Appropriation is a very useful concept in contemporary art and essential to appreciating contemporary collage art.

 

I like to make funky figure collages with papers and text cut and pasted from magazines like W, Elle. Vogue, and ArtForum. I thumb through the magazines and tear out pages when the right image strikes. Everything becomes a magazine mash-up.

 

nancy nikkal, sex celebrity, collage 2016

 

The image nearby is my collage titled Sex Celebrity. This work is part of a new series with female images done in collage with various cut and pasted papers. Some of the papers are straight out of the magazine. Some are painted with acrylic. Some papers are purchased in an arts and crafts store. I like to mix and match and create works that combine image, color, pattern and texture. Most of all, I am fascinated by celebrity culture and Pop Art. My goal is to create images that are edgy, sexy and provocative.

 

The image you see is a collage on a 12×16 inch panel showing two x two females. Everything is an image: some more, some less real. The colors in this collage are creamy white, grey-black, green and tiny touches of pale blue and red.

 

The large female image is a close-up of a face, eyes closed as if in a swoon. She seems ensconced in a reverie in a garden setting, surrounded by green. She’s a beauty. Her eyes are decorated and glittery. There’s a large, expensive diamond jewel floating near her nose. The jewel looks like a delicate flower or a garden bug. I’ve seen expensive jewels in fashion magazines. They’re highly crafted with multiple stones. A beautiful woman deserves a beautiful diamond. I embellished the image, but it’s straight out of the magazine.

The smaller female image in my collage is a figure in a couturier outfit and her breasts are exposed. You see a lot of that in the fashion magazines currently. She’s standing in front of the large face image. There’s a third image in black and white located on the lower left side. It may be a print by Pablo Picasso torn from an art magazine. I took it because it was the right size and in black and white. There’s a fourth image on the right side that’s a face and facing left. If you look carefully, you can see eyes, eyebrows and hair. The face is made with striped green paper. I like stripes. I like to combine abstraction, reality and fantasy.

 

I cut and pasted all the papers. There is no actual glitter and no jewel – just papers to simulate jewels and glitter.

 

Appropriation in Art

I recommend the book titled Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. It’s a little book with a lot of big ideas. The author says: remix and reimagine to discover your true path. It sounds like collage.

Appropriation in art is defined as the act of using pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them. The artist’s job is to decide how much image transformation is necessary. Some artists feel guilty for stealing an image. I’m not sure that’s true for everyone. There is so much to steal now. Images are everywhere. I think it’s how you use them that makes a difference.

 

nancy nikkal, flat chested, collage 2017

The image nearby is a magazine collage I created on a 14×11 inch paper substrate. I gave it the title FlatChested. I think she is. She’s high fashion and very thin. The image is inspired by the concept Exquisite Corpse where the parts don’t have to match. Each of the 3 parts comes from a different magazine page. I liked the pink background in the middle section and the model’s long, graceful hand. Her eyes were made up with glitter and that was also appealing. I liked the wild, dark hair in the top section that has a mustard yellow background. I liked the pattern where the hair is separated by a part in the middle. The width worked well with the cut-off hat in the pink section. I liked the dot patterns in the black and white bottom section. Everything worked well. I didn’t have to add glitter because the model already had glittery eye makeup. I changed her mouth and shortened her torso. Colors are gold, pink, black and white. Her skin color is caramel brown. The papers come from W magazine. There are only 4 pieces in this collage –  three horizontal rows of cut and pasted magazine papers and a mouth from a model image in black and white (from the same magazine).

 

 

My students often ask me about copyright infringement and appropriation. One student this winter had to overcome – and actually did overcome – her resistance to appropriating magazine images. I persuaded her. We talked about it all through the winter term at the Pelham Art Center where I teach contemporary collage to adults. Her career is print publishing so I understand her resistance to appropriating images. I really like her 3 portrait images. Each one is very different. See them below.

 

student portrait collage with papers & glitter

 

The image nearby is the 1st portrait collage Ilene created in class. Her papers included stamped drawing paper (dots) for the face, chevron-striped paper for the dress, decorated papers from magazines and painted paper for hair, eyes, nose and mouth. The collage is on 14″x11″ Bristol paper (substrate). Ilene spent a lot of time cutting papers for the hair, eyes and mouth. Notice one eye is light brown and the other eye is a black and white pattern. Ilene added green glitter eye makeup last. Her background is grey magazine paper with a printed gallery name as vertical text. I remember Ilene asked me if she should cut, cover or leave the vertical text. I said yes – leave it in – it’s not too prominent. Ilene’s 1st collage has a lot of directional movement with pattern and cut papers. The grey dots in the face are tilting down right. The vertical text is parallel to the right edge.

 

 

 

student collage, assorted papers & glitter, 2017

 

The image nearby is the 2nd portrait collage Ilene created in class. It’s much more abstract and the eyes, mouth, chin and hair are made with cut triangle papers. The papers come from magazine pages but do not show a model’s image. There’s a lot of dynamic energy in the way Ilene placed the cut papers. Notice some of the magazine papers are solid black, beige, yellow, blue and magenta red. Notice a few of the cut papers have stripes and crosshatched line drawing that adds texture. I love the spaces around the triangles. Ilene used a minimum number of papers but still gave us a sense of modeling the shape of a face. Notice the shading in the red papers for the lips. The way Ilene cut the papers gives a sense of volume. Notice the nose and tiny hands (each within a contrasting triangle) are actual magazine images – the only ones in this collage. Hooray for appropriation! I believe Ilene made the hands and nose small to make them less obvious as swiped magazine images. Notice the magenta-red lips are larger than either hand.

 

 

student collage, exquisite corpse portrait, 2017

 

The image nearby is the 3rd portrait collage Ilene created in class based on the concept Exquisite Corpse. I believe I made my collage FlatChested (above) during the class to demonstrate how to cut magazine papers in angled, horizontal strips, using different models for each piece. Ilene’s portrait includes a woman’s eyes, ears and hairline on top and a man’s mouth, chin and neck below. She included a black round hat for the top strip in the collage, and found decorated papers in swirly patterns and bright colors for the bottom strip. I know she loves this portrait collage. I really like the contrast of one face in color and another face in black & white, and really like that one half of the face is male and the other half is female. Ilene selected images with care so that the expressions in the eyes and mouth co-mingle.

 

 

 

EXQUISITE CORPSE at PINTEREST

See 72 pins (images) for the Exquisite Corpse at my Pinterest site. Some of the images are historic examples. My students love Exquisite corpse as a class project and I set up Pinterest boards so they can check out images online. Read more about the Exquisite corpse here.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Today, appropriating and remixing images and media is common practice for visual, audio, and performing artists. Appropriation is a strategy. Visual artists would not be able to create the mash-up of  images we create without all the images online and in magazines. They’re available, plentiful and we find them. Please share your thoughts. Do you swipe images and use them in collage? Do you re-mix other media? Tell me if you love the Exquisite Corpse.

Thanks for sharing – Nancy

 

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make it good

July 5, 2014

 

I planned to write about an art project I designed for an adult collage class I teach at the Pelham Art Center, Pelham, NY, working with pasted papers painted in bright, primary colors. Not exactly 4th of July Red White and Blue – but Red,White, Blue and Yellow (and black). I will write about the project in my next post.  The image that inspired the project was a mobile by Alexander Calder. The image below is by Carol (a teaser for the next post).

Carol Frank, collage

Carol Frank, collage

Here are comments Carol wrote: Nancy – I decided to do some sort of insect when I saw the black vee-shaped pieces that were to be placed in a particular spot on the page. Calder also made a critter in primary colors so that clinched it for me.  I struggled with the background not realizing how the image and the text would be having a dialog. I found some clever headlines that made the image humorous. The insect itself dominates the lower left portion and though the bug is moving downward there is a feeling of flight. The creature has an oval yellow head with a large black dot for the eye. The body is blue and the wings are red. There is a tail with a fringe on the back in blue and a blue fringe underneath the head. There are black skinny legs–two are showing. It was a delightful revelation to me. I think I’ll do more with text and image from now on. Thanks Nancy. Carol

 

Challenge is Always Good

 

Today I want to share comments by Seth Godin in his blog post titled “Is better possible?” I recently signed up to receive his blog (well written, timely and always brief and to the point). Today’s post is about challenge. Seth Godin says most people are comfortable with saying “no” to the question is better possible? It’s the easiest and safest thing to do – to accept what you’ve been given, and assume you are unchangeable. He says, when you assume that you are unchangeable, you give up responsibility for outcomes. Don’t do it to yourself. Don’t do it to others,

 

I always say challenge is good for you (and me). Godin says we are afraid of challenges because we fear the possibility of the outcomes. Read what he wrote here.

I design collage art projects that give students a challenge. Last Monday they made amazing multi-layer collages in a 2-hour session. The first layer had to include strips of cut and pasted black and white magazine text in a pleasing design. They had to select the text. I brought a sample collage where the entire background was text that didn’t line up in horizontal rows. The class spent about half the time on the first layer, and organizing magazine text became its own design challenge. The second step was to create an over layer with papers in primary colors cut in unique shapes. I provided the red, yellow, blue and black painted papers and did a quick demo on ways to place shapes over the text. I showed them overlapping shapes, shapes spread out, and shapes clustered together in different arrangements. Collage is always about layers and juxtaposing images (and shapes). The class rose to the challenge and I knew they would. Kids in elementary school can do this project, time permitting. Kids love a challenge and everyone loves primary colors.

 

Stretch Boundaries

 

Here’s more from Seth Godin’s post. He concludes with: “We owe everyone around us not just the strongest foundation we can afford to offer, but also the optimism that they can reach a little higher. I share his post because when you stretch boundaries, you grow, gain confidence, and you feel good that you took the chance and reached the goal.

 

What is your goal? Whatever it is, make it creative. Make it good.

 

Making art is a habit you cultivate. It’s a good habit and very important for artists.

But you need a proper space that’s dedicated and a place that makes you feel inclined to work.

I’ve had studios in my home and outside my home. Sometimes it’s more convenient to work from your home. Sometimes it’s better to separate yourself from home and work in a space dedicated to just making art.

My current studio is a dedicated space with worktables, sink, bookshelves, storage cabinets, my easel, printing press and flat files in one room with overhead fluorescent lights, and an east-facing window. I’ve been in the studio, located in New Rochelle, NY at Media Loft for 5 years and I’ve improved my studio space over the years. Media Loft is a great space for artists. We organize open studio events and have a first floor lobby gallery.

Nikkal studio worktable view

Nikkal studio worktable view

The image above is my worktable covered with papers, paints and tools. When I’m working it gets messy.

Notice the paint jars in the center of the table. I bought the jars in a retail stores that sells everything you need for storage. I needed to store paints that I custom mixed. Notice the painted canvas sitting in front. It was a clean piece of canvas and I’m using it as a blotter for excess paint from my palette knife. I swipe the paint onto the canvas and I think this work surface will become a collage element in a future work.

My table gets cluttered with painted papers as I work, and then I clean it up and organize the materials to make room to continue or start over on a new project. When people visit for open studio events, the space gets cleaned up totally, and people think I work that way. You can see that I don’t.

See the painting and collages on the wall behind the worktable. I just had a hanging art system installed in the studio and hung my art as if my studio is a gallery. It looks good when people visit. I also want to look at the painting and collages on the walls. The hanging art is there to inspire me to continue to work on the Metro Series. I am exploring color and want to see the colors I’ve used in front of me.  The Metro Series is about geometry. It’s constructed abstraction. Geometry is my reality.

Every artist needs a dedicated space – no matter how small.

It’s easy to get to work when you have a dedicated space where ongoing projects can be left in progress. It means you can leave at the end of the day and return the next day and everything is set out ready for work as soon as you arrive.

But, many artists work in improvised spaces. They make the space work for them.

In a recent class I teach at the Pelham Art Center, a gifted student who’s an artist brought up the subject of her studio space problem.

She is trying to decide the best place to work.  She can set up a workspace in her home basement or in her kitchen. The basement is bigger, but is also a shared space for family and TV.

The kitchen would be a happier place – she said it felt right even though it was the kitchen.

I asked if she could find a way to store all her art materials, glue and collage tools in the kitchen.

Antique Wood Flat Files

Antique Wood Flat Files

I don’t know whether the kitchen is vintage or modern, but, no matter what the style, there are new or vintage pieces that could be used for storage (or maybe there is a piece of furniture somewhere in the house that could move into the kitchen).

I found the above image online. I asked for images of  antique wood flat file cabinets. I got a huge number of images, including old metal flat files (probably less expensive than new).

Similar pieces can be found at ebay or etsy.com or go scout at a neighborhood antique shop, a tag sale or country auction. Maybe you already own something like this. It’s a beautiful piece to store your beautiful papers.

metal storage boxes

Metal Storage Boxes

The image above is suitable for an office or contemporary styled room. It’s readily available if you look for metal storage files or boxes.

If there isn’t floor space, is there a place to set a portable writing desk or stack storage boxes on top?

Vintage Storage Bin

Vintage Storage Bin

The image above appeals to me. It’s vintage and could hold postcards and small booklets for projects in progress. I would leave it on top of a cabinet or counter in the kitchen as a constant reminder of your creative time.

I’ve seen portable desks (writing desks) with storage compartments. Everything is tucked away and safe.

Storage Boxes

Storage Boxes

The image above shows 2 storage boxes to store collage papers, scissors, pencils, pens, etc. The boxes come in so many sizes and range in prices and are available online and in retail stores. They look fine stacked and could be stashed in a cupboard, on top of a cabinet or counter. I would keep glue in an upright position inside a cabinet.

Taking Out and Putting Back Can be a Good Thing

There’s a benefit to taking out materials every time you begin to work on a project because you handle all the media and see things anew. When you return the materials to the storage container, you organize again, preparing for the next time you will work. You can write notes on what your next steps will be so you are ready to begin when you return.

I suggested to my student that she could organize her materials (papers) and place them into extra-large plastic zipper bags, sorted by project. Depending on how the kitchen is organized, the bags could be placed in a kitchen drawer, or into a freestanding stack of drawers on wheels, or into a crate.

I have stored papers in plastic page separators organized into 3-ring binders. I sorted the papers by color, texture, pattern and image.  I place the binders on a shelf with art books (for reference) next to my stack of magazines that are a resource for more collage papers. My favorite magazines are ArtForum and Art News.

Check out ebay or etsy.com (storage and organization) for vintage storage pieces if that’s your taste. Or go online and locate sources for new types of storage – boxes, containers, flat files, storage drawers, etc.

It seems like everyone is into storage solutions today.

What solutions have you created? Please share how you’ve organized your personal art project space. Thanks for sharing.

What can you do with Collage?

Two weeks ago at the Pelham Art Center, I talked about collage projects during the fall term. Many of the projects included recycling and repurposing papers. The class is titled Embellish An Image – Play With Collage.

Almost every class project I teach involves working with paper. We also work with found media and fabric. Everyone likes the idea of recycling junk mail, catalogs, magazines and cards. We say – don’t throw anything out because you can find a way to use it.

I stress 3Rs: Recycle, Renew, Repurpose.

If you doodle, do drawings, paintings, or prints, you can use the drawing, painting or print in your collage, either as the base for the collage (it’s the substrate) or as collage papers on top. It’s easy to start a collage when you build on top of something else.

The image below is my collage with pen and ink drawing in a series titled Strata. It’s on 8×8 inch paper. I made 16 different drawings and added collage to each one. I showed the images to my class and explained that strata is about horizontal layers. In this case the layers are a drawing and papers on top.

See more images at my website.

Nancy Egol Nikkal, Strata 13

Nancy Egol Nikkal, Strata 13

I like to combine drawing with collage and I encourage students to add drawing.

A hand-drawn element makes the collage personal. Anyone can do drawing. Doodling is drawing. If you think you can’t draw, try tracing. Gather images and papers you like as inspiration. Do a copy of the image. You can start with a tracing on vellum paper. Draw with pencil, pen and ink, crayon and pastel onto small pieces of paper. Add your drawing to your collage..

Explore Theme and Variation

If you create your own greeting cards, you can use the cards as a base for a collage series.

If you don’t want to cut up the originals cards, take a digital photo or photocopy them if they are small. Make multiples and use the copies for collage media.

If you create a wonderful collage, don’t cut it up. Make multiple copies and use the copies as a base for more collage or as collage media.

Possibilities with Painted Papers

We used wallpaper from a donated book in a recent project. The paper was oversized, strong, and free. Some of the wallpaper was patterned and textured.

Each person painted a page with blue and green acrylic and created a background for a landscape collage that included an island surrounded by water and sky. Each person worked with a palette knife and used 2 greens, and mixed blue and white. The painted wallpaper became the substrate (the bottom layer). Some students added gloss acrylic medium to the paint. It made the paint more transparent and gave the colors depth in layers. After the painted wallpaper substrate was dry, students added various collage papers.

The image below is by Marlene Furtick.  She added magazine papers and papers she painted in a previous class.

Painted Paper collage by Marlene Furtick

Painted Paper collage by Marlene Furtick

Many collage artists use heavyweight watercolor paper or museum board as a substrate. It’s expensive. Sometimes the paper warps or buckles because of the water in glue or in paint. Wallpaper is a good substrate because it is typically coated and will not absorb water and will not warp or buckle.

Everyone Loves Painting Papers for Collage

Painting papers is a way to create collage media. You can paint on magazine pages, scrap paper, fabric, newspaper and wallpaper You can photocopy or scan and print the painted papers and create multiples. You can also use the original painted papers as a substrate. I always encourage students to create a painted substrate. It’s a great way to begin a collage.

For another class project, we worked with medium weight scrap paper that was plain white, and painted it with gouache (opaque watercolor).  Students used a 1 inch wide soft straight-edge (bright) brush and worked with diluted paint applied as a single color. Students painted more than one color on separate papers.

The image below is by Joyce Dutka, and shows the worktable and oil pastels nearby.

The papers are painted with gouache.

Joyce Dutka collage

Painted Paper Collage by Joyce Dutka

I encouraged Joyce to add drawing to her collage papers because doodles and drawing give the work more personality. It also added color, pattern and texture

Joyce cut her papers into shapes and embellished the papers with oil pastels. The project was inspired by the artist Henri Matisse, who worked in collage at the end of his career. Matisse called his collages paper cutouts.

We used fabric for collage in a recent class. The fabric was donated. Students cut up the fabric and glued it down onto canvas I supplied. We worked with carpenter’s wood glue because it is heavier than white PVA glue.

Carol Frank created the image below. It’s upholstery fabric and paper on natural unprimed canvas. The project is called Strata. Carol placed the horizontal strips so some edges were under and some edges were over others.

Fabric and Paper Collage by Carol Frank

Fabric and Paper Collage by Carol Frank

Here are more ideas for collage projects:

Explore black and white and red. Find magazine images and newspaper text. Play with shapes and line. Cut words into strips. Turn them upside down and on edge.

Find a large magazine image you like and glue it down on Bristol or another heavy paper. Select an image that is big enough to cover the paper substrate.  Add collage elements all over to create something that looks new and different.

Explore a grid design. Cut up 6, 9 or 16 small blocks of medium weight paper. The blocks can be 2×2, 3×3 or 4×4 inches. Add drawing or collage to each block. Organize and glue the blocks on a heavy Bristol or watercolor substrate. When you rotate the blocks as you place them, you get different patterns.

Play with layers. Work with thin paper over thicker papers. Let the edges peep through. Cut and open out top layers to reveal layers beneath.

Cut out text from books and magazines. Draw or write on cut papers. Glue Japanese washi papers on top to reveal line and text underneath.

Play with colors and tone. Work with a selected palette of collage papers that you create, collect or purchase. Choose colors that show contrast in color saturation (pale to bright) and in value (dark to light).

Play with edges. Cut and tear collage papers. Overlayer so edges peek through. Cut papers into curved shapes. Glue papers to create rhythm and pattern.

Explore examples of art by artists you admire. Copy (interpret) a painting, but do it in collage.

Interpret the style of 2 artists. Do a collage that includes elements of both.

I will teach 10 classes on Monday evenings (7-9) at Pelham, starting in January 2013. Contact me if you want to join the class.

Thank you for your comments. Please take the survey nearby and tell me what you like.

I love to use text as a main element in collage. The text are lines and then I add drawing.

I find text in art magazine and also in books. I don’t like to tear pages from books, but don’t mind pulling pages from magazines. The magazines are a great resource for collage papers, and some art magazines have a lot of pages.

When I find text with a large typeface, I cut the text horizontally so the letters are split into long strips, and the words are not easy to read.

Recently the class I teach at the Pelham Art Center asked to explore using magazine pages with text for collage.

I brought the image (seen below) to the class. It’s a small collage. The horizontal strips are all split and layered magazine text.

Nancy Egol Nikkal, Racing Stripes

 

The images below are 2 of my pen and ink drawings with collage from the Strata Series. See all 16 images in the series… 

All the text is from magazines like ArtForum and Art News. I like the papers in these magazines.

Nancy Egol Nikkal, Strata 13

The Strata series is about layering, with a reference to landscape, and a little bit of play.

Nancy Egol Nikkal, Strata 16

NOTES ON THE CLASS PROJECT

I suggested the class  cut and tear the text into thin horizontal strips. Cutting would create hard edges. Tearing would create soft edges. I suggested they organize the papers into visually compatible groups in related colors. I suggested that some strips should touch or overlap.

I shared beautiful black, silver and white printed paper with wavy lines, and showed them how to create a soft, torn edge by using a brush dipped in water that made it easy to tear the paper. The reverse side of the hand-made paper is a beautiful dense black.

I shared pages of printed text and gave them copies of magazines to look for more text.

MORE IMAGES

The images below are by the class members. It was a challenging project and I think everyone was pleased with the collages they created in one evening class session.

collage by Lorraine Furtick

Collage by Carol Frank

Collage by Joyce Dutka

Collage by Sheila Benedis

Collage by Marlene Furtick

YOUR COMMENTS

Do you think the collages look like landscape strata? Do you like the text they selected? Are you inspired t0 make collage with text?

Landscape Collage

November 8, 2012

How do you start a collage? It’s a question I’m asked a lot.

I say I like to create the background first. I also like to paint papers for collage.

Recently the class I teach at the Pelham Art Center asked to do another painted paper collage project – a landscape collage inspired by Romare Bearden (1911-1988).

The image below is by Bearden, titled Purple Eden (1987) 10.5×13 inches.

Romare Bearden, Purple Eden

I wrote about Bearden and the workshop in a post titled Caribbean Fantasy Island Collage.

Materials for Painted Paper Collage

I brought paints, palette knives, and papers to the Pelham Art Center for the class to create a collage background (substrate). The papers were torn from a donated  wallpaper book, and were perfect because they were sturdy, large, and FREE. The wallpaper had a pebbly surface that added a nice texture.

I demonstrated how to work with the palette knife. The acrylic paint was not mixed. It was right out of the tube. I showed them how handle the palette knife and apply the paint in varying thicknesses, to scrape paint into thinner layers, and overpaint layers to achieve depth.

We spent one class painting the background paper and painted additional papers for trees, plants, leaves and clouds. We created the media for the collage that would be assembled the following week.

The image below is my sample painted background.

Sample background

The plan was to create an image of an island surrounded by water with a light blue sky above.

To start, I painted the entire paper with yellow green acrylic paint and let it dry. I painted a 2nd layer with blue acrylic directly over the green and created the shape of water surrounding the island. I scraped some of the paint thin to let the green underlayer show through. I mixed white acrylic paint with a tiny amount of blue and painted the horizon line above the island for the sky.

Everybody in the class did their own variation of the island, surrounding water, and sky. They took the painted papers home to dry. I asked them to collect and bring in magazine papers to add to their collage the following week.

The images below are the finished collages. Each one is unique. Each is 16 x 20 inches.

Painted Paper Collage by Carol Frank

Carol added birds and fish and painted paper waves in the water. I said her palm trees were windswept.

Painted Paper collage by Joyce Dutka

Joyce added a mysterious, magical forest within her island landscape, plus many birds and critters she brought to class.

Painted Paper collage by Sheila Benedis

Sheila always does totally abstract collage and creates art books. For her project (seen above), I persuaded her to make her work more like a forest landscape with a hint of trees. The papers extend beyond the rectangle of the painted paper. I took the image on a brown masonite board.

The images below are by Marlene and Lorraine Furtick.

Painted Paper collage by Marlene Furtick

Painted Paper collage by Lorraine Furtick

All the color variations in the painted papers were created by layering paint and scraping into underlayers.

I think the works are truly amazing, especially since the projects were completed in 2 class sessions and a total of 4 hours.

Does the idea of creating your own collage media inspire you?  Romare Bearden painted collage papers with watercolor and called his works collage paintings. Henri Matisse had studio assistants paint his collage papere with gouache. I paint a palette of papers for each collage. You can too.

Please send me your comments.

Painting papers for collage

October 25, 2012

I like to create my own media for collage with watercolor, gouache and acrylic paint. Painting allows me to create multiple sheets of paper in the colors, patterns and texture I want for each collage.

I apply paint to recycled magazine papers and other paper media. I like to work in mixed media collage, and include hand-made papers, decorative papers, my own drawings and prints to the painted papers, and often paint papers to match colors of other papers.

See my online tutorial on painting papers.

I teach classes at the Pelham Art Center and one recent class was devoted to painting papers for collage  (with acrylic paint and also with gouache paint).  Everyone wanted to make custom color papers.

I told the class that two of my favorite collage artists – Romare Bearden and Henri Matisse – worked with painted papers. Bearden painted his own papers, typically in watercolor. Matisse had studio assistants paint his papers for him in gouache.

acrylic paint on paper

The image above is acrylic paint on drawing paper, done by one student  in the Pelham collage class.

We worked with a plastic palette knife. Almost every student I meet has no experience or almost no experience painting with a palette knife. I tell them it’s so easy to get really good results with this technique.

Everyone worked with the same size plastic palette knife and selected and squeezed out the acrylic paint colors. I supplied a variety of acrylic paint brands, including Golden Paints and Liquitex.

assorted papers painted in acrylic

It’s a simple technique

The image above is a selection of 9 papers done with palette knife and acrylic paints by one student in the Pelham collage class.

I did a simple class demonstration, showed them how to set up their palette of paint colors on a disposable paper plate (plastic coated), and very quickly the students started to paint with the palette knife to make their own painted papers. They created an amazing variety of colors, designs and textures.

I showed them how to apply paint over a film of acrylic medium I applied to white drawing paper. After that, I showed them how to apply acrylic paint directly with the palette knife onto magazine pages.

I like to paint on magazine papers – to recycle pages from art magazines like Artforum, and fashion magazines like W because the pages in those magazines are heavier than typical magazines. I don’t recommend using news magazines for painting papers, because the paper is thin and curls when you apply paint or glue, and is difficult to work with in collage.

 

How to work with acrylic paint:

Use any good brand of acrylic paint. The better brands are usually more expensive because they include more paint pigment. The colors are richer and the coverage is better. I recommend students work with gloss or satin acrylic medium to make the paint thinner. I tell students not to use water to thin the paint.

I often buy art supplies online from Jerry’s Artarama and NY Central Art Supply.

When I am in NYC, I stop by NY Central Artists Supply at 62 Third Avenue. Their paper department is incredible and they ship everywhere.

Dick Blick is another good resource for acrylic, gouache and other art supplies.

Tools for the Workshop

painting tools

In the class demo, I tell students to squeeze out dots or small ½ inch strips of acrylic from the paint tube onto a plastic coated disposable paper plate, and leave some space in the center of the plate so colors can be mixed.

The image above shows a plastic and a metal palette knife, a 1 inch soft paint brush, a paper cup, tubes of gouache paint, a single tube of acrylic paint and the book titled Jazz (about the artist Henri Matisse).

When I paint papers with acrylic, I typically lay the colors down on a disposable paper palette and mix one color at a time. When I paint papers with gouache, I typically mix the paint with water in a small cup so it’s diluted to the proper consistency. For the class, I wanted everyone to be excited by the possibilities of working with different colors and with mixing colors as they painted.

I also mix colors directly on the paper. First, I squeeze acrylic gloss or satin medium from the container directly onto the paper and brush it across, then squeeze dots of acrylic paint out of the tube directly over the medium and move it around with the palette knife to create stripes, patterns and transparencies.

acrylic paint over gloss medium layer

The swirly painted image above is by a student who tried that technique. She applied paint directly over gloss acrylic medium and moved the paint with the palette knife to create transparencies and pattern.

The palette knife can be made of plastic or metal. I supply plastic palette knives. I also work with a metal palette knife. It’s important to wipe the knife clean, especially when changing colors, and never allow the paint to dry onto the knife (acrylic paint can dry quickly).

I urge students to wipe the paint off the knife with a paper towel so that the paint on the knife doesn’t get mixed into water (it they dip the knife into a water container). It’s not good for the environment to pour paint dissolved in water down the drain.

Matisse in his studio in Nice

The image above shows Matisse in his studio in Nice, France in 1952 (this image is included in the book titled the Cut-Outs of Henri Matisse, by John Elderfield, published by George Braziller, NY).

All of Matisse’s collages were created with painted papers. His studio assistants painted his papers for him with gouache.

Matisse said he painted with scissors. He called his works paper cut-outs (gouache decoupes). Read about the Technique of the Cut-Outs…

Henri Matisse, Creole Dancer, 1950, 80×47 inches

The image above, a collage in painted papers, is by Matisse and is titled Creole Dancer (image courtesy the Internet). Notice it is organized as pieced blocks of paper in the background, overlaid with cut out shapes. Notice the painted papers show variations in color saturation and paint density because they are hand-painted.

I tell my students that Matisse did not discard papers that were cut out and that landed on the floor. Notice the image above with Matisse in his studio and all the papers on the floor. Notice his cut-outs were typically curved and organic in shape and referenced nature.

paper collage done in class

The image above is by a student in the Pelham class. She painted papers, and while the paints were drying, she created a collage with colored papers I supplied. Before she glued the papers down, she embellished them with oil pastel drawing to make the surface richer and brighter. Notice the oil pastel sticks in boxes nearby.

The class explored many different techniques with painting papers. They layered colors, wet layer over dry layer, to see how the colors changed. They painted with transparent gouache paint over papers painted with acrylic in patterns. They scribbled wax crayon on white drawing paper (a resist process), and applied acrylic paint in both transparent and opaque layers over to see how the crayon showed through. They all liked that.

I told the class that all the papers they created were usable – nothing was a throwaway. Some were so good they were paintings that could get collage additions and be finished as mixed media works. Some were ideal as unique collage papers and could be reproduced if they wanted multiples for large collage projects.

One student created a palette of papers that coordinated with purchased hand-made papers she brought to class. How clever that she mixed colors to compliment other papers she already had (collage artists collect papers for the next collage).

I showed the class how to twirl wet paint on drawing paper as they painted, and create directional  patterns.

We talked about the art of the cut-out by Henri Matisse. I hope they were inspired.

I’ve  recommended resources for paper and paint above.

Please email me or add comments to the blog if you can share a good resource for paper, paints, and any other media you like to use for collage. Thanks in advance.