How to Collage in Your Art Journals (revised)
The following article was updated from my earlier article of the same name. As part of the 2020 site merge (including ArtistsJournals.com), I need to merge the best of both articles, but – for now – both include good information.
Collage is an easy way to add art to your diary or journal.
For years, I started each day with a quick collage, the same as I used to create my “morning pages” inspired concepts in the book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity
For me, collages are a more visual version of “morning pages.”
I usually allow a half an hour for each collage, but sometimes go back several times throughout the day to add things.
The process starts with the determination that, whether it’s good art or not, there will be a collage when I’m finished!
PREPARING THE JOURNAL
Usually, I just work on the pages in a spiral-bound sketchbook, just as they are.
Sometimes I’ll gesso a few pages my journal, ahead of time. Then they are strong enough to support heavily embellished collages here & there.
I’ll leave a few pages for writing, then allow two or three pages that are left blank for collage. That forces me to avoid having an all-text journal.
In an average journal, I’ll gesso five to ten pages that I plan to use for painted, ornate or heavy collages.
Remember that gesso is entirely optional. In fact, most people don’t use it at all.
I use any gesso that’s cheap, from the fine art supplies section of Michael’s or any art supply store.
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. I buy cheap 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.
Now and then, I use black gesso for art journal pages on which I’ll stamp text in white, or use a white gel pen.
For more information about gesso, see my other article, Gesso – What it is, how to use it
PHOTOS, PICTURES, AND OTHER IMAGES
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. I’ll 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.
My favorite magazines for collage include the fashion magazine, W, because it includes great images, heavy paper, and very large words and phrases that show up nicely on my pages.
I also like glossy magazines such as National Geographic, because the colors are great, the images are unusual, and–since the pages are clay-based–I can use the magazine for image transfers.
(I’ll talk about that at another time. It’s a more complicated collage and embellishment technique.)
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 – 15 cents each during Michael’s store sales) regularly.
WAX PAPER IS HANDY!
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.
For more about using wax paper when creating art, see my article,
Wax paper and art journals.
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 band-aid may hold an image in place. And there are grommets, paper clips, straight pins, safety pins, and so on. Think beyond tradition and rules!
Most completed journals won’t fully close
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!
I may 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.
TO LEARN MORE…
I hope to teach more journaling classes in the future, because I have a bazillion techniques to share. Sometimes it’s best when 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 and in my letter to Erin about art/journaling.
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