In the past, I have primarily used paper products for collage, but this week I’ve had fun trying a number of different materials. I’m continuing collage experiments using the Collage Lab book as a guide, as begun in last week’s blog.
One thing I really enjoy about this book is that it suggests activities to explore the materials being used, and then allows for further play or experimentation based on whatever you want to try. I don’t feel the pressure of trying to make something that looks exactly like the pictures – it’s about experimenting with techniques and materials to get to know how they look and feel, to inform further artwork down the road.
I’ve been learning about using matte medium, gesso (both clear and white), and also heavy gel medium – and how they work with various materials. These products can work with a variety of materials, whether as adhesives or as coatings to change the appearance of your surface – adding color, texture, or to diffuse or alter the appearance of your materials.
Gel medium works well as an adhesive for fabric, which was one of the lessons I worked on. I used fabric scraps including old pillowcases, lace, and other cloth I’d collected for collages. You can use old sheets, towels, rags, curtains, t-shirts or other cloth items you were planning to discard. If they aren’t good enough to put out for a yard sale, chances are you won’t feel mind ripping or cutting them up. I’ve also bought cheap scraps at a fabric store. I haven’t worked with fabric much in my collages, so I enjoyed the opportunity to explore different ideas. First, I brushed the heavy gel medium on the surface for the collage, and/or the fabric itself, then pressed the fabric where I wanted it to go.
Lacy fabric is great because, whether you use it as a background, focal point, or visual accents, the holes in the fabric allow color or images to be seen through it, and it can pick up paint or ink wash differently than the surface you’re painting on. Lace can also provide a nice vintage feel to a collage.
The ink wash I painted on this showed up mostly on the lace when it dried (I did blot with tissue so it wouldn’t be an even wash over the whole surface).
I also made a wrinkled satiny fabric surface in the same way that I used tissue paper last week (except my surface adhesive was heavy gel medium rather than matte medium this time). What was cool about this surface was that it retained its softness in the folds, and it has a great shine as the light hits the peaks of the wrinkles.
I also made a couple of surfaces with paper backgrounds or borders for use in future collage.
I hadn’t before tried using paper as just a border, so I appreciated this suggestion. Usually I use a variety of colored/printed craft papers available at my local Michael’s craft store. This type of paper is especially popular since the advent of scrapbooking as a hobby. Craft paper can be expensive, but there are often sales and discounts, and you can buy whole books of some craft paper for less.
I also use old wall calendars, since the paper is fairly thick and easy to use, and I’ve had some beautiful calendars given to me over the years! It’s a great way to repurpose these items. Old greeting cards and postcards are also recommended, as they can be very appealing and varied, and again, the paper or cardboard is thick enough to handle adhesive and/or paint.
While many people like to use magazine and catalogue images (I have, on occasion), that paper is very thin and can be difficult to manipulate. I bought some old books at thrift stores that I’m willing to cut or rip up for collages, though I imagine some bibliophiles would consider that a sacrilege. Other possibilities include old wallpaper, paint chips (samples) from stores, old photographs, old notebook covers or folders, or used wrapping paper. It feels good to recycle items that you know would have just been thrown away, or are just cluttering up your house.
It’s been many years since I used organic materials for collage; not as far back as childhood, but during my days as a preschool teacher. With the book as my guide, I experimented with some seeds and grains I had in the house, as well as some items from outdoors. I’d like to experiment more with dried flowers, seeds and leaves in the future. I used matte medium for an adhesive for these items, and I covered some with clear gesso to help adhere them.
You can also use paint, white or colored gesso, or ink wash to cover them to create different effects, or to highlight just parts of your surface. Below I used white gesso on the first two, and acrylic paint on the third.
For surfaces, you don’t have to buy boards, card stock, or watercolor paper at a craft store – you can cut up old cardboard boxes, use scrap wood, tiles or other materials you may have cluttering up your garage or basement. Just be aware that some surfaces will take on paint and adhesive better than others, and thinner surfaces may not hold up as well to moisture and heavier collage materials (your surface may buckle or warp). If you do work with shiny surfaces or materials that don’t seem to take paint or adhesive well, sandpapering your surface and/or applying gesso first can make your surface ground easier to work with.
If you’ve used other types of items for collage work, I’d love to hear about it!