History of Paper Dolls – Part Two

Note: This is the second part of a two-part article tracing the history of paper dolls.  Click here to read the first part.

20th century paper dolls

Mary Jane Hader paper doll imageIn the 20th century, other magazines followed this trend, including Ladies’ Home Journal  (Sheila Young’s “Lettie Lane”), Pictorial Review (Grace Drayton’s “Dolly Dingle”), Good Housekeeping (Sheila Young’s “Polly Pratt”), and the famous “Kewpie Dolls” by Rose O’Neill in Woman’s Home Companion.

At right, Little MaryJane, one of the famous Hader paper dolls from Good Housekeeping magazine.

The most popular paper doll of the mid-20th century was probably Betsy McCall, created by Kay Morrissey. However, children also enjoyed paper dolls in many magazines of that era, including Jack and Jill Magazine, and Children’s Playmate.

Since 1962, Barbie paper dolls have become the most popular among American children.

Paper art dolls, and fine art paper dolls

Today’s paper doll designers frequently have backgrounds in fine arts. Many of them work together as part of the Original Paper Doll Artists Guild, based in Kingfield, Maine.

Their collectible paper dolls often feature celebrities and fashions from history, and are intended for both adults and children.

Paper dolls by Aisling
One of my designs for Art Doll Quarterly, Winter 2004 issue.

Paper dolls have been emerging for several years in the paper arts community, too. My own article (and pattern) in the Winter 2004 issue of Art Doll Quarterly is just one among many places to see examples of this emerging art form.

One of my designs is at right. The dolls were printed on vintage pages, and hinged with small, brass round-head paper fasteners.  The hair was tinted wool (designed as doll hair), accented with feathers.  Each doll was hand-colored.

Sometimes called “fine art paper dolls” and also “paper art dolls,” even the name is still evolving.

Today’s paper art dolls are sometimes drawn, painted or printed on paper. However, even more of them are one-of-a-kind, and more mixed media dolls than purely paper dolls.

For example, some artists swap hinged dolls on Artist Trading Cards (ATCs), and participate in exchanges and round robins involving paper art dolls.

This is a very exciting field, mixing a nostalgic love of dolls, with fresh and vibrant creative expressions.

References

(Note: This article was written around 2005.  These links may not be current.)

History of Paper Dolls – Part One

Today’s paper dolls evolved from the development of paper, ceremonial and performance figures, and dressmakers’ fashion dolls.

General history

Paper was invented in China around 105 C.E. by Ts’ai-Lin, a courtier from Lei-yang. Although the word ‘paper’ is derived from ‘papyrus’, this early paper was not a papyrus product.

With paper’s development in nearby China, it should be no surprise that the earliest paper dolls were reported in Japan, in 900 C.E. (or earlier) when a purification ceremony involved placing in a boat a paper figure and a folded kimono-like object.

China was likewise responsible for the Spanish pinata–according to legend–when 13th-century explorer Marco Polo brought the tradition home from his travels in Asia. And, it is possible that the western movement of paper dolls began in China, where puppets were used in shadow shows. These large puppets were often flat and mounted on sticks, to create dramatic shadows on a screen.

Some paper doll historians include the shows created for the upper class in France, where life-sized jumping-jack figures, like marionettes were used to satirize nobility. And, there were other cultures practicing a variety of paper arts–including the German scherenschnitte,–that may have influenced the development of paper dolls.

However, our modern paper dolls trace a more direct history to traditional dolls, not puppets or even paper arts.

Dolls in general date from earliest recorded history. Manufactured dolls trace their European popularity to wooden dolls made in Germany in the 17th century. To meet demand by the early 18th century, German dollmakers were employed throughout Europe.

Modern paper dolls

Paper dolls appeared in Western society in the late 18th century, when French dressmakers’ life-sized dolls were replaced with the “English fashion doll.” These eight-inch tall figures were printed on cardboard (invented by the Chinese about 200 years earlier), and jointed with threads. They came with underclothing as well as several changes of dresses and coiffures. At about three shillings (about $15 in today’s American dollars) for a complete doll and wardrobe–plus an envelope to store her in–dressmakers could afford to own several sets, and distribute these dolls among their favorite customers.

1810 paper doll - little fannyIn 1810, the London firm of S. & J. Fuller & Company printed the first commercially popular paper doll, Little Fanny, with a 15-page book that included seven figures and five hats. Fanny’s head & neck were separate, and fitted into various outfits as the moral tale, The History of Little Fanny: Exemplified in a Series of Figures,was told. (Fuller also published the earliest “peep show” books, which were hinged, tunnel-style books.)

At five to eight shillings for each book, their primary audience included wealthy families. (Today, that’s the equivalent of 9 to 15 pounds, or US$13 – $22.)

The success of Little Fanny was followed two years later in America, when J. Belcher printed a paper doll with a similar moral tale, The History and Adventures of Little Henry.Within ten years, boxed sets of paper dolls were popular playthings for children in Europe and America.

These dolls were often lithographed or hand-tinted, although some were left black-and-white for children to color.

Beginning in the 1830s, celebrity paper dolls featured entertainers such as ballerinas and characters from the P. T. Barnum Circus, as well as British royalty. And, in 1838 when Charles Fenerty made the first paper–newsprint–from wood pulp, the price of paper dropped dramatically. Paper dolls became affordable for more families.

McLoughlin Brothers in the United States–later purchased by Milton Bradley–quickly became one of the largest manufacturers of paper dolls, printing them from engraved wooden blocks. Dottie Dimplewas one of their most successful paper dolls, and McLoughlin was a leader in this field throughout the 19th century.

Several other American companies, including Crosby, Nichols & Company (Boston), Frederick Stokes, and–later–Selchow and Righter, contributed many different styles of paper dolls to meet popular demand.

During the Victorian era, Godey’s Lady’s Book, was the first magazine to publish a paper doll in their November 1859 issue.

This article continues in History of Paper Dolls – Part Two.

When not to teach

In the arts, the rules can be very different from other businesses. Our intense desire to share creativity with others can override common sense. Keep this in mind when teaching. First, decide what you absolutely must have to teach a good class.

Can you teach in a room that’s too hot? Too cold? Overcrowded? So large, you shout yourself hoarse?

Can you teach with construction workers using power tools just three feet away from you? (Once when a pipe sprung a leak, I had to teach a class while emergency repairs were made… right next to me.)

Every teacher has different standards. Decide what yours are before you teach.

What works–and doesn’t–for me

For me, the biggest challenge is starting the day well.

I absolutely, positively must be able to get into the classroom at least 30 minutes before the class starts, to set up last-minute supplies, and collect my thoughts.

I turn on glue guns, review my teaching notes, gear up for a fun, high-energy day, and–above all–get in focus so that I am at my best.

I’ve broken this 30-minute rule just three times. These are my personal ‘horror stories’.

    The first time, the event staff couldn’t find the classroom key. My students and I were locked out until five minutes before class. We were stressed, not sure if we’d get into the room at all. (That wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t my best class, either.)The second time, the event’s shuttle bus driver arbitrarily changed her route and didn’t return for over an hour. (That’s how long I waited, standing next to my boxes of supplies. The event was out in the boonies; there were no taxis.)

    I arrived after the class was supposed to start. My students were very upset… with good reason.

    The third time, the event organizer “forgot” about my class. We had no classroom for most of the first hour, and not enough chairs for the first two hours.

Each time, I tried to pretend that everything was fine. That was a huge mistake.

From those experiences, I’ve learned to say, “This delay was outside my control. I don’t always teach well when I start the day this rattled. If you like, you can ask to be placed in another class that’s more of a ‘sure thing’ for you.”

(I also learned not to teach at that event again!)

But, what would you do if something like this happened to you? What are your basic make-or-break rules for a successful teaching environment? It’s important to decide this ahead of time.

Think in “worst case” terms

I do not want to scare you from teaching. Most of my teaching experiences have been fabulous fun for me and for my students.

These very rare examples of disasters are just to give you an idea of how prepared you should be, to teach a great class.

Will it drive you crazy if your students have a five- or ten-minute walk to the nearest bathroom to wash their paintbrushes or their hands?

If your classroom has thin walls and the students next door are hammering on metal all day, will the noise give you–and your students–migraines?

What if your 20 students need to use glue guns or power tools, and there are only two working electrical outlets in your classroom?

What if the meals are awful, the rooms are cold, and a crew is working on sewage pipes just outside your room… all at the same event?

What if a student has an emotional crisis in the middle of class? (This happens regularly when working on deeply personal art.)

What if you have a ‘heckler’ in your class? What if someone criticizes you–or another student–and won’t stop?

Each of these examples is drawn from my own teaching experiences.  In most cases, I handled the situation gracefully.  In a few others… well, I still wince with regret when I think about them.

Decide what you need to teach, and make that clear

Make sure that everyone’s on the same page. When you agree to teach, clearly state what you require. If you encounter problems, don’t teach until (and unless) things are set right.

That is the most difficult thing for me to say. It may be the most difficult rule for you to stick to. But, you must be prepared. You must always put your students first.

At least 80% of the time, you won’t encounter anything this dramatic. Usually, the “oops” moments involve something minor like a window that won’t open, or not enough paper towels for cleanup.

And, most teaching opportunities are tremendous. By the end of the day, you and your students will have forgotten any minor inconveniences.

I’ll sheepishly admit that it shouldn’t have taken me three bad experiences to learn this lesson: If your minimum, reasonable standards aren’t met, don’t compromise. Don’t start teaching until you can give your students the great class that they’ve expected.

If you’re too inconvenienced, rattled or annoyed to be at your best, give your students the option to switch classes. Or, speak to the event organizer immediately.  Or both.

Learn from my mistakes: Think about your minimum standards, make them clear from the start, and then stick to them.

In general, teaching at shops, shows, and events is so much fun, I’d teach for free. (And now, I often do!)

It’s rare that anything goes terribly awry.

If you’ve planned ahead and are firm about protecting your students’ interests, every class can be fabulous fun for everyone involved.

Sell your art locally

Writing in a journalOne of the most successful ways that I’ve sold my art has been through local businesses, using the community art association as a liaison.

If your goal is gallery representation, local sales can build your reputation and add credibility to your resume.

And, your income from local sales can exceed what you earn with some galleries.

First, find nearby art associations and join some

Most communities have an art association of some kind. You’ll find them listed in the yellow pages of your local phone book, and sometimes online. Look in categories such as “Clubs”, “Associations”, and so on.

These groups are usually a mix of professionals and eager amateurs. At their (usually monthly) meetings, I’ve seen everything from gorgeous, $10K watercolors to crocheted dolls in unnatural colors & fibers. No two groups are the same.

Art associations sponsor regular–at least annual–gallery shows in their own meeting place or in a town hall or library meeting room. They often have at least one outdoor art show, at which you can display your art and perhaps demonstrate your techniques. Most art associations also have some juried shows and at least one or two annual shows that are open to all members, regardless of expertise.

Art association meetings include regular demonstrations (of art technique) by artists who usually sell some art to the members while they’re there. This can be a good outlet if you want to do demos; start by creating a form letter that you’ll send to every art association in the phone book. When the demo is announced, make sure that the publicity mentions that you’ll have art for sale, too. The art association takes a commission based on how much you sell, and everyone goes home happy.

Then, the art association helps you display your art locally

Many art associations have working relationships with local businesses, especially restaurants, bookstores, beauty salons, and banks… anyone with blank wall space that wants an “art show” to generate interest. (They use this to attract visitors and for press releases, publicity, etc., themselves.) Libraries are less likely to be able to offer work for sale, but it depends upon the local laws.

The best way that I’ve seen this work, is if the sales go through the art association. That is, there is a business card (for the art association) next to each piece of art, with a price noted and how to contact the art association for more info. Of course, this should be something better than voicemail; someone needs to be on hand to answer the phone. A member who works at home is good for this job. (The art association can have a single phone number, and use Call Forwarding to whomever is manning the phones that day/week.)

Art associations handle merchant accounts and credit card sales, too

The art association makes the sale, and has a merchant account at a bank to accept credit cards. The art association takes a percentage of the sales, usually about 20%. At the end of the month, the association issues a check to everyone whose art sold that month.

If you don’t have a local art association, start one. If you are in an art association that doesn’t have this kind of relationship with local businesses, bring it up at the next business meeting and get it started.

Yes, there are issues to sort out, including how the art is insured, if it’s protected from damage (especially in restaurants, smoky halls, and beauty salons) and so on. You can check with other art associations and see how they handle it; generally, I don’t fret about this too much, but some artists do. I’ve had small pieces stolen from shows, but never anything that was taken off the wall. (That said, it can happen, so never show your valuable art in a setting that makes you nervous.)

Anyway, that’s the general idea… really just the tip of the iceberg. I hope this helps!

What is ‘true art’?

    Background: In December 2003, a debate flared up online when someone used the phrase ‘true art’ and tried to suggest that some artists’ works aren’t really art. This was my reply. I think that it applies to many discussions about art as a profession, so I’ve included it here.

If we start debating what is “true art,” we’re going to have problems in a hurry. Most of them will be semantic.

Recently, I laughed out loud when one directory-type website put all “physical arts” (ballet, etc) in the category of “sports.”

I understand their dilemma. I mean, some of the gymnastic work that I see at the Olympics (for example) are very definitely “art,” but they’re also sports. How can anyone draw a line between the two?

So, let’s not go down any path that involves saying what’s “art” or “true art,” and what isn’t. There will always be debates about the nature of crafts, and where mixed media art fits in, and so on. That’s just semantics.

In my opinion, it’s art if you say that it’s art. Period.

Along the same line… Let’s not reduce our discussions to what artistic compromises and marketing techniques are acceptable or moral or anything like that.

Most of us make compromises now & then, if not in our art then in our marketing, to secure an income.

I follow trends and statistics to see what’s selling well at eBay and elsewhere. And often, I look at them and realize, “Cool! I’ve wanted to try some art in that style. Now I have a good excuse to do that!”

I learn from the process, and the art usually sells.

Is it all true, meaningful art? I haven’t a clue. It’s creative and it’s fun. I call it art. That’s all that really matters.

Teaching at National Art Events

If you’ve been teaching at shops for awhile, national art events might be your logical next step. However, they’re not the best choice for everyone.

For the first year or two, expect to lose money teaching at art events. Event paychecks may look juicy, but when you factor in travel, supplies (that you provide), and prep & recovery time, it can equal minimum wage.

Events often require more complex classes, with far more info, more demos, plus more handouts and supplies that you provide.

To learn more about paycheck issues at events, see my article, What Art Teachers Are Paid.

You’ll need to create very different classes than what you usually teach at shops.  Students won’t pay high event prices for classes they can take — for far less — at a local shop.

You’ll need to steadily create new classes, anyway. Some of your event students will go home and teach the exact same class… for far less than you’d charge. They may even use your handouts without your permission. (Almost every teacher has dealt with this at least once. Be gracious about it, but be certain they’re crediting you for the original information. After all, that’s good for your reputation.)

Some teachers continue teaching at shops.  Many don’t.

Within a couple of years on the national scene, other income opportunities will open up.  National events make you into a ‘name’ in this field. Your artwork might earn higher prices in galleries. You may discover licensing opportunities, book contracts, and — of course — fabulous networking… but don’t count on that your first year or two.

The tricky part can be bringing in income during those “bridge” years.  Etsy is one of many options.

Teaching at national events propels your career so quickly, it can be breathtaking… or overwhelming.  It’s not a smart choice for everyone, especially if you’re re-entering the work arena due to an abrupt change in circumstances.

But, if it works well for you, the personal rewards — far beyond the paychecks — are tremendous!

More Dangerous Women

For another art doll exchange (a swap), I decided to modify my earlier “dangerous women” cloth doll design.

I rarely work from a pattern anyway, so any time I decide to repeat a design, it’s not likely to turn out the same as the original.

The photo above is one of a series of six dolls, created in mid-2000.  Most of them looked alike, though no two were identical. 

The dolls were each about five inches tall, not including the hair. The bodies were made with preshrunk 100% cotton, the hair was “doll hair” wool, only loosely tugged to give it volume. The face was drawn on with waterproof pens, and then ironed on with Stitch Witchery.

The arms and legs were stuffed before being attached to the body. Then, I added a star charm to one hand on each doll. Finally, I sewed on sheer wings (not shown).

Each doll was machine stitched, except for the final seam where she sits down, and that was closed by hand after stuffing.

All six were sent to the swap, and are now in other people’s homes and galleries, making mischief.

The original pattern, created and scanned as a GIF, can be downloaded here. Be sure to enlarge it to scale.

Gesso – What It Is and How to Use It

Gesso can be a useful option for artists journals as well as painting and mixed media art. I use gesso often, because I often create heavily embellished pages in my journals. I need the extra strength that gesso adds to my art journal pages.

If you create heavily embellished pages in your journals, as I do, gesso can provide more support. It can strengthen the paper you’re working on.

However, you don’t have to gesso pages in your artist’s journal. In fact, most artists never use gesso in their journals. I only suggest it if you’re working with paint, heavy embellishments, or mixed media.

What is gesso?

Gesso is a primer. It looks a lot like paint, and it goes between the surface you’re working on (the support) and whatever you’re using for your artwork.

Originally, gesso only came in white. Artists put it on surfaces such as:

  • Canvas
  • Wood
  • Hardboard (such as masonite, MDF or plywood)

On wood and hardboard, the gesso is a two-way barrier. It prevents the board from soaking up the paint too much. However, it also prevents any acids, oils or glues from migrating into your finished painting. (The latter could spoil the colors.)

On canvas, gesso prevents the fabric from soaking up the paint. The colors won’t bleed, and you won’t use as much paint.

That’s a good reason to use gesso on paper if you’re painting in your art journals: You’ll have more control over the color, and you’ll save money on paint. (Generally, gesso is a lot cheaper than paint is.)

Gesso makes the surface a little stiffer. It can also give the surface a little more texture (called “tooth”), so the paint sticks better.

Today, gesso comes in many colors. White is still the most popular, but black and colors are also widely used for art journaling and other art. So, the gesso can be part of your finished artist’s journal page, too.

Pages 31 - 32 from the Decluttering Journal

Gesso is useful for mixed media artwork, too. When I’m using a cigar box as the support for an art shrine, I almost always cover it with gesso… unless the design on the box is going to be part of the finished shrine.

(Also, some wooden cigar boxes look spectacular if they’re simply polished, so the wood shines.)

What’s the difference between gesso and regular paint?

Gesso is usually thinner and creates a slightly rough surface when you apply it.

Long ago, artists made their own gesso. They mixed calcium — like chalk — in a thin base of animal glue.

Yes, it was rather smelly. It also had to be shaken or stirred regularly, because the chalk quickly settled to the bottom of the mixture.

I don’t recommend making your own gesso, but if you want to try it, here are a couple of websites with recipes:

When you see religious paintings and icons painted on wooden supports, gesso is probably underneath the artwork. That gave the wood some “tooth” so the paint stuck to it (and didn’t peel off), but it also kept the paint from sinking into the grain of the wood.

By the mid-20th century, gesso began to change. In 1955, the first water-based acrylic gesso was created by Liquitex, the paint company. That gesso could be used underneath oil paint and underneath acrylic paint.

In recent years, some artists have questioned whether or not acrylic gesso is the right product to use under oil paint.

That’s not an issue for most people working in art journals.

However, if you also work with oil paints and want to buy just one gesso for both, discuss this with someone who’s current on this topic. (Or, look it up online to see what the latest theories are.)

Gesso and artists journals

As many of us began to create art journals, we found new uses for acrylic gesso. For example, it’s ideal for use under collages.

Note: The acrylic/oil issue shouldn’t affect art journalers who use oil pastels and crayons over acrylic gesso.

However, since the oil in oil paints, oil pastels, and similar products can weaken the paper in your journal, it’s a good idea to treat the paper with a coat of gesso, first.

When I journal, I use white gesso most of the time.

However, I’ve also used black gesso as part of the finished work. Here is an example of a page with black gesso on it. It’s from my Decluttering Journal.

Decluttering Journal pages 23 & 24

I used rubberstamp letters (alphabet letters) and an opaque (pigment) white stamp pad. I also added details with a white gel pen. The “tooth” (rough texture) of the black gesso can work well with opaque (pigment) gel pens, such as Sakura Gelly Roll pens.

How to use gesso

Like paint, gesso can get messy if you play with it. I usually spread newspaper on the desk, table, or floor where I’m working, just in case.

Shake the gesso container so it’s well mixed. Whether it’s acrylic gesso or traditional gesso, it’s still likely to separate.

Because gesso is water-based, you can use a regular brush to paint it on. I use a sponge brush for fast coverage.

If I’m working with an art journal, I apply a thin coat of gesso to one side of the page. That’s usually enough.

However, if I’ll be using heavy embellishments and the page needs to be very strong, I’ll use gesso on both sides of the page. Depending on how thick the gesso is, I may apply more than one layer to each side of the page.

Remember that the binding of your journal is also subject to wear & tear. Sometimes, especially when it’s a spiral-bound journal, I’ll paint gesso out to the edges of the page, including around the holes where the wire is.

Also, a journal with heavy embellishments will only hold up to a certain amount of page-turning. (In my classes, I often pass around my journals so people can look through them.) I closely watch the condition of my journals, and “retire” them from classroom use when they start to show signs of stress.

Cheap gesso has more water in it and will take longer to dry. If you’re going to apply gesso to the back of the page, too, be sure to let the paper dry completely before painting that second side. Otherwise, you’ll seal in moisture and weaken the paper.

Does price or quality matter?

No two people are likely to agree on this question.

When I’m using white gesso — which is most of the time — I buy whatever’s cheap. It works fine for my art journaling pages.

I often buy gesso in large tubs — like ice cream containers — to save money. As long as you put the lid back on securely, gesso stores well.

That’s sort of the best of both worlds: By buying in bulk, I get the best price for a higher-quality gesso.

When I want a colored gesso, especially black gesso, I spend considerably more and shop for very good brands.

In addition, I’ve tinted small amounts of cheap white gesso for special projects.

I start with a jar or paper cup that’s partly filled with white gesso. Then, I slowly add coloring until I achieve the color that I want.

For color, I’ve had luck with:

  • Plain (unsweetened) Kool-Aid
  • Dr. Ph. Martin’s concentrated water colors, added drop by drop to white gesso
  • Cheap watercolor paint drizzled into the gesso
  • Adding acrylic paints to the white gesso

Remember: If your Kool-Aid contains a sweetener, that can attract paper-munching insects and rodents.

Getting fancy

You’ll find a variety of gessos, each created for different kinds of art.

In addition to colored gessos, some companies make a “hard gesso” that goes on thick and can be sanded to a smooth finish. Although this product would be too heavy for use on regular journal pages, it could be useful on a heavy journal cover or other rigid support.

Gesso powder will mix into acrylic (and other) gessos to make them heavier, thicker, textured, and so on.

Summary

  • Gesso is the primer. It helps paint stick to any surface, including paper, cloth or board.
  • Gesso prevents paint from soaking into your journal page.
  • Gesso strengthens paper so that you can apply layers of collage and heavier embellishments.

You don’t have to use gesso, ever. It’s just an extra tool for certain kinds of art journaling.

Artfest Doll

Many years ago, I taught at Artfest.  It was a golden era, and I had a wonderful time.

At one Artfest, organizer Teesha Moore gave us simple cloth dolls.  I think her grandmother had assembled them.

When I received mine, I promptly embellished her.  Here’s the result.

Artfest doll - 2001 or so

(I apologize for the size of the image. It’s from around 2001, I think.  All of my online images were very small, because — with dial-up connections, and some people paying by-the-minute for Internet service — load time and file sizes were a big concern.)

My embellishments:

I added rubber stamps, beads, wool hair, antennae with beads, and wired, rubber-stamped, paper “faerie wings.”

I think she’s in storage right now.  When I find her again, I’ll be sure to take a better photo and add her to this website.

How to Collage in Your Art Journal

This is from a letter to the old — now closed — ArtistsJournals2 list at Yahoo!Groups.  I wrote it around 2002. Some of the information (and the terminology) has changed.  We started calling them “artists journals.”  Then, people began calling them just “art journals.”  Then, I started saying art/journals.  As of 2012, we’re back to calling them artists journals again.

Whatever you call them, they’re illustrated diaries or journals, and they’re important.

Here’s my early article:

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!

What I do, as in my Artfest journal, is to 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.

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.

I apply the gel with a sponge brush. I often forget to rinse them, so they’ll be used just once or twice, and I stock up on the cheapo ones (10 cents each on Michael’s sale) regularly.

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! *grin* 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’s sort of like bringing what’s deep inside me, forward.

I hope to teach more journaling classes in the future, because I have a bazillion techniques to share, and sometimes it works best in a class where people can actually SEE how this works, and experiment, hands-on. But I love collage and I love journaling, and what I learn about myself and others in the process.

More? You’ll find additional notes on collage techniques in my Insight Shrines class handouts (in PDF format), and my letter to Erin about art/journaling.

In the near future, you’ll be able to see at least one of my journals, and “page” through it. And, from time to time, I’ll display my actual art/journal pages here, as I create them.