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I’m so overwhelmed by the response to my post “Processing the Process” which made it to the WP front page. Wow, thanks to everyone who commented, followed, liked, etc. It’s really incredible that I put this thing out there out of… well, nowhere – I didn’t premeditate that post at all, I just sat down and typed and there it was… and it’s gotten such an amazing, amazing response.

One of the most incredible things I’ve been hearing is from people who used to do collage and feel like they want to get back into it (yes!) or people who see collage and think “Yeah, I want to try that.” So, for this group, I’m putting together a little tutorial on the nuts and bolts in working in collage. It’s not going to be exhaustive, by any means, but I hope it’s at least helpful.

First thing you need to do to work in collage is to find your source material. Collage/photomontage is all about putting together new images out of found images, so first – you gotta find the images.

This is my pile of source material as it stands right now (minus a few random magazines). This… is nothing. The reason it’s so tiny is that this just the total bare-bones what I can’t live without version of my source material library. I just recently started working again after a long hiatus and during that hiatus, I first had a baby in a 1BR apartment – necessitating that I clear out a lot of extra stuff to make room for exciting things such as changing tables and rocking chairs – and then we moved, again necessitating I winnow down my piles and piles of crap lest I want to pack and move them all. So, this is my “desert island” pile of material.

And oh yes, I use books. Lots of books. This is a tricky decision to make for a lot of people and by far, this is the part of my artistic process I’ve received the most flack for. Yes, I love books and believe that books are incredibly special and important – but to me, re-using pages from books in the form of art isn’t the same as destroying or burning a book for the sake of, well, destroying it. If you’re uncomfortable using books in your work, magazines also make for good source material but there’s not as much variety. Of course, if you work digitally, you can just scan the book pages without having to sacrifice anything – but I do things the old fashioned way.

This is an unruly pile of source material that I’ve collected over the past two years. This is actually staged on the floor like this because I’m done with it. It hasn’t inspired me for two years, so I’m chucking it. Of course, in the mean time, I don’t have much of a library built up… so… it’s just lying on the floor until I have enough new stuff to work with.

The first step after you’ve find source material that inspires you is to go through it and start selecting images. I most often do this while watching something – sit down with my books and magazines and simply pull out images that I think I’d like to work with at some point. This isn’t the time for cutting or getting fancy, just ripping the page will do.

As you do this, you of course build up a lot of pages. A LOT of pages. When I was working on my senior thesis, I had work tables just *covered* with pieces. It was a mess. I had a sort of organizational “system” but it was mostly just a mess. You absolutely need at least the bare minimum of organization to be able to work effectively, even if that’s just “This is a pile of chairs” and “This is a pile of faces.”

You can see here that this is a pile of nature images, going into a folder. And lo, this is why there’s a giant pile on my floor – I emptied my folders in order to fill them again. The systems I use for my folders really make no sense outside of my head and every person is going to have their own ideas for how to organize their images.

What’s important is that you’re going to want to have three types of images: background, subjects, and filler. Or, if you work on plain paper (which I do rarely), you just need subject and filler. If you really like birds and only cut out birds, you’re not going to be able to make very interesting work with just a pile of birds. You’re going to need other elements for them to play off of.

This is my folder pile, all stacked up and neat like it never, ever is. I really like these clear folders because it’s easy for me to see what’s in them. And yes, I have a mental category system for the colors in order to tell them apart at a glance. It took me *years* of working to come to this system as opposed to just piles and/or drawers full of papers. It has its advantages in terms of storage, that’s for sure. And I can indeed find things easier, though sometimes it feels like I’m always opening the wrong folder, it still beats digging a drawer for twenty minutes to find that ONE piece that I NEED and it’s at the bottom of a pile of random stuff and it just takes forever to find.

Once you accumulate your sources, you’re ready to start with the next step – cutting things up! Which we’ll get to next time!