medium (soft/gloss) for the adhesive, and when the tissue paper is saturated with the gel medium, it remains translucent after it dries.

However, the gel medium will make the paper buckle sometimes. I like that, because I’m very process-oriented. I’m not interested in a collage that looks pre-printed. The buckling and extra glops of gel medium work for me. But I know that not everyone likes the buckled-paper look.

[2021 update: I’m now using Yes Paste, thanks to recommendations by Nancy Hansen Connolly and Milan Merhar. It’s vastly better for my current work.]

I apply the gel with a sponge brush. Sometimes, I forget to rinse them. Though I’m much better at remembering now – due to environmental concerns – I stock up on inexpensive sponge brushes (10 cents each during Michael’s sales) regularly.

Finishing touches

While the page dries, I’ll place a piece of waxed paper over it so I can turn the page and either write or do another collage. If it’s facing another gel’d page, I’ll keep waxed paper between the pages for a week or two until the gel is fully cured. Otherwise, the gel remains tacky enough to stick to the facing page.

I also highlight some of my work with different types of leafing… gold, copper, etc. I adhere it with gel medium, too. Don’t get caught up in using the most/only perfect adhesive for the job; gel medium works well for almost anything. When it won’t hold, I use Household Goop!

For some of my work, I think in terms of other means to attach stuff. On a “hurting” day, a bandaid may hold an image in place. And there are grommets, paper clips, straight pins, safety pins, and so on. Think beyond tradition and rules!

I never fret because an item means that the journal won’t close nice & flat.

Frankly, by the time I get done with the gel medium on lots of pages, the whole thing is so buckled that it hasn’t a chance of closing nice OR flat, ever again!

So, I sew a button to the front cover of the journal, and a piece of string (I like hemp twine) or ribbon attached with a grommet to the back cover, so I can tie the journal closed when I carry it around or shelve it.

These collages are exciting to me, because I never know how they’ll turn out until I start putting the random bits of paper together and realize what the internal message is. It feels like bringing what’s deep inside me, forward.