Putting it all together

Although I barely tried half the lessons in Bee Shay’s excellent book Collage Lab, I will keep it handy. Shay’s approach to learning through open-ended experimentation is very appealing, and you can adapt the lessons to your skill and experience level, as well as varying them according to your available materials.

Collage Lab by Bee Shay

In addition to trying a few of Shay’s suggestions using shape stencils, gesso and sandpaper, I decided to use some of the backgrounds I’d created in previous weeks to add paper or other materials.

I’ve made a couple of stacks of backgrounds as well as “finished” collages over the past several weeks, many of which I’m not crazy about, a few of which I really like. I know I’m satisfied with something when I like looking at it over and over again. But the truth is, I never really know how things will turn out until I’m done, and there are many times when I don’t know when to quit! Many pieces do not turn out the way I wanted them to, or I keep adding things and then wish I could go back and remove them.

There’s nothing methodical about how I work on art. I view and even touch (many have texture) the background I’ve created, then browse through my collection of craft papers, fabrics, books I cut up, old wall calendars, postcards, buttons, etc. and see what attracts me.








On the left is corrugated cardboard I had torn some of the top layer of paper from and then painted with silver acrylic paint, then applied blue acrylic paint wash after the first layer of paint was dry. I found photos of kids from an old 1960s series of books about children that I’d bought at a Goodwill store and cut them up, then glued using matte medium. I decided that I wanted gold stars on it, like children used to get on their schoolwork, so I cut stars out of gold craft paper.

For this collage background, I applied watermelon and maple seeds on a board painted with white gesso and then fixed with matte medium. I added strips of craft paper that I cut out, plus torn pieces of paper, some cut into leaf shapes, and pictures of snow-covered trees from a calendar that I cut into squares. The white background made me think of snow. The collage was about the seeds, what they can grow into and become, and how they lay dormant in the winter.

For this collage, I used the paper that I’d covered with gesso and crinkled tissue paper on as my background. It seemed to call for an organic theme, so I found craft paper with the leaf and stem design on it first. I cut those out and connected them on the paper, then added little dried flower bits that were embedded in another craft paper, plus I cut green spots from paper that I added to the corners — sort of a turtle shell design.

The background on the left was a small piece of corrugated cardboard that I’d torn some bits off, painted with white gesso, then a thin ink wash. I decided I wanted to paint some of it a yellowish-green (acrylic) after adding the leaf portions of the picture. The words are from the books about children, and the painting portion on the right is from a reproduction of an early Kandinsky painting I cut out.

Finally, I made a collage using the shiny fabric background that I liked so much from my last blog. It has a wonderful texture, and I love how the wrinkles stand out and cast shadows on the shiny white ground. The only thing that seemed appropriate to apply was buttons, so I affixed buttons in a curvy line across the ground of cloth using heavy gel medium.

Although I made a number of other collages, I was less satisfied with them. There are still some backgrounds I created over the course of the month left unfinished, so I look forward to further experimentation with my materials. It’s clear to me that I need to make a lot of art to come up with a few things that I really like.

This reminds me of a book I just finished reading, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

In a chapter about perfection, the authors cite a ceramics class where the teacher divided the students into two groups. One group would be graded solely on the quantity of pots made, and the other on quality. The latter group of students needed only to make one pot each, as long as it was perfect, to get a top grade. When it came to grading time, it turned out that the students in the “quantity” group produced the works of the highest quality overall, not those who were expected to be graded only on quality. Those who kept churning out pots learned from their mistakes, grew and developed, while those who focused on “perfection” had little to show — they’d spent more time worrying and theorizing about perfection than just making art.

A big part of the process is just allowing yourself to make a bunch of stuff. Learn, experiment, even play — and not expect each thing you make to be perfect (or even good). Because it won’t be, not most of the time.

I’ll be taking the next month or two off blogging to work on another writing project, so enjoy the rest of your summer!


2 thoughts on “Putting it all together

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