In this second of 3 blogs reviewing my collage progress in 2018, I am going to discuss collage materials and media. The first blog sharing my works from this year is here. I am not claiming to have developed these techniques off the top of my head. Those interested in collage materials will no doubt of tried and used many of the elements I will discuss. However, all of the work I am presenting on my blogs is my own and the final results represent my own way of seeing and creating. It’s important, once you have an understanding of techniques and your own areas of interest, to follow your own path. There is plenty of opportunity for that with collage!
Surface start points
I have used a variety of surfaces this year, including Mount board; mdf, wooden panels, sketchbooks (including the Seawhite concertina sketchbook that contains cartridge paper) and hot press Fabriano watercolour paper. I have found that there are pro’s and con’s of each of these collage materials with no ‘one size fits all’ perfect surface. It depends upon how and where you create your collages and if/how they will be framed.
The mount board was my first collage material surface I used in the studio. Although it was great to work on, it did bend somewhat. This was because I use acrylic inks as part of my process and tend to spray water quite liberally.
The MDF (6 mm) worked quite well, without warping (despite liberal water use). I prepared with 2 coats of primer white undercoat before use. The panels are a great surface to work on too. They have the advantage that they don’t necessarily need framing afterwards. That said, I think thicker ones look better than the thinner ones. I have been using 20 mm deep with a birch wood surface. They are available in a variety of sizes including A4, A3, A2, A1 and various square dimensions. The paper works well if you are combining collage and direct monoprinting. It means that you can create a larger number and then just adhere the ones you progress with to panels (or mount them). It wouldn’t work with the amount of water I was using at first with the acrylic inks.
The sketchbooks are great for out and about collage work. (I pre-prepared them with papers and inks before taking them out and working over them (see later).
Sketches and composition studies
As an urban sketcher, sketches on location precede all of my studio collage work (assuming it is place-based). These are done in a combination of media; often pen, ink and watercolour or sometimes-using pastels and pencils. Back in the studio I then do composition studies to work out the best layout for the collage piece. I’ve yet to figure out how (and if) my collages on location will progress into finished studio pieces.
Collage Materials: Getting stuck in (glues, media, papers)
My first collage material in these works is to glue, using archive quality PVA (or sometimes Matt Acrylic Medium)the papers. Over time, I have tried to be a little more abstract and less prescriptive, whilst also trying to reflect something of the mass of the view.
Of course when I did this as prework, prior to my Porto trip using a concertina sketchbook, it was necessarily abstract. I just randomly added pieces of paper, text, tape, labels etc. At the same time I was also trying to create something of a balanced composition. This is just the first layer. After the inks and paint (see later), I often add more paper, sometimes loosely and sometimes very specifically e.g. the incorporation of figures.
There are so many papers to use; from those bought especially for their pattern or colour, to tissue, napkins, dress patterns, maps, labels, tickets and the like. Anything really! I am interested in using at least some papers that are related to the image to be created. For example, one of my Ramsbottom collages, of the train station, included train timetables and text about the station as well as incorporating dress patterns that enabled the intricate metalwork of the roof to be created! The use of text is a particular fascination for me although I have only just started to explore the possibilities. Layering of text and peeling back is one of the approaches that I am interested in and this is used in all three of my first Ramsbottom collages.
Often I cut the papers because it seems to fit better with buildings, although on occasion, especially if I want a more organic feel, I will tear the paper.
Inks, Paint and drawing materials
Most of my collage work has used acrylic inks for colour and white acrylic paint for texture (alongside the papers). However, more recently I have started to use acrylic paint for colour as well as texture. This has come about through creating some of my own papers using a gel plate and acrylic paints (more on that in my next blog).
The inks I use are light fast and resistant to fading and come in a wide range of colours. I love their intensity and also, with the use of water, their unpredictability. I put the image on the easel (which consists of the stuck collage pieces at this point) and apply the inks with a varnishing brush and spray water to get the effects. The image needs to be vertical to get the inks to run and combine. I use a limited colour palette so that the textures can sing without getting lost. The colours need to enhance rather than take over from the textures.
For the concertina sketchbook, I used this same approach but lay the whole sketchbook out on the bench to add colour and spray with water. The bright purples, oranges, blues and yellows worked a treat for the stunning colours of porto. To create interesting affects and masks, I used white gesso and acrylic mediums (both on patterned papers and text layers). The Gesso makes the surface a little stiffer and can also give the surface more texture. It’s worth playing around with the different mediums to see what affects you can get.
I’ve used black, white and sepia acrylic inks in the main to produce the crisper line work as needed when I’m adding details. In order to make these lines less precise and more organic, I have used dip pen together with pallet knives. The more collages I do, the more I am learning to move away from the more traditional line work of sketching whilst at the same time using the experiences I have in creating line. Other collage materials I’ve been using and applying over collage papers and inks include oil pastel and Art Graf (watersoluble graphite). I usually use oil pastel on top of the other colour mediums (inks, paint and paper) to create further detail; for line work perhaps as well as for their texture effects.
Art Graf is especially useful for work on location together with fine liners and other markers like Posca.
Collage Materials: Varnish and framing
Varnish provides a final protective layer over the piece (unless it is in a sketchbook). I mix equal volumes of Matt and Gloss acrylic mediums and this gives the piece a nice sheen but nothing too shiny! I don’t have any problems with application, using a brush and carefully working across the collage and working over any brush strokes. Alternatively, I use a satin varnish. It’s important that the varnish isn’t yellowing but the professional quality products like Windsor and Newton and Liquitex state the properties on their labels. I apply 2 coats, the second after the first is completely dry.
I want the surface of the piece to be seen without barriers. Therefore I don’t use glass as a collage material. I’m also keen that they have a practical, contemporary look and reflects the process and the nature of collage. Therefore, all the framing that I have had done for my collage pieces are floating frames; some white; some black. Alternatively, they can be left unframed if the board is thick enough and of a good quality . The advantage of the later is that you can see the process of collage on the sides as the paper and inks bleed around the edges.
In my third and final blog of this series I’m going to be talking about: What Next? How am I going to continue my collage journey and what will my personal areas of exploration be?