This is the part where I say to you “Be free, my poodles! I have nothing to teach you!” and also, at the same time, write a whole blog entry about it. So, here we go.
Putting a collage together is all about composition, which is a skill that maybe someone, somewhere, could teach you… but it ain’t me. I know a good composition when I see it, and I know when something of mine feels “off” and I can yammer on about “the formal elements” of artwork until I’m blue in the face, but in terms of practical advice?
In collage, you want your pieces to “fit” together… unless that’s not what you’re going for.
You want to balance your elements out through the piece evenly… unless you don’t.
Try to make one whole “thing” out of several elements… unless you don’t feel like it.
Less is more… except when it’s not.
See, for every half baked piece of advice I could give you, you could equally refute it with your own artistic vision of how my advice is half-baked and full of crap. So. There it is.
A few practical pointers: familiarize yourself with color theory. Just in general. If you work with anything that has colors, do this. Josef Albers is like the King of Color Theory – get your hands on Interaction of Color and, hell, you don’t even have to pay for fancy artist’s ColorAid strips – just grab a whole shit ton of paint chips at Home Depot and mess around with them.
(This is when I confess to having a Hoarders-esque paint chip stash in my studio. I MIGHT NEED THEM SOMEDAY.)
And again, you might say to me “But I only work in black and white making collages of zebra thoughts.” And in that case, no, you probably don’t need color theory. So, moving on.
The rule of thirds (most notably from photography) is also handy. I say this as someone who has no idea what the actual “theory” of this is other than yeah, yeah, divide everything into a grid and it should still look interesting blahhhhhhhhhhh… I *do* know that when I’m working, it’s important for me to feel “balanced” so I’ve clearly internalized whatever message is trying to be conveyed here even if talking about it makes me glaze over.
Stop when you’re ahead. This piece here? This one right above this text I’m typing? This is perhaps my personal favorite of every piece I’ve ever made. Of all of them, this is the one I’m happiest with. And it is two. Elements. Two. Just two. They just fit so seamlessly together that once I’d placed Mr. No Skin Man, I sat back thought “OK YES THAT’S IT” and didn’t futz with it any more.
Oh so many times I’ve fought the battle of “Is It Done Yet?” only to realize “OH SHIT IT WAS DONE THREE HOURS AGO AND NOW WE CAN NOT TURN BACK TIME.” Yeah, it’s way, way easier to ruin any piece of art by over doing it and it’s much better to remain cautiously unfinished than to rush head-first gung-ho into “Well, fuck, that was so much better until I did that thing that I can’t undo.”
Which brings me to my one practical piece of advice when collaging that I don’t think even the contrariest of contrarians will refute: do not glue as you go. Do not. No. Don’t. Place everything first. Several times if need be. Once you glue, you are pretty much married to it and having done both, it’s easier to get a divorce than it is to effectively un-glue paper in a way that nothing gets completely destroyed.
So, what then are you supposed to do with half-finished work that you don’t want your cats to finish for you? That’s where you want a sheet of glass. I chose my current desk as it has a floating glass top where I can slide a partially finished piece right under the glass and nothing’s going to touch it. If you don’t feel like buying a new desk for this endeavor, may I simply suggest buying a large photo frame and using the glass to cover your work when you need to walk away but aren’t ready to bust out the glue.
The glue, of course, being what we’ll talk about next time. And on THAT subject, I do have quite a lot to teach. Prepare yourselves for what just might be The Gospel of Glue.