I was going to title this post FLOWER POWER.

At a Bloomfield College workshop I led last month, I taught basic tips on collage to young adults. The workshop included a demonstration on how to place papers, and how to apply glue.

The plan was for students to create a landscape collage of a beautiful place inspired by the art of Romare Bearden. It didn’t happen.


They were inspired – instead –  by a flat, cut-out of a chrysanthemum flower that was on a table in the art room (the image above is more complicated than the paper flower).

What I see and learn at each workshop I teach – every time I teach – is that each person is creative in her/his own unique way no matter what I say or how I present a project. I like that.

Last November I wrote LET ME DO IT MY WAY about how the people who attend my workshops push away from my ideas and explore their own ideas. I wonder if it’s something I say or the way I present the materials.

I wrote: I never know in advance if students want to be directed or if they want to be their own director. It was a popular blog and includes wonderful images of student work.


At the Bloomfield College workshop last month, each student got my handout titled 10 Collage Tip. I asked them to follow the text and watch as I demonstrated working with papers and glue. The demo is basic and simple. Once learned, the technique takes an artist in any direction he or she wants. I like when I am able to facilitate a basic and simple approach to individual creative expression.

I said it’s important to match the type of glue (adhesive) and the tools you use to apply the glue to the type of media (paper) you work with. If the paper is thin, use a light (thin) glue or adhesive. If the paper is heavy, use a heavier more viscous glue or adhesive. I work with white PVA glue for medium weight papers. I work with carpenter’s glue for heavy papers and photos. I work with gel medium for Washi weight thin papers.

I brought brightly colored tissue paper in large sheets to the workshop, and talked about how to layer the papers to multiply colors.

I did a quick sampler for the demonstration. I cut scallops in blue paper and glued it down over yellow-green paper. I cut scallops in yelow-green paper and glued it over yellow-greeen paper. How simple is that? I think the students were impressed with the bright colored papers and overlapping colors. See the image below.

Because tissue papers are very thin and delicate, I wanted the students to use acrylic gel medium as glue. Everyone got a small plastic cup for gel medium, and a plastic palette knife to apply the gel medium.

I wanted to teach them how to work with a palette knife and not a brush for the glue application, because the brushes they had in the class were the wrong brushes – they were too large, and too bristly. Remember: match the medium and the tools to the paper!

Here’s more information about gel medium. There are many brands to buy, including Golden and Liquitex. Gel medium comes in different viscosities (thicknesses). We were using a creamy, medium-thin gel. Typically, painters use it to modify and expand acrylic paints.

Gel medium also works great in collage, decoupage and transfers.

I showed the students how to cut tissue paper into shapes, scallops and rectangles with a scissor. I showed them how to place papers on the substrate (the bottom paper), and suggested they use a pencil to mark where the paper is placed (so you know where it goes when you lift it up to add glue). I showed them how to glue in two steps –  lay down a small amount of gel medium on the substrate with a plastic palette knife where the tissue paper will go,  place the tissue paper down, and apply a top-coat of gel medium and remove excess gently.

Gel medium goes on white and creamy and dries clear. Most people in the class used a bristle brush to apply it, and some of them tore the tissue paper  (it tears if it’s over-handled).

Read about gel medium: It is used to alter the consistency of paint. Gloss medium adds sheen. Matte medium reduces gloss (shine). It is used to adhere mixed media elements to the surface of a painting, to increase film integrity, to add transparent layers of color, to extend paint (reduce the cost), to prime a canvas, repair and protect a painting (as a final coat).


I always try to discuss important collage artists at every workshop.

Many of the students at the workshop have Caribbean Island backgrounds, so it seemed like a good idea to introduce them to the artist Romare Bearden (1911-1988). I thought the students would be inspired by Bearden’s watercolor and collage landscape paintings.

His colors are bright and happy. He was inspired by the lush landscapes of his second home in St. Martin, and began to work extensively in watercolor. He became a fabulous watercolor artist, and also incorporated collage into the paintings.

I brought along the monograph titled Romare Bearden The Caribbean Dimension, by Sally Price & Richard Price, filled with gorgeous watercolors, drawings and collage paintings done by Bearden on site in St. Martin. I showed everyone images like the one below, titled Eden Midnight (1988), watercolor and collage, 30×40 inches. Photo credit: the Romare Bearden Foundation.

Romare Bearden, Eden Midnight

Read more about Romare Bearden: He is one of the most famous collage artists in the United States and has works in major museums throughout the country.

Bearden’s images are about the people and places he knew. His imagery is a visual metaphor of his life.

Roberta Smith wrote about Bearden – VISIONS OF LIFE, BUILT FROM BITS and PIECES (April 3, 2011, the New York Times). The Michael Rosenfeld Gallery is celebrating the centennial of Bearden’s birth (he was born in 1911) and the exhibition runs through May 21, 2011. Read the review. She wrote: the works…were made from 1964 to 1983. Some are not much larger than sheets of typing paper; others are more than four feet on a side. Their suavely discordant compositions involve both black-and-white and color photographs and occasional bits of printed fabric; almost all depict some scene of black life, past or present or imagined.


My talk and demonstration were quick. They heard all they needed to know about process and about Bearden. I wonder if they thought Bearden’s art was old.

They got their scissors, a plastic squeegee, plastic palette knife, glue brush, a cup of gel medium, and selected as many sheets of tissue paper as they could. Good thing I brought way too many sheets (I thought).

I was surprised that everyone began to work and it was a large paper flower.

Orange Flower

The image above shows an orange flower in progress. Notice that the artist is wearing a shirt with orange and yellow stripes. Often the artist matches the art.

Because the prototype flower was made with heavy paper, and the student’s flowers were cut from thin paper, many students had difficulty cutting round edges.

Blue Flowers

The image above shows 3 students. Two are working on blue flowers. One is observing the work in progress.  Notice  that they are working with glue brushes. They are doing it their way. I didn’t say a word.

I showed them how to cut individual petals and work with smaller pieces of tissue paper if they had problems cutting flowers.

I showed them that overlapping tissue papers create multiple tones and hues. Many students had fun playing with overlapping shapes.

Purple and Orange Flowers

The image above shows one student who is working on two collages. She was very good with cutting stripes and flower shapes and with  her placement (design), overlapping and colors. I am sure she is very proud of her work.


Glue goes through thin paper and it’s important to remove excess (this can be done with the palette knife or the plastic squeegee). When working with heavier collage media, I teach students how to apply and blot off excess glue so pieces lie flat and no glue oozes out.

Two students glued the large tissue paper flower off-center so it overhung the edge of the substrate paper and needed to have some support. I showed them how to add heavier paper behind the tissue paper to support it. I think they liked the extended edge of their collage.

One student acknowledged she listened to my talk about Romare Bearden and his collage media. She put newspaper on the substrate and then added tissue paper collage on top so that newspaper text and images showed through.  We both liked the newspaper text showing through the layered tissue papers.


The contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami (born: 1963) intrigues me.  His works are reproduced in all the international art periodicals and shown in museums around the world. I saw his flowers on the cover of the 2009 Art Basel Miami Beach catalog. Gagosian Gallery represents Takashi Murakami.

I think the students at Bloomfield Collage have also seen his flowers and his art.

Murakami’s Chrysanthemum flowers have faces.

The image below is titled FLOWER SUPERFLAT (it’s a lithograph print on paper, edition of 300, 27×27 inches).

For Murakami, the flowers are a fusion between popular Western culture and Japanese Manga and Anime.

Takashi Murakami, Flower Superflat

Read more about the artist at TakashiMurakami.com. His paintings are cartoony. His sculptures are huge and quasi-minimalist. He received his BFA, MFA and PhD from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.

I also recommend Sarah Thornton’s book SEVEN DAYS in the ART WORLD.

In Chapter 6 – The Studio Visit – she writes about Takashi Murakami:

Murakami has taken a Japanese national icon (the chrysanthemum), and endowed it with a gaping orifice in a culture where a wide-open mouth is considered rude. The image comes across as challenging. It’s edgy. It’s not sweet.


I welcome your comments (please add them below).

Do you make collage? Do you work with tissue papers or Japanese washi paper?

Do you use gel medium or do you use PVA glue? Or do you use another adhesive?

Do you like the work by the artist Takashi Murakami? Please see his website.

Do you like the work by the artist Romare Bearden? Please see the review.

Thank you for your comments.

11 thoughts on “10 UNIQUE RESPONSES to a NEW VISION

  1. I am just starting with collage, and really needed your suggestions about gluing on thin paper and can’t wait to try it. White glue, as I’m sure you know, doesn’t do the trick unless the pieces are very small. DO NOT LIKE Takashi Murakami’s work – too slick, juvenile, and cartoonish for my taste. Romare Bearden, however, is another matter – like WONDERFUL. I just saw a good number of his works the other day in Charlotte, NC (I plan on going back to see more). He just amazes me all round. His work radiates pure joy.

    1. Hi Carol,
      You have a lot of comments on this blog and that’s ok. I included Takashi Murakami’s art because all the young students at the workshop were attracted to the flower image that was in the room. They loved the thin tissue papers I brought and wanted to cut the papers and fill in the flower petals. I showed them how to use acrylic medium as glue. It works really well with thin papers and you can use it also. I like to apply acrylic medium with a plastic palette knife on the bottom surface (the substrate), place dry tissue paper down on the glue, and apply a little more medium on top of the tissue paper. The glue seeps through the thin paper. I use the palette knife to gently scrape away the excess glue and get the paper flat. You have to be careful not to tear the paper. You could also use a bristle brush to apply the medium. However, I like to work with a palette knife. You are lucky you got to see the Bearden exhibition in Charlotte, NC. GOOD LUCK with your collages. Did you get an exhibition catalog?

    2. Send me an email with your questions about collage and glue. I think acrylic medium is the best for thin papers. White PVA glue is best for medium weight paper. Carpenter’s glue is good for heavy paper and photos. I can tell you about how to work with glue and thin paper. My email is nancyatnikkaldotcom.

  2. I was doing a little research into Romare Bearden and the art of collage for a lesson I am planning to do soon. That’s how I landed on your blog. You have so much wonderful information here and I’ve really enjoyed reading along. I have a question, and perhaps you can help me with this. I have been wondering about Romare Bearden’s glue technique. I watched a video of him working on youtube and also a the Bearden Foundation web page and noticed he has a way of attaching the papers which seems counter intuitive. I noticed he slathered copious amounts of a very thin glue onto his pieces, placed them on the collage, rolled over them with a rubber roller. Excess glue was everywhere. He then sponged off the big puddle of excess glue with a huge wet red sponge. In another shot he is seen dunking a piece of paper into a bucket of water. He roughly squeezed out the paper, placed it face down on top of his collage, applied a messy coat of glue, placed it into place and repeated the roller, sponge steps. He didn’t seem the least concerned that over-glue from that little piece was all over the face of his work, either.
    His way of gluing was surprising to me. I guess I just imagined more precise gluing technique and application, more like what you have in your handout (which is wonderful, by the way).
    It seemed from the video that he was working very wet and with a lot of watery white glue. Do you have any thoughts on his technique, or ideas on the brand of glue he might be using? I’m really fascinated with the mystery of this.
    I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to e mail me if you’d like :barbarachilds1@juno.com

    1. Hi Barbara, Thank you for your thoughtful question on how Romare Bearden applied glue. I don’t remember the video that showed his glue application, but will look at it and get back to you. I know you can use liquid acrylic medium as glue and – best if the paper is thin like tissue paper or Japanese washi – you can do a wet application and the medium is also a finishing coat. I showed the Bloomfield College students how to apply acrylic medium under and then over the tissue papers. They used a soft brush.

      1. That’s so fascinating that you made the Gluefast connection, too. I googled the question “what brand of glue did Romare Bearden use?” and came up with Gluefast as well. I followed the link to the Gluefast company. I saw they were selling 5 gallon buckets for use in attaching labels, and I thought that I was on a very wrong track, because it’s a manufacturing application. But perhaps not.

        Now I’m so curious about the lacquered finish and that process as well. Thank you so much for writing to Gluefast. I hope you will keep me posted if you hear anything back. I love a good mystery, don’t you? Barb

      2. I’m thinking that, because Bearden had access to the curator’s equipment at MOMA, and that they shared a lot of their professional know-how and equipment with him, it’s quite likely they bought the stuff in 5 gal. cans, and he might have gotten it from them. If that’s not the case, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bearden didn’t use that much all by himself, given the amount of collages he produced. I will definitely let you know what I find out. It’s fun to have a buddy sleuth!

  3. Re: my comment of 11/7/11, and Barbara’s comment above.

    After my visit to see Bearden exhibits in SC in 2011, I ordered the book, “Romere: His Life and Art” by Myron Schwartzman. Quoted from an interview in the book, I found this:

    “MS: What about the glue, Romie?
    RB: I use a glue called Glue-Fast; it was developed during WWII by the navy, and it is for paper.”

    Though it wasn’t clear in the interview, I got the impression it might possibly have been a glue for sealing labels or mounting photographs. I have written to the president of the Gluefast company, which is still in business, asking if they can shed some light on the subject. I will get back to you as soon as I hear something from them.

    In the same interview, Bearden said he always lacquered his finished pieces using the professional equipment that ensured a uniform surface. In some of the small works I saw, this was especially obvious with collages where he had spliced pieces for a tight seam between objects in the picture.

  4. Hi again.

    So here is where I am with the glue mystery. I wrote to the company, describing Bearden’s work, as best I could figure it from Barbara’s description of the film and what I could gather from the book interview. I told them Bearden was using Masonite for some of his work, and he used the glue product, Gluefast, describing the glue as having a set-up time long enough that pieces could be rearranged on the foundation if correction was needed. Also, that he didn’t appear to worry about glue oozing onto the finished work, which was lacquered upon completion.
    Here is the reply I got from the company. “This sounds like a product that evolved into our GF 878U adhesive which is used for mounting prints onto MDF & Masonite. The GF 878U would do the same thing, but it’s not the same exact formula [as the original].” The company president denied any knowledge of WWII work for Navy in developing the product. Though the company was founded in 1939, they didn’t actually make glue until 1948.
    Btw, the GF 878U comes in quart sizes for $13.+ If you try it before I do, I’d love to hear what you think of it. – Carol

  5. Thanks for the link. I will check it out when I’m through here. Nikkal’s probably wondering “whose site is this, anyhow?” (Nikkal, I hope you will be able to make use of all this.)


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