Sometimes, plans go awry. This collage… Well, it was intended as an 8″ x 10″ work, so the support I started with was 8.5″ x 11″.
But, as I kept working, it grew.
The collage elements include images leftover from a piece I worked on, yesterday.
The woman at the top of the art is Sharon Stone. Her comment about roles for women – that they’re aren’t any between ages 40 and 60 – resonated with me. Ageism continues to thrive, as do labels, especially for women. That 40-to-60 age can be especially troublesome.
(I see the recent raves about how great/young Selma Hayek looks in a swimsuit, at age 53, and wonder, “Yes, she looks great, but are we defining ‘beauty’ as ‘looks like she’s 30’? and why is her age part of the headline? Why not say ‘Selma Hayek Has Style’ and leave it at that?”)
So, the “you’re READY” phrase and “She’s back” are about rebellion against compartmentalization – by age, race, gender, and so on.
The elevator buttons reference rising up.
The image of the woman at the lower left is deliberately torn, as all of us try to navigate a challenging time. Right now (January 2021), I think so many people are confused and somewhat overwhelmed, compartmentalizing is even easier. It’s a way to put people into categories instead of finding time to understand them as individuals.
What’s resulting is a fractured society, defined by labels that can separate us.
And then there’s how the collage spilled off the lower edge of the support. In a way, that’s part of the artistic message, as well. It was unintended, but… well, many of us are “playing it by ear” right now. If the results aren’t tidy, at least they’re authentic.
Materials: torn images from magazines, Yes paste, and a poster board support.
The photo shows my worktable, with cotton swabs for applying small bits of adhesive, my Speedball brayer for smoothing each piece as its applied, the collage (on a kitchen cutting board I like for collage work), and my reading glasses for seeing details.
In the next video, artist Robert Burridge – in a “BobBlast” – shares how he layers his collages. His video is three minutes long and filled with ideas for using paper elements, gel medium, paint, and stencils.
Anne Bagby created some amazing mixed media work, including art journals. Her layered collages and journals have an extraordinary depth. In many of them, her use of cut paper unifies her designs. This five-minute video shows how she used quilting supplies to cut paper strips for a crisp, even effect.
To learn more about Anne’s techniques – with lots of photos from her gallery work – this 17-minute video is inspiring. It’s sort-of an illustrated podcast. (Don’t be put off by the opening. The video is filled with photos of her mixed media art. Absolutely astonishing. I kind of drooled over my keyboard, watching it.)
And, finally, here is an intriguing video by collage artist Michael Madzo. He’s working with his own paintings, paper elements, and gel medium, he’s also using sewing to bring added depth and meaning to his work. Though many artists don’t work with their own fine art paintings, Madzo’s techniques and concepts might spark some of your own collage ideas. The video is about five minutes long.
Finding and curating these videos, I found myself being tremendously inspired to revisit some of my own past paintings (ones that I wasn’t happy with) and see if some of these materials & techniques might bring new life and fresh energy to them.
Also, I’ll admit that I’m looking at some framed canvas images – posters, sort of – that we’d bought at IKEA, just to decorate the walls, short term. They might make wonderful starting points for mixed media embellishments.
Are you art journaling? Do you struggle to collect and organize collage photos, papers and ephemera?
I’ve found a system that works well for me. It might help you, too.
Art journaling – and mixed-media collage – can require lots of images. And, to remain “in flow” as you’re creating a new journal entry (or embellishing an older one), organization can be vital.
Here are some tips.
Step One: Sort collage elements by themes
I save my collage elements – especially magazine photos – by color, in manila folders. I start with the major color groups (red, blue, green, etc.) and then expand (lime green, turquoise, etc.) as my collection of saved images becomes too large for anything simpler.
I include all kinds of papers in my folders. So, when I want something blue, I open my “blue” folder and I’ll see my primarily blue magazine images, but also blue tissue paper, maybe some bits of blue ribbons or fabrics that I intend to use in collage, and so on.
Of course, my art journaling collages are usually more color-driven than image-driven, per se. So, organizing by color makes sense to me.
For someone else, it might make more sense to organize by other themes, instead of (or in addition to) by colors.
And, I’ll admit that – for art journaling – I’ve started folders that say things like “skies” and “green plants.”
Your categories might be “faces” or even more specifically, “women’s smiling faces,” etc. Or, “nature,” “dark-looking castles,” “cute cottages,” “kissing,” “fast cars,” “vintage images,” or whatever.
Step Two: Store the folders in a big portfolio
All of my manila folders are stored in one large, flat old-fashioned artist’s portfolio. You know, those huge black folders. Some are made from heavy cardboard, covered with a black, textured surface. Others are fabric, and sometimes reinforced.
Paintbrushes are important for many artists. I have jars & jars of them for all purposes.
Foam brushes are useful in almost every kind of art I create.
When I’m creating collages, especially torn-paper collages in my artist’s journals, I apply the gel medium — as an adhesive as well as a sealer — with a foam brush. (That same gel + foam brush works fine for applying glitter or metallic leafing to my art, too.)
I also use foam brushes to apply cheap, vivid, cadmium red paint (acrylic) as an underpainting when I’m working on an art shrine (that I’ll also paint) or a fine art painting.
Stores such as Michaels, A. C. Moore, and Hobby Lobby often feature foam brushes on sale. For example, from 16 – 22 January 2011, Michaels were selling 14 foam brushes for $1.
Two more notes: I generally get at least three to five uses from each foam brush. I wash them thoroughly and promptly after using them.
And, if you use the kind with wooden handles, the wood can be recycled in a variety of projects. (For some of my cloth dolls, that handle is the perfect size to reinforce the doll’s neck, as the wooden dowel will extend from the head through the neck and then into the torso.)
Torn-paper collages are among my favorite ways to illustrate an artist’s journal.
I’ve been creating them for over 20 years now, and I never seem to get tired of them. In fact, two walls in our living room are a mini-museum of my favorite torn-paper collages. (People who visit us can be overwhelmed. It’s like they just want to stand and gawk at the art, undisturbed, for at least 20 – 30 minutes.)
Here’s how to create your own.
Steps to create a torn-paper collage.
1. Gather Collage supplies.
All you really need are some pictures, something to use as glue, and something to support your collage, like a piece of paper.
For pictures, words & phrases
– Magazines, newspapers, printed materials, junk mail
I especially like fashion, travel and nature magazines for photos. “W” magazine is great for huge, almost surreal images, as well as great words & phrases. “Town & Country” magazine offers a nice mix of fashion, travel, home & garden photos, as well as yummy ads.
If I’m going to sell the finished work, I’m careful about using magazines such as National Geographic. Though their pictures are gorgeous, they have a reputation for being difficult about copyright issues.
Here’s one guideline for using otherwise-copyrighted images: Some Questions About Fair Use. They give a good example of “transformative” artwork… and that’s the kind of collage I create.
For words and phrases, I like health, fitness, religious and New Age magazines, as well as junk mail… including the envelopes, which are often better than whatever’s enclosed in it.
I find free magazines at public libraries and sometimes at laundromats (ask if they’re ready to get rid of some of them).
Adhesives and glues for collage art
Previously, I was using Golden Gel Medium (Soft Gel – gloss) with a sponge brush. I suspect that other, less expensive gel mediums work just as well.
Now (2021), I use YES! Paste. For my work, it’s absolutely perfect, with minimal buckling and puckering, and the ability to reposition the image… for at least a few minutes.
Even better, a jar seems to last forever.
When I use a sponge brush, I rinse it out completely as soon as I’m finished with it. I can usually use the same sponge brush for a week before it starts to fall apart.
When I’m applying the adhesive, I use an old phone book or junk mail underneath my work.
Support for your collage
Anything can support your collage. I generally use a regular spiral-bound sketchbook for my daily collages. However, for this one (“Uncompromised’), I used a file folder. I’m not sure why; it seemed like the right choice.
You could use poster board, canvas, wood, or almost any surface that will accept glue.
(Some dishes or tiles work well with collages, but others don’t. Test different materials and adhesives to see what works for you.)
In the past – around 2000 – I used a lot of gold leaf and glitter, but that was a personal preference. Almost anything that you can glue to a surface can be used as an embellishment.
2. Select images and words or phrases.
Go quickly through your materials, and – without much thought – choose images, words & phrases that appeal to you. Tear out the entire page and set it aside.
Tip: If you like more than one element on a page, separate them. Otherwise, it’s easy to forget that you were going to use more than one item from a single page.
I often select a word or phrase early in this process. In this case, I chose “Uncompromised” quickly. The word “promise” is in red in it, and I realized (light bulb realization) that when I compromise, I’m breaking a promise to myself or to others. Even if it’s just small and unspoken, it’s still a betrayal (big or little) of an ideal that I held or aspired to.
That’s a concept worth examining, as I work on daily priorities.
Remember that you can use a word or phrase from a sentence. I chose “you deserve” from a laxative ad!
When you feel pleased with your collection of pages, or when you have a stack of about ten pages, pause and begin working with them.
3. Tear the images in the approximate size, and then to the exact size.
If a page is really large, it can be more difficult to tear out the precise element that I want. So, I tear the page around the general area of the element, and then tear more exactly.
When I’m making the final tear, I try to tear it all in one go, not inching along, a little at a time. A smooth tear usually looks nicer, unless you have a specific reason for a very jagged edge.
Also, when you tear the magazine page, there will be a white edge in one direction of the tear. (The yellow arrow points to it.) I like to work with either all white-edged images, or keep all of my images without white edges.
4. Apply adhesive to the back of the image.
This is going to be a little messy… or even a lot messy. Revel in it!
I use a sponge brush. Some people use their fingers or a regular brush.
I keep a damp rag or paper towel next to me, to clean glue off my fingers as I work. (I also wash my brushes thoroughly, as soon as I’ve completed my work.)
Work with something underneath the image, so you can cover the back of the image with adhesive.
If the adhesive is too thick, it can be lumpy underneath the image. If the adhesive is applied in a really thin layer, it can dry too quickly. However, as long as some of it sticks to the collage, that can be enough.
If you’re using gel medium, remember that it sort of melts with extreme heat.
You can use an iron (there are special irons made for this, too) — with some sort of release paper between the collage and the iron, so the iron doesn’t get all gooey from the melting medium — and the heat softens & reactivates the gel.
So, even dried gel medium can be reactivated and it’ll suddenly adhere the entire image to whatever’s underneath it.
I only do this when the collage is nearly completed – before I apply any glitter or gold leaf – if there’s clearly a problem where part of the collage didn’t adhere correctly.
Keep in mind that your lower layers (and at least some of their edges) will be covered by later additions to the collage.
5. Place the image where you want it to be, in your collage.
Try to place it exactly where you want it to be, or at least fairly close. If you lift, stretch, or drag a piece of magazine paper, it can stretch and look a little odd in your final work.
If your collage element seems to bubble, it’s okay to pat it flat, but don’t try to smooth it. (I learned that from collage artist Claudine Hellmuth.)
If you brush it or rub it with your fingers to smooth it, it’ll stretch the paper and the finished result might be disappointing.
Bubbled paper seems to shrink back to shape was the adhesive dries, or at least some papers will do that. So, if you’re going to put something over the bubbled piece, let the bubbled part dry, first. It might flatten out on its own.
6. Keep working. Build up more layers. Tear more images as you work, if you need more images.
I usually tear out the first three or four images that I’m going to work with, and then start building the collage.
When I’m happy with them, or if I decide to add another image that I haven’t torn out yet, I pause and tear out what I’ll need next.
If I have a massive pile of torn paper – good stuff and paper that I may (or may not) use – it can become confusing.
7. Continue to build your collage.
Remember that the first layers are the background. As you add layers, they’ll be on top. (It’s amazingly easy to forget this, sometimes.)
The focal point (or points) of your collage should probably be on top. The leading areas tend to attract the attention of the viewer.
However, it’s okay to tuck little surprises in the lower layers, for the viewer to “discover” as he or she explores the collage.
Also, don’t despair if your collage looks messy. Some will be more messy than others. It’s okay.
Here’s a close-up of one area on this morning’s collage.
Here’s what you need to know if you make a “mistake.”
1. Milky areas will probably dry clear.
2. If the paper looks translucent in some areas (like right above the letter T in the photo above), they’ll probably turn opaque when the adhesive dries.
3. Anything that looks weird when the collage is nearly finished, can be covered with embellishments (glitter, gold leaf, threads, pieces of mica, paint, etc.) or you can cover it with another image or phrase.
It’s okay to change your mind.
For this collage, I’d selected a great image of a model looking in one direction. However, I discovered an even better photo on the back of it: Mulawi children in colorful, traditional clothing.
So, allow for serendipity as you work.
8. Keep building your collage until you’re happy with it.
It’s okay to take your time. It’s also okay to rush through this in a flurry of creativity.
You can start the collage, walk away from it, and finish it later in the day, or the next day, or the next week!
Tip: When you think to yourself, “I think this is nearly finished,” it’s probably finished. Stop! Take a break, and then take a fresh look at it.
It’s better to stop too early than take the work too far.
9. Consider adding embellishments.
I love embellishments, but you don’t have to add any at all. Every artist has his or her own style.
Tissue paper (it may remain translucent if you use gel medium over and underneath that layer).
Thread, glued on or stitched on.
Beads, mica, sand, pieces of glass.
Paint, oil pastels, stencils, rubber stamp art.
You can even embed something that plays a tune or says something (like in greeting cards) in your collage, for people to press.
The possibilities are unlimited.
10. (Optional) Finish with a coat of gel medium or other sealer.
After the collage is fully dry, you can seal it with a thin coat of gel medium. It’s not necessary, but it will give the collage a uniform level of gloss (or a uniformly matte finish, if you used a matte gel medium).
This will also protect the collage from dust and damage, if you want to leave it “as is” instead of displaying it under glass.
Tip: If you’re using this in an artist’s journal – such as a spiral-bound sketchpad – place a piece of wax paper between the collage and the facing page. That will prevent the pages from sticking together if the journal is stored where the heat might soften the gel medium.
My finished collage
Though I could probably explain all of the elements, it’s true that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Basically, this is about re-evaluating compromises… things that I decided were okay, short-term, as a step to a more important goal. For me, it’s easy for those to become long-term issues.
For me, the image of the happy children in colorful clothing is important. It’s how joyous and self-expressive we all can be.
And yes, we all deserve to live deliciously, savoring every moment!
Here’s the YouTube video. It’s only four minutes, so it’s a bit of a whirlwind.
What follows is my 2008 update, as my art journaling process changed (slightly).
Most days, I allow an hour for each collage, and I try to create them in the morning, soon after I get up. That seems to be when my right-brain (creative side) is most active and open to imagery.
Sometimes – but not often – I go back several times throughout the day to add things.
Preparing the journal
Usually, I work on pages in a spiral-bound sketchbook, just as they are.
Sometimes I’ll gesso a few pages my journal, ahead of time. Then they’re strong enough to support heavily embellished collages.
That’s all gesso does: Make the page stronger, for embellishment, and – if you’re going to use paint – gesso prevents the paper from soaking up too much paint.
Most of the time, I don’t use gesso. I work directly on the paper.
Remember that gesso is entirely optional. In fact, most people don’t use it at all.
I just like the option of adding paint or heavy embellishments to my art journaling pages. For that, gesso creates an ideal working surface in your sketchbook or other paper support.
I use any acrylic gesso that’s cheap, from any store that carries gesso. Michael’s can have some great deals, especially their house brand or as a student-grade product.
I buy the largest container they’re selling, for the best price.
Yes, you can buy gesso in colors, but if you start with white, you can add color to it, using dye, food coloring, or watercolors, or mixing in acrylic paint.
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. Here’s an example.
For more information about gesso, see my other article, Gesso – What it is, how to use it
Photos, pictures, and other images
I store a variety of images – ad flyers, tickets, programmes, handwritten notes, vintage paper and photos (etc.) – in folders. For now, they’re kept in a heavy cardboard portfolio, to use when I want to create a collage.
In plastic bins, I store stack of magazines & newspapers, too.
(In addition, I keep a separate “junk bin” for junk mail flyers. I put those beneath my images as I’m applying glue to the back of the collage elements.)
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 after 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.)
[As of 2021, some of the following information is outdated. I’ve stopped using gel medium for most of my art journaling collages. I’m getting far better results with Yes! Paste.]
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 keeps the pages from sticking
While the page dries, I’ll place a piece of waxed paper over it so I can turn the page and work on another page in my journal.
If the damp collage is 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 highlight some of my collages with 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!
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. Look around you and see what might work for your collages. Give them texture. It can enhance the originality!
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 complete lots of pages, my journal may be so thick – or so buckled – that it hasn’t a chance of closing 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.
Art journaling as self-discovery
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.
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.
This is from my 2002 post to the old ArtistsJournals2 list at Yahoo!Groups.
Some of the information (and the terminology) has changed.
For example: In the late 1990s, we’d started calling them “artists journals.” Then, people began calling them “art journals” and I used the term art/journals. Now (2021), we’re using terms like “art journaling,” “mixed media art,” and sometimes “scrapbooking.”
Whatever you call them, they’re illustrated diaries or journals, and they’re important.
I’ve been doing these quick collages for months now, though not consciously doing them daily.
As I’m writing this, I’m starting each day with a collage, the same as I used to do morning pages.
I allow myself a half an hour for the initial collage process. Then, later in the day, I may go back several times – adding more 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!
Usually, I paint with gesso throughout my journal so the pages are strong enough to support collages here & there.
I’ll leave a few pages for writing, then gesso two or three pages so they’re 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.
Gesso for art journals
For my art journaling, 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 mostly 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.
Then, the images
I store a wide range of images 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.
Adhesives hold it all together
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. Sometimes, I forget to rinse them. Though I’m much better at remembering now – due to environmental concerns – I stock up on inexpensive sponge brushes (10 cents each during Michael’s sales) regularly.
[2021 update: Now, I’m using Yes! paste. I apply it with a sponge brush or a cotton swab, depending on what I’m applying to the page in my art journal. It rarely buckles or puckers. I absolutely love this product!]
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 damp-and-drying page, I’ll keep waxed paper between the pages for a week or two until the adhesive is fully cured.
Embellishments in your art journal
Don’t limit yourself to paper and the occasional paint or colored accent.
I highlight some of my work with different types of leafing… gold, copper, etc. I adhere it with the same medium or paste.
For some of my work, I think of other ways to attach stuff.
For example, 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 prevents the journal from fully closing, nice and flat.
Frankly, by the time I get done with lots of pages, the whole thing is so layered (and sometimes a bit buckled) that it hasn’t a chance of closing nice OR flat, ever again!
Cover additions are a nice touch
Often, 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.
But, you may think of other ways to secure your art journal. Think of it as yet more mixed-media art, not just “what’s going to hold this journal closed, in my purse or backpack.”
Do. Don’t plan!
These collages are exciting to me.
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.
From time to time, I’ll display my new (real) art journaling and mixed media art pages here, as I create them.
My best advice is to make your journal your own. Mimic others while you’re learning, if you need to.
But, as soon as you can, start following your “what if…?” whims. Experiment, and then tweak if necessary.
Soon, you’ll find your own style. And – of course – it will evolve over time, as we do as individual.
In many ways, I feel as if art journaling reveals who we really are. And that’s important, as self-expression and as a legacy for the future.
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