As a mom with two very active boys, the “get started” part of any project is often my biggest hurdle. It’s easy for me to derail when I don’t have the right ingredient, the perfect shade of paint, or an entire bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips. (I do have a neighbor who buys her chocolate chips in bulk, so there is wiggle room on that one). My chocolate chip neighbor—and friend, opera singer, (& editor: thanks Ann!)—will often send one of her boys running down to our house for large sheets of paper, pipe cleaners, or fabric. It’s the best kind of neighborhood smack in the middle of our beautiful city.
But collage! Getting Started! Randel’s approach requires very little start-up materials. You can jump right in with an old National Geographic, scissors, and glue. You can use what you have. The phone book you don’t reference, but they insist on delivering. Junk mail. Magazines. Workbook pages from your kid’s homework, especially with some scrawling. The envelope from your tea bag: Harney & Son’s Paris, hands down. Randel recommends a few other supplies like inks, crayons, paints and a bone folder. And he discusses foundations for your collage, adhesives, cutting tools, and other media.
Randel also suggests printing some collage materials on tracing paper. I love this idea for the semi-transparent quality and layering it creates. I receive a weekly newsletter from Dover Publications, which features public domain imagery samples that can be saved directly to your computer. I created a few sheets of these vintage images and printed them to add to my bin of materials.
This is a book to help you investigate your own collage style. The only way to get there is to get started and make. And make some more. Collage can be as simple as a few scraps of paper combined in an interesting way. Sometimes, seeing two distinct items conjoined is enough of a commentary. Randel is a pro at creating. Several years ago, he started a blog called Collage a Day, and committed to using his collection of ephemera. His dedication to the art form resulted in hundreds of collages, many followers and collectors of his work, and this book. He wants us all to make collages! And he encourages us to jump right in. This enthusiasm folds into his first exercise: Five 5-minute collages. Five sheets of watercolor paper cut to 3X5, five minutes per card, and twenty-five minutes later you have surprising results. Here are a few of mine:
For me, the collages begin with a piece or two of interesting background paper. The secondary images inject color and texture (snippet of Braille, origami paper, upside down popsicles*). Then, my favorite part, adding in bits of detail (postage stamps, vintage labels, packing tape transfers, washi tape). I layer rubber stamping in plain black ink, and toner image transfers as well. A few of the collages have some machine stitching, which looks good on a window ledge, since the light peeks through the needle holes. *I regret that I do not know the source of this image.
After completing my small series of collages, I took a step back and observed what I was inclined to use. Old book pages, tattered sheet music, and a forest map. Birds. Postage. And also texture. There is a scrap of Braille glued down inversely, zigzag stitching, and a stencil that I spackled with Texture Magic (by Delta/Plaid, which doesn’t seem to be available). Texture is where the internet fails us all. I foresee combining more stitching with paper and fabrics, more layers, more pinked edges.
This is a great book for those new to collage, or needing to refresh their style. But seasoned collage artists will still find value in many of the exercises, and inspiration in Randel’s work. The fifty exercises vary between color studies and image pairings, geometrics and typography, maps and storybooks. The collages feature birds, flowers, and power lines. And he even incorporates the scribbling of a child. My favorite collage of Randal’s is called Ten, featured in the section on working with Numbers. I love the bits of penciled arithmetic, a chemical compound, the digits 10 and word ten, and a vintage bird. If you search for Randel’s collages, you’ll find hundreds to peek at online. That alone is hugely inspiring. Plus, he included a duplicate-able image library in the book to get you started.
Find more of Randel’s art for viewing and for sale, plus collage ideas at: randelplowman.com, acollageaday.blogspot.com. The Collage Workbook blog features other collage artists: www.thecollageworkbook.blogspot.com
Thanks, Randel Plowman, for writing this book on jump-starting an intuitive collage practice that encourages me to collect (even more) ephemera and forlorn manuals to build into curious vignettes of jump ropers and the U.S. Post Office.*
*among many other agreeable and strange topics.