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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
This collage also appears at Eibhlin.com – my other art website. (“Aisling D’Art” was a pen name I adopted in the early days of the Internet, when women were in the minority, online, and some of us went to great lengths to protect our privacy and identities.)
Next to my bed, I keep a three-ring binder for articles that inspire me, plus notes and ideas I jot on paper, and so on.
The cover of that notebook features word art, “Create the Life You Can’t Wait to Wake Up To.”
My illustration (above) features one of my early morning sunrise sketches – an oil painting – as the background.
Even after several years of seeing it every day, I still smile as I read those words. (In a Google Image Search, you can see many more examples of that phrase, accenting art & photos, or used as word art.)
I like the term “word art” because it describes art-with-words. That includes digital and printed art, calligraphy, mailart, art journaling, coloring books, and scrapbooking… plus many other creative projects.
And I love word art because – even if you can’t draw a stick figure – you can still create lovely (even magnificent) word art.
Three parts of successful word art
Successful word art includes letters (usually as words, phrases, or longer text), so the style of the letters – the font (or fonts) – matter. So do the proportions of the letters and the layout of the text.
Of course, the message is important, too. It should be something with an emotional impact. I like words and phrases that are uplifting and inspiring, and sometimes funny as well.
And finally, the background – if you use one – can enhance the message.
It’s ideal for all three elements to work together. But, if you’re a perfectionist, avoid tweaking more than you need to. Know when to say “good enough.”
Where to begin
Every artist has their own system for creating word art.
It might start with an idea they want to express.
They might find a quote that makes their heart sing.
The spark may come from a sketch, a painting, or a photo. Or a photo of art.
This morning, I started with an idea, then found a quote I liked, selected a font, and then located a background photo.
I assembled the pieces in Photoshop, but Canva, Gimp, and other free tools can produce gorgeous results, too.
Here’s what I created in about 10 minutes.
Tomorrow, I might start with some art and then build out, adding a quote I like.
In other words, no approach is “best” and – in art – I try to avoid by-the-numbers formulas, anyway.
Next, here are some tips so you can create and enjoy word art, too.
Most of my word art starts with an idea. Then I look for a quote that fits it. In case I decide to use the finished art commercially, I try to locate quotes that are in the public domain. That prevents copyright disputes.
Keep that in mind if you’re planning to use a font in something like a coloring book, blank journal, poster, or print-on-demand product.
My favorite free resources include FontSquirreland GoogleFonts. They specialize in open source fonts, and fonts you can use (free) in commercial products.
Some huge sites – like FontSpace – offer great, free fonts for personal use. However, when I searched FontSpace today, looking for commercially licensed free fonts, none of their 71,000 fonts met that one search criterion.
Fonts to purchase
When shopping for fonts, you’ll find many affordable options. Some are better than others. Frankly, many of them confirm the adage, “you get what you pay for,” but some stand out with great products, great prices, or great customer service.. or all three.
Generally, if I find one or two attractive fonts in a package, I’ll buy the entire package. That’s usually less expensive than buying the ones I like, individually.
(Also, I’ve had great, fast response from TheHungryJPEG’s customer support as well as CreativeMarket’s.)
However, it’s smart to double-check by searching (at Google, Qwant, etc.) for the font you like, by name. If you can’t find it, search for the name of the artist or font foundry. Sometimes, their individual fonts are very affordable.
For years, I recommended FontBundles.net and their sister site, DesignBundles. Now, after a shockingly bad experience with their customer support – as others have, too – I will never shop there again.
In a class of its own
My all-time favorite source of paid fonts is Design Cuts. (Obviously, they offer a lot more than fonts.) They offer bundles – often themed – for around $30. They’re dazzling, and the values – sometimes in thousands of dollars – are not exaggerated.
You can also purchase individual products; the more you buy, the bigger the discounts.
For fonts, Design Cuts earns my highest praise. Their fonts are stylish and high-quality. You won’t find anything “plain vanilla” in their bundles or their individual products.
Their customer service has been flawless, as well.
A sneaky way to get the look you want, free
There are times when you want a great, stylish font, but you can’t afford it.
See if they recommend a free or really inexpensive font that’s “close enough” to what you wanted.
Sneaky tactic #2:Search at free font sites (like DaFont) using the name of the font you like. Then try slight misspellings. If the price-y font is popular, there may be a pretty good (and free) clone of it.
Of course, no free or inexpensive (and legal) font is going to match the style and elegance of the original, high-priced font. But, until you can afford to buy that font, the lookalike might be all you need.
Learn the fine art of combining fonts
No matter what look you aspire to, font combinations can make a huge difference. The way fonts interact often highlights the best features of each font. In a way, it elevates the lettering into the “fine art” realm.
Search for “font combining” and you’ll find lots of advice. Add the current year (right now, that’d be “2020 font combining”) for edgy and trending combinations.
I hope this article has inspired you to try some word art of your own. Whether you use it to decorate your home or office, in an Etsy product, or you share it free in memes, word art is a way to convey a powerful message.
If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, leave a message in the comments section below. (I read and manually approve all comments at all of my sites, and I’d love to hear from you.)
Links in this article are (deliberately) not affiliate links. I earn nothing for recommending those resources.
Are you looking for an easy – and somewhat sneaky – way to add more excitement to your art journaling?
The answer may be: RESIST!
In art journaling, “resist” is a way to keep paint – and some other products – from sticking to the page. Other terms for this include: mask, masking fluid, and frisket. (You’ll see many different products at Amazon.com.)
Some resist techniques are simple, like using a white crayon on a white page. Watercolors, acrylic paint, most (not all) rubber stamp inks, and so on… they usually won’t stick to any area where the crayon wax is.
This short video shows one way to use white crayon as a resist.
Here’s another short video with some good suggestions if you’re using a white crayon as a way to keep part of your page white:
Remember that once the wax crayon has been applied, that area on your artist’s journal page won’t accept water-based media, ever. Even if you try to wipe the crayon lines off… the paint (or rubber stamp ink, etc.) probably won’t stick.
White Glue Mask/Resist
In this video, you’ll see one of Traci Bautista’s products mentioned. It’s a decoupage product, Collage Pauge, that can be uses as a resist. However, as the video explains, you can use white glue for the same purpose.
Other resists aren’t necessarily as waterproof as crayon. Alcohol is an example. Though it can be 100% resistant to water-based pigment, sometimes it isn’t. Also, it can be harder to control than white glue, white crayon, or products designed for use as resists, masks, and friskets.
Embossing Resist (with Heat)
If you have embossing supplies, this is an innovative way to use them in your art journal, as a resist.
Resist with Adhesive Letters or Decorations
This is a fun, kind of reverse-resist approach to art journaling. First, you paint a colorful layer. Then, you add the adhesive-backed letters or shapes. (I’d use inexpensive letters, and don’t push them down too firmly.) Then you paint over the whole thing with white (or a color), and then you peel off the letters/shapes you’d stuck onto the page.
I think these ideas are kind of wonderful. I already knew a few, but – watching these videos – I’m inspired to revisit them, and try the new resist techniques, too.