Analog Collage Process Walkthrough
After seeing some procedural slideshows from a fellow collage artist (@edcapos on Instagram for the curious) I decided I would document the creation of a single collage, step by step. I've attempted to relate some of my aesthetic philosophies that guide my choices, as well as musings on the nature of illusion, perspective, etc. I hope this will be of interest to the casual collage viewer and not just those who engage in the practice of making them- or if you consider yourself part of the first crowd perhaps this will even move you to join the second!
If you don't want to read the nitty gritty- just scroll through the pictures for a visual story of the assemblage!
To begin at the beginning- some broad strokes. My collages are aggregates of found images, reassembled into new contexts- a bunch of cut of pieces of paper glued and tucked into a scene. I use a smaller, Japanese version of an X-Acto blade to make the cuts and a liquid PVA glue to put together the pieces. I have probably somewhere around seventy-five different books in my "collage library" that I can pull images from, but am mostly working throiugh 10-20 books within any sequence or series. I get books at thrift stores, library sales, dumps, and as gifts from friends and family. I don't use magazines as a source because they typically have low quality paper that is is too thin to hold together for fine details. I favor oversized books because I've been working with fairly large pieces of paper for the backer. Hard to make big scenes with small images.
Each collage has to start somewhere, though I rarely have any idea where I'm headed. Here your source material will steer you in an initial direction- I just flip through my books and start to slice out whole pages of images I find visually interesting. It could be a focal point to build a scene around, or perhaps a backdrop to populate. This collage starts with a boat.
Looks like a pretty good boat. It's got banners, trumpets, guys in uniform. I approve. We don't want to be rowing down this canal though. So the background has to go.
First I just remove the bulk of the waste from around the boat, we're going to try to keep the little guys trailing in the back too. This just makes it easy to rotate the paper around while cutting. Next comes some detail work.
It is quite satisfying to free an image from its context. Preserving the fine details helps the image survive the loss of its background and become part of a new one. For example, if we don't cut out the oars because it is faster to just follow the keel of the boat, the rowers will look goofy and the boat would have no propulsion. Now we need a new body of water for our boats though.
So we've got a body of water. It has the right perspective and depth to place our boats on, but I don't love the quality of the water, I was hoping for more of a deep blue-green ocean. I had to glue two opposing pages of a scene together, which results in a seam but is pretty hard to avoid for large collages. You can often obscure them later on.
Here I'll admit that in cutting out the boat I was forgetting one of my usual collage guidelines- stay away from water. Water is very difficult. I want the collage to present everything to the eye of the viewer- there shouldn't be anything outside of the frame. In order to do that you have to eliminate the edges of any page from your source material. Any definite shape can give you an organic and visually interesting line to follow to signal a closure of the scene- but bodies of water don't easily provide these. Furthermore, they are quite tricky to blend together into larger bodies of water.
Oh well. We're going to be stubborn and stick to our seascape. Time to start blending.
Anybody remember the sea of lilies from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? Love that book. We can work with this.
So again we have to combine two pages, sometimes if an overlap isn't possible due to alignment I'll cut out a little paper backer that they both sit on to get a better fit that won't fall apart as I play with different arrangements. I apply the glue with a brush. Here I've also started to cut away waste from the lily pads to create a more pleasing outline.
I've decided to move on from the first piece of the seascape though- not quite right.
Occasionally you'll get an image spread on two pages but they are on opposing folds of the same piece of paper. Here we can save ourselves the glue-up if we just carefully cut out the stitching and free the whole piece. Unfortunately you still get a seam from the fold and tiny holes from the stitch but so it goes.
Here is our new working draft- perspective needs work I'm much happier with the color palette. Had to lose the smaller boat train though, not enough ocean for them. Time to flesh out the scene a bit- we need to do some terraforming to define a coastline. Whatever we add in here needs to compliment and correct towards a more unified perspective for the scene.
Sort of forgot about the documentation for a little while until this transition- I made an imposing bluff with a stream from a waterfall scene which will help to close off the oceanscape/horizon on the left side of the scene. I also brought in a character who is awaiting the arrival of the boat. You might recognize him- I think he is a wizard or a mystic of some sort. Also bringing in some architectural details to try to suggest a dock or landing that the boat would head for. We need more water for our boat though.
Sure, its a different color sunset but I like the gradient it creates and if we place the boat right on the transition it will hide the leading edge- this might also create a sense that the coming of the boat is somehow causally related to the shifting sky. We've got two columns for the landing site although I wish I had reduced the width of the column that is "further back" to aid the perspective. Already glued down though. A happy compromise is formed by shifting slightly the position of our character to suggest he is leaning on the column. Overlapping this way creates depth, but the lean, to my mind, suggests a more casual waiting where the original posture was one more of a bent back and resignation.
There is still a seam on our horizon line though, so we'll give that little rowboat a central mast. Proper sailors and shipwrights will forgive me if I take artistic license in my nautical creations.
I like this fellows spear, with its little pennant hanging off the end. He won't miss it. Add a scrap of luxurious wall hanging from some Renaissance painting for a sail and you've got...
Looks believable, to my eye. We want a sail hanging limp since the other banners of the boat aren't blowing in any wind, and the rowers wouldn't be working it like that if the sail was out. Pretty close to a full scene now, though the balance is pretty heavily weighted to the left.
Here is a nice little geographical feature we can take to finish off our landing area. Those passed out wizards are tempting but they aren't the right size for our perspective.
Much more grounded. How about a lintel for those two columns? Followers of this series have probably noticed I've got a bit of a fondness for a good old post and lintel frame lately.... there is a lot of rocks around though and not much else, so I'm going to try for something a bit unconventional.
A mostly dead tree? Yup. It is a bit of a stretch engineering-wise, but I'm all for fantastic details. Just imagine those stone columns are through-tenoned into mortises in that dead tree, alright?
Cool. Not quite right, as my lovely partner Olivia pointed out when I asked her for feedback. She is quick to point out incongruence and has an exceptional sense of scale and balance. I always appreciate her help in putting finishing touches on a piece. The lintel sits a bit too starkly against the columns I think. I've also added some rocks on the right side of the scene to suggest shallows and balance the image- the lilypads have been slightly reconfigured in front too to better center for the final arrangement. One last addition though!
Bonsai trees are the best. Can you guess where it is going? Everything gets glued to a final resting spot and the whole thing is glued to a big piece of this fantastic handmade paper from Nepal. The paper fibers are less processed which gives it texture and a cloth-like quality.
Up to the top of the bluff! I like the way this changes the scale of the whole left side of the coast. If you look closely I added a small stone lintel that helps transition from column to tree. And that is it!
This is the final image, though eventually the collage will have a clear varnish applied to give an even sheen to the different pieces of paper. The colors are more pronounced and vibrant thanks to a different light source than the washed out bulbs of my basement studio- I do some minor image editing to try to arrive at an accurate representation of the colors if you were viewing the original.
If you stuck through the whole process- thanks for reading! I hope you found it interesting or at least laughed once or twice. I've enabled comments for this blog post, please feel free to let me know what you thought, or ask any questions it may have raised!