Friday 12 December 2014

Experimenting with abstract collage [while playing with your favourite papers!]: Part 6 of the collage adventure 'Fortune & Geese Favour the Bold'

Me again. Hi.

As this is really the second half of our discussion about filling up those altered book pages [the first half is here] how about we dispense with introductions and dive straight back in between those book leaves?
These were the collage styles I identified from my own book:
  1. The figurative or narrative aspect of the page. These are the parts of it which feature a figure / a character / a clear theme which a viewer could connect with; it's the parts which tell some sort of story or which at the very least a viewer will attempt to interpret into a 'meaning'.
  2. A more abstract form which is more concerned about creating a general mood rather than a specific 'meaning'. And also a form which simply celebrates and puts centre-stage your favourite scraps of paper. [Because it is possible to have favourite scraps of paper isn't it? We've all been there ...].
So let's leap straight to part 2 ...

2. Experimenting with abstract forms, layering and colour to create a general mood.
What? No, hang on ... if this all sounds a bit too 'arty' for you, a bit too highfalutin, pretentious or not something you feel that you should be dabbling in ... then let me stop you right there!!

For one thing ... there's nothing wrong with indulging your inner pretentious artiste occasionally, just stop worrying, get your smock and beret on, and just enjoy the moment why don't you?
And for another thing ... but don't tell anyone this part OK? OK. For another thing this method really boils down to doing nothing fancier than chopping up bits of paper, rearranging the snippets, and gluing them back down again. Seriously; so don't discount it just yet.

And, do you know what? As basic as that method might sound at first it can actually lead you to produce pages which are not only aesthetically pleasing to others, but which are also extremely satisfying to construct too!

Chopping up, rearranging and gluing is effectively all that really happened here:
And, far from feeling basic, childlike or too simple to bother with ... I find this style of working really enjoyable, freeing and inspiring. Let me explain why ...

Using your favourites & killing your darlings:  
Throughout this series we've been discussing having a PURPOSE in mind when sitting down to being a project like this and, in the previous post, I talked about how using figures in your collage can help if your purpose was to tell a story, to document an emotion or to pin down a feeling and so on.

Yet, equally, your purpose may be nothing more than to spend time playing with beautiful papers and creatively arranging some of your favourite supplies.

That's really all it need be; enjoying the materials you're using and seeing how you can show them off on the page.

And here's where I believe that, as you're focussing solely on the loveliness of the materials in front of you, you might as well use your favourite of favourite supplies. Like how a chef can make a really simple dish taste delicious by using only the best of ingredients!
  • Just because this style might use lots of small scraps and snippets it's not the same thing as saying you should be using the old papers in the back of the cupboard which you don't like! No!
  • Use up all those scraps which you've saved, cosseted, protected, called 'Best' and stroked like a lover's hair. [Don't lie to me ... we all have scraps we love a little too much ... ].
  • This is the time to use your favourites, your 'one-day-I'll-find-the-perfect-project-for-that' items. Why not make your next project that project!
  • And don't worry about using lots of them in one project because when you keep them all together in one book [like the altered book I've used to house all these collages] then all those precious scraps will take on an accumulative power.
  • They'll build into something with impact rather than have then spread thinly across lots of different projects where their effect will be diluted.
  • Many of the papers I used in this project were gorgeous bookbinding off-cuts gifted to me by a lovely friend, and although I initially thought they were that ridiculous thing of being 'too nice to use' ... I came round to the idea that I'd really be serving them better if I turned them into a nice project I'd be proud of!
Plus, cutting into those favourite of items can be good therapy: it's a great cure for preciousness!

A lecturer on my English degree once repeated the old writers' phrase that says to do the work justice sometimes you need to "kill your darlings" when you're writing. Meaning you shouldn't get overly precious about any of your personal favourite lines in the text. Sometimes the text as a whole might benefit from you editing that line ... or getting rid of it altogether, no matter how much you think it's perfect!

Which is something I try to keep in mind while convincing myself to take the scissors to a 'best' piece of paper: let go of the favouritism, don't waste time trying to protect your 'darling' just cut it up and make something better from it!!

OK then, now that we've manoeuvred your darlings over to the chopping block ... what are you going to do with the bits you slice off?

[Wow ... this collage-adventure has taken an unexpectedly dark turn hasn't it?].

Combining simple abstract scraps + snippets.
Some of those scraps, strips and images you've collected can be combined on a page purely to look good; they don't need to 'mean' anything or refer to any theme or overall story at all.

Take this page for example, the journaling at the bottom refers back to something I'd thought about after watching a film ... but the items on the page don't necessarily reflect that.  For a start ... the film wasn't about a flying coconut:
Instead I chose the individual items as they worked together.
  • The shape of the coconut balances with the ovals on the gelli-plate printed paper;
  • which matches the colours in the old stamp
  • and the thin strips of paper along the bottom / side simply mirror the colours used elsewhere on the page.
It doesn't all 'mean' something; but together it works - think of it this way ...

Have you ever heard a song and, because it was so catchy, or feel-good, or it gives you goose-bumps or whatever, and you just fell for it? No questions asked. It just gets to you.

And then, one day, you actually make a point of really listening to the words ... and you realise ... it doesn't make any sense! You just can't fathom the meaning. Or else the lyrics don't say anything at all! And yet ... the overall effect, the finished piece, still somehow works.

[Case in point:  'I drew a line, I drew a line for you. Oh what a thing to do. And it was all yellow' from Coldplay's Yellow. I love the song; I've never been able to work out what it means - Why's everything yellow? And why does it sound like it must mean something deep and moving ... yet it was just yellow? But I don't care: I like the overall effect!]

Well, that's how I think of this style of collage. You just play around with materials until it just feels 'right'.

There are no rules to abide by but here are a few ideas to guide you when you're combining these abstract shapes to create a mood with no particular meaning!

  • Look for interesting combinations of colour, texture, print, surface pattern.
  • If you've chosen a colour palette for your altered book, then that will narrow down your focus and you can experiment with just those shades and prints which fit the theme. 
Example: The key to pulling this page together was finding more than one scrap of red, and more than one scrap of green to create some balance and harmony between the quite random elements:
  • Try mixing old and new supplies to create contrasts of fresh modern prints and old images and treasures!
Example: The page contains: scraps of fairly recent scrapbooking paper; a snippet from a vintage children's book and a vintage encyclopaedia page about semaphore - both of which I had indeed been saving for one of those 'special' projects!
Example: Here I combined a paper I made at a gelli-plate printing class [with Kate Crane] with a bright pink tractor illustration from a 1960s children's' encyclopaedia:
3. Composition:
  • In your composition think about using a mix of harmonies [where things flow, line up, match, coordinate] and tensions [where something might overlap, float off on its own, hang over an edge, look awkward or out of place ... for me .. this is where the magic happens!]
Example: Here I overlapped several layers and didn't line up any of the edges. Then I stapled that tiny little scrap on the right 'just because'!
Example: As I had 30 collages to make to fill the book I was trying to push myself to change things up a little occasionally - so this page [below] was me trying something new with my composition! I arranged the elements in the four corners of the page, which I don't thing I've tried before:
It's a bit odd, and even I'm not entirely sure what story I had in mind when I was making it [I don't think it was to do with a windmill, a cow, and a tomato though ... I'd have remembered that.] ... but, to maintain some sort of harmony while experimenting with the form ... I worked with a simple and harmonious colour scheme.

Finally for today ...

As you can probably tell by now:
  • this style is very loose and free ...
  • and it's full of wonky lines and higgledy-piggledy edges!  
  • and these collages have never been near a cutting mat, a ruler or paper trimmer ... everything is just hacked into with big scissors or torn to size!
  • then it's glued down with any old glue ...
  • using a plastic glue-spreader as I never want to clean out a brush. So there.
If you're a perfectionist this will either set you free ... or make you ill. I can't anticipate which ... you know your proclivities better than I!

But, if you're someone without such exacting standards, someone who can bear to be parted from straight lines, symmetry and measuring ... someone who just wants to give something new a try ... then go for it!

Example: Here's part of the negative / outer surround of a shape I'd die-cut with my Bigshot ...
And I used it because no leftover or scrap is safe no matter how uneven or odd! And it helped to make what became one of my favourite pages in the book:


So, what can you take away from today's collage adventure?

How about ...
  • If your pages don't have a particular purpose as such, if they're not meant to tell a particular tale ... then just allow the process of playing with paper to be your purpose.
  • Just cut, rearrange and stick down for its own sake. To relax, to practise your craft, to feel creative, to nurture yourself ... to avoid housework. [Find me a better reason!]
  • Treat it like a meditation. Only ... treat it like a meditation you do with your eyes open. Because you'll have scissors in your hands. And using them with your eyes shut is just asking for trouble and probably won't relax you at all.
  • And use your favourite supplies and scraps!
  • Treat those papers less like hoarded treasures locked in a vault and more like seasonal vegetables. Use them while they're at their best, while you love them ... before they go off! Or rather ... before you go off them!
  • And when you're shuffling them around the page have fun experiment with the composition. Most of the time just go with your gut instinct, trust your own eye and make what looks good to you. Then, occasionally, push yourself a little and try something new, something which at first you think won't work. And glue it down!!
  • If you hate it - no problem - nothing's going to go to waste.. Just chop up the entire page and re-use the scraps!
  • But equally ... you might just stumble across your new favourite way of working!
If you're enjoying the collage journey please do consider:
  • leaving a comment to let me know
  • sharing any work you make based on an idea you picked up en route
  • pinning one of my pages to Pinterest
  • or sharing a link to the series via your 'go to' social media.
I love offering tips and ideas here on my blog ... but it's even better to know when they've made their way to someone who finds them worthwhile!

Julie :-)


'Fortune & Geese Favour the Bold' is an altered book and collage adventure which you can catch up on [for free] in the following posts:
  • Part 1: Prep notes and supplies list
  • Part 2: Introducing a themed focus into your altered book / journal
  • Part 3: Turning an old book into a new home for your collage
  • Part 4: 101 alternative crafty supplies ... and where to find them
  • Part 5: Using figures to create a narrative in your collage


    1. Harmony + tension . . . so love that. Feeling I ought to have already been aware of it as a concept (I mean, I think I *do* it, just not consciously identified it as that before now) - definitely off to investigate further. And not berate myself for being ill-informed . . .

      Still loving your Grand Budapest Hotel-inspired colour scheme, and reading about your process, too.


    2. Oh, they're so beautiful......achingly.......I can't take my eyes off them (so much so, I haven't even read your text yet...will come back to that another day!)......I *am* so going to commission you.....(a few months down the line).....I *have* to have some of your art in my home...

    3. Persuasive. Very persuasive.


    Thanks for leaving me a comment, asking me a question, sharing your own story or just randomly saying hello.