How to Collage in Your Art Journal
--some notes & links--
©2004, by Aisling D'Art
(This is from a letter to the ArtistsJournals2 list at Yahoo!Groups. I started that group and moderated it for several of years. Awhile ago, I turned it over to a new moderator. When I've checked on it, it's still a great group.)
click any image to see it larger
I started doing these quick collages, though not consciously doing them daily. Months later, I started each day with a collage, the same as I used to to "morning pages" as described in The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. For me, collages are a more visual version of "morning pages."
I usually allow myself a half an hour for the collage process, but sometimes go back several times throughout the day to add things until I'm pleased with it. It all starts with the determination that, whether it's good art or not, there will be a collage when I'm finished!
Usually, I just work on the pages in a spiral-bound sketchbook, just as they are.
Sometimes I'll gesso a few pages my journal, ahead of time. Then they are strong enough to support heavily embellished collages here & there.
I'll leave a few pages for writing, then allow two or three pages that are left blank for collage. That forces me to avoid having an all-text journal. In an average journal, I'll gesso five to ten pages that I plan to use for painted, ornate or heavy collages.
I use any gesso that's cheap, from the fine art supplies section of Michael's or any art supply store. Gesso makes the paper stronger, so it doesn't suck up the glue or paint so much, and it has "tooth" to grab whatever I apply to it. I buy cheap white gesso. Yes, you can buy it in colors, but if you start with white, you can add color to it (in small batches) with watercolors (including Dr. Ph. Martins), acrylics, even food coloring or unsweetened KoolAid if you like! But I'm happy working with white, usually.
Now and then, I use black gesso for art journal pages on which I'll stamp text in white, or use a white gel pen.
I have images stored in folders, kept in a heavy cardboard portfolio, to use when I want to do a collage. I also keep a stack of magazines & newspapers on hand for my collage work. And I go through and grab whatever images, words, and phrases strike my fancy at that very moment. If they connect somehow, great. If they're completely disrelated, that's okay too. It usually makes sense to me when I put it all together, in the context of my thoughts at the time.
My favorite magazines for collage include the fashion magazine, W, because it includes great images, heavy paper, and very large words and phrases that show up nicely on my pages.
I also like glossy magazines such as National Geographic, because the colors are great, the images are unusual, and--since the pages are clay-based--I can use the magazine for gel medium image transfers. (I'll talk about that at another time. It's a more complicated collage and embellishment technique.)
I love layers in my work. For this reason, I'm verrrrry big on using colored tissue paper. I use Golden Gel Medium (soft/gloss) for the adhesive, and when the tissue paper is saturated with the gel medium, it remains translucent after it dries.
However, the gel medium will make the paper buckle sometimes. I like that, because I'm very process-oriented. I'm not interested in a collage that looks pre-printed. The buckling and extra glops of gel medium work for me. But I know that not everyone likes the buckled-paper look.
I apply the gel with a sponge brush. I often forget to rinse them, so they'll be used just once or twice, and I stock up on the cheapo ones (10 - 15 cents each during Michael's store sales) regularly.
While the page dries, I'll place a piece of waxed paper over it so I can turn the page and either write or do another collage. If it's facing another gel'd page, I'll keep waxed paper between the pages for a week or two until the gel is fully cured. Otherwise, the gel remains tacky enough to stick to the facing page.
I also highlight some of my work with different types of leafing... gold, copper, etc. I adhere it with gel medium, too. Don't get caught up in using the most/only perfect adhesive for the job; gel medium works well for almost anything. When it won't hold, I use Household Goop!
collage with leafing - click to see larger
For some of my work, I think in terms of other means to attach stuff. On a "hurting" day, a bandaid may hold an image in place. And there are grommets, paper clips, straight pins, safety pins, and so on. Think beyond tradition and rules!
I never fret because an item means that the journal won't close nice & flat. Frankly, by the time I get done with the gel medium on lots of pages, the whole thing is so buckled that it hasn't a chance of closing nice OR flat, ever again!
I may sew a button to the front cover of the journal, and a piece of string (I like hemp twine) or ribbon attached with a grommet to the back cover, so I can tie the journal closed when I carry it around or shelve it.
These collages are exciting to me, because I never know how they'll turn out until I start putting the random bits of paper together and realize what the internal message is. It's sort of like bringing what's deep inside me, forward.
I hope to teach more journaling classes in the future, because I have a bazillion techniques to share, and sometimes it works best in a class where people can actually SEE how this works, and experiment, hands-on. But I love collage and I love journaling, and what I learn about myself and others in the process.
More? You'll find additional notes on collage techniques in my Insight Shrines class handouts (in PDF format), and My letter to Erin about art/journaling. Also see my sitemap for more, related how-to pages.
And, you can read many of my journals online, page by page. They're listed at Aisling's Personal Art Journals, Online.