Over the last 12 months I have started my journey into collage creation. It has not been without its ups and downs. I am used to drawing from life, using pens, ink and watercolour. However, I also crave texture in my visual work. The materiality of things, their physical form and the feel of their surfaces fascinates me. I am interested in how that materiality is connected with creating a sense of place. In addition, composition and colour are important aspects of my visual studies. Mixed media and collage in particular, are therefore obvious media for my exploration. Moreover, they enable individuality and an opportunity for endless experimentation!
In this series of 3 blogs, I’m going to share some of the inspirations and approaches I’ve taken so far. I will also discuss some of the techniques and media that I’ve started to explore more recently. The aim is that these additional approaches will help support a particular uniqueness and ‘own voice’ to my work.
Approaches to learning
In the first instance I studied the collage work of many current day artists on line. These include Mike Bernard, Rob Wilson and Tom Butler. They stood out for their location-based works which resonate with my urban sketching and illustration background. I’ve also been looking at the collage work of well-known artists in galleries or online, including Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso and John Piper. Pinterest has also helped me with my collage explorations, enabling me to continually collect and look at works for inspiration and challenge. I have quite a few collage and mixed media texts that I dip into as well. It isn’t feasible for me to work in a vacuum! My current favourite is Jane Davies book : Collage Journeys. The text is helpful for its gentle nudge into a more immersive, organic and exploratory approach!
I have also taken one of Jane’s online courses: Monoprint collage to help me loosen up and become more intuitive and less driven by the literal scene in front of me (more on that later). A single day course with Karen Stamper was also helpful in considering how to pre-prepare concertina sketchbooks prior to collage on location.. I have used concertina sketchbooks on and off for several years now. Their use for collage work on location is interesting.
Start with what you know…. Early developments
My initial collage works (From Chorlton To the City series) are perhaps those that most resemble my illustration pen and ink work done on location. These collages were entirely done in the studio although my first step was to develop sketches on location and to work through a series of compositions.
For my collage work to date, I have chosen to use acrylic inks and paints so that I can be a lot bolder, more intuitive and flexible with my approach (I will talk about this in more detail in my next blog). I am particularly keen to explore and use my line work in combination with paper; paint and inks. It is likely that type of line work will evolve and develop as I progress. The first ones have used a combination of dip pen and palette knife for application and variety. I’ve used these implements to help loosen me up and prevent a technical, overly precise effect.
The other aspect of these collage works is the use of paper in the first instance to create blocks of texture (and to an extent, colour) and a strong composition. This is akin to the colour I apply in colour-first illustration. It’s an intuitive capture of the scene and its feel.
Reality to Abstraction
Following on from these first 5 collages I really wanted to work much more intuitively and with an eye towards abstraction, keeping the papers more visible. Working in series also seems to work much better for me because one piece informs the other and it becomes a more iterative process. I started off with a large number of compositions. However, I have only completed 5 of this series; so called Mills and Hills.
These are the first collages I have done of my new hometown in the hills. They are simpler in terms of line and more complex in terms of texture. Colour, as in my first series, is kept to a limited palette so that the texture can take center stage. I have also started a Ramsbottom series using this same collage creation approach, with less overall linework and a greater use of texture. I have incorporated text to a greater extent in these collages and used a technique of layering and peeling.
On location collage creation
After a day collage course using concertina sketchbooks and pre-preparing pages I decided to try this approach for a trip to Porto in Portugal. I used the brightly coloured inks I had been using all year and the approach of spraying with water as well as using white gesso and a variety of papers including tape and labels. This rework was done in the studio. Then on location I chose the page that looked like it might work for the scene in front of me and worked over it using a variety of pens, Art Graft, oil pastels and coloured pencils as well as additional papers; labels or tickets to create an impression of the view.
I think this approach led me to a greater balance between reality and abstract. I was able to create a somewhat more whimsical image than I would have otherwise been able to create. A more abstract and intuitive start point certainly seems the way to go. It is interesting that this is similar to the approach I choose for a lot of my sketching work too, although the first stage in my sketching, is done on location.
Composition, pattern and colour
One final approach tried this year was that involving monoprinting and collage creation using a gel plate. The works produced, as you can see are entirely abstract rather than pertaining to a place. These works were produced as part of one of Jane Davies online courses. My series here is called Retro Rules. I will certainly be taking some of the learnings from this and using it to develop more individual works and this is described in my final blog of this 3-part series.
I look forward to sharing the second of my three-part series of collage blogs, out in a few days time. This next blog looks at the media and materials I’ve been using.