Over the past 12 months I've had a number of people slipping into my DM's asking me where to start when it comes to making collages, how to find source material, and questions of that ilk. Everybody has their own technique and routine when it comes to creating anything, be it sculpture, an oil painting, creating a vlog...you get the picture. What I intend to do here is outline the processes and experiences I have when it comes to starting out as a total beginner.
I'm also opening the comments section up to others in the field, as my methods are by
no means definitive.
Getting Started - What You'll Need
To be totally honest, you only need 4 things to make a collage, those being - a knife (or blade), a decent pair of scissors, glue and a book or magazine to cut up. Of course, these are the bare minimum and there are plenty of other items I will recommend to help you get the best results, but for now I'll break down these 4 things.
- Knife/Blade - chose a blade that feels comfortable in your hand. Most cutting tools today have ergonomic grips or a solid body with a textured area for your finger. Also, choose a knife that has readily available replacement blades. There's nothing worse than running out of blades and having to scour the city for replacements. Buying blades in bulk is a good idea, it's cheaper and you won't feel so worried about replacing them - a sharp blade is a good blade! Don't buy a big heavy bulky blade and don't buy one that's too fine and light. In between is the best, depending on what you're cutting. For this article, I'll be focusing on paper as the subject.
- Glue - discussions surrounding the topic of glue will often bring you unstuck (groan) depending on who you approach regarding their preference. There are a variety of adhesives you can use, from craft glues such as Mod Podge, spray adhesives, rubber cement, glue tape or the humble glue stick. Personally, for those starting out, I recommend a glue stick for several reasons. Firstly, the glue allows you to reposition something that you feel is crooked or in the wrong place. I often create on the fly or by gut instinct and it's not uncommon to adhere an object to the page and realise you got it in the wrong place or that maybe it doesn't work as effectively as you'd imagined.
Glue Sticks are economical and readily available from places other than art stores. Don't buy the cheapest brand you find, that's a general rule across the board when it comes to art supplies. Perhaps try one of the blue or purple coloured sticks so you can get a gauge on where you're applying it to the back of your cut out. Another good thing with the glue from glue sticks is that if you smear it on the background or take a cut out away that leaves residue, you can remove it from most paper types with a damp cloth.
- Scissors - as with glue, there are a large variety of scissors that are available for you to choose from when starting your path to creating collages. There is no hard and fast rule, but perhaps experiment with a couple of sizes, focusing mainly on the comfort when you grip them in your hand and a good quality metal blade. Depending on the intricacies of the object you are cutting out, it is entirely possible to use just your scissors and not even pick up a knife if you find a good pair that cuts nicely. I'm currently using Kokuyo Titanium Ergo Grip Scissors (pictured on the left hand side above) and I really like them for their durability and comfort.
Finding Source Material
Finding source material can be as rewarding and as thrilling as creating the final artwork. In every instance, there's a degree of intuition, know how and good old dumb luck. Of all the questions I get asked about collaging, "where can I find source material?" is the one I hear most often. I think a great place to start is to ask yourself "what kind of collages do I wish to make?" - abstract? political? colour and form based work? nature themes? mechanical?
Once you have a rough idea of several possible themes, it's time for you to step out into the world in pursuit of ephemera. Personally, I prefer using books as my source material over magazines for several reasons. Books offer a better quality paper stock - I've found that the older the book the better the stock in many instances. Try to avoid hi-gloss finishes on your imagery - it will pick up the naturally occurring oils from your hands quicker than yesterdays' newspaper absorbs the grease from an order of hot chips. Alternatively, you can buy a pair of cloth gloves, as I've seen several artists use.
Books are also likely to offer a more unique array of pictures as opposed to a lot of people's chosen go to - the ubiquitous National Geographic magazine, of which there were there were millions and millions of issues published. How people use material is always unique, and I do have a stack of Nat Geo's that I will access at some stage, but I believe books deliver a more obscure and interesting goldmine of visual wealth.
So where do I look for these "interesting" books? Here's a list that will help you find material in your local area:
- Thrift Stores - thrift stores, opportunity shops, charity stores...different names that all offer essentially the same thing - cheap books! Within a 5km radius of your house, there will be at least 2-3 stores of this nature. Find them on Google maps, get familiar with them, visit them regularly.
If there's a staff member you meet more than a few times when you're at the counter buying books or magazines, get your phone out and share a few of your collages with them and tell them that's what you collect the books for. People working in charity shops are often volunteers in possession of good hearts. Share with them and often they will share with you. A lady who worked at my local thrift store would allow me to go into the back room to look through the books that hadn't hit the shelves yet. In return, I'd sometimes bring the actual collages in with me to show her what I'd made from the books. It's basic kindness and karma!
Usually there will be a central depot that acts as a sorting station to send "stock" out to all the other branches of that particular thrift chain. Find out where it is - you won't believe the Aladdin's Cave these places can be.
- Second Hand Book Stores - the same applies for second hand book stores as above. become a regular and don't be afraid to introduce yourself to the staff. Be warned, these stores usually charge at least 3 times as much as a thrift store, but the payoff is that you will most likely find some really interesting obscurities here if the staff are savvy and know what to buy from people.
- Garage/Yard Sales - There's always somebody wanting to get rid of old books at a garage sale. People are big on de-cluttering and going digital, which is to our advantage! Don't be afraid to make an offer if you want to buy more than a few books - that's the nature of the beast at these events.
- School/Church Fetes - Fetes can be a real goldmine for source material as a lot of donations are made by older people who have been stockpiling a serious collection of books you won't find elsewhere. A few I've been to allow you to fill a bag with as many books as you can physically carry for a set price.
- Markets - most towns, suburbs or cities have a variety of markets. Craft markets, food markets and the one to look for, second hand markets. The market is an amalgamation of all of the above places I've mentioned but can be hit and miss depending on who has rented a stall on a particular week and whether or not their material is interesting and fairly priced. Again, communication is key and don't be afraid to ask for a discount if you are buying in bulk.
- Facebook Groups - Something I've yet to utilise but I've seen growing in popularity is the rise of "pay it forward" or "free items" pages on Facebook. These are usually locally based groups that would rather see an item go to somebody who wants it rather than ending up in landfill and making a negative impact on the planet. A great idea and one I'll be investigating. One thing to bare in mind is that to recieve, you should give back, so have a look around your place and see what you could gift to somebody before simply taking.
Now that I've given some tips on getting your collaging started, It's over to YOU to join me in a sweaty group hug and contribute your own ideas, feedback and tips. This was written from my experience over a 12 month journey in creating cut and paste work, but everyone's creative path is different and I'd love for people to add their ideas to the comments box below. I've been noticing a lot of people happy to take and not give lately, and what are we as artists if we don't share with each other?
In future posts, I'll focus on additional tools and supplies you can use to step your work up a gear or two, as well as looking at various techniques and methods of creating collages. I might even interview some fellow artists to see if they'll reveal their secrets for all to benefit from.
Peace - L