Collage is a more complicated process than people give it credit for, with one of my biggest issues being each cutout can only be used once. This was something I wanted to address when I started delving into collage last year, eventually constructing a method of non destructive collage. This would allow me to reuse cutouts, and produce multiples of each collage.
- Books to cut up
- Cutting tool (box cutter, scalpel, scissors)
- Cutting Mat
- 1 piece foam board (a3 or a4 depending on scanner size)
- 1 sheet acetate firm (same size as foam board)
- 1 piece thin hard cardboard (Slightly large that foam board)
- Masking tape
- Collect: My process for this was mainly to trawl through second hand shops, looking for anything with a lot of pictures. As I started to produce more work through, I began to understand what works better for me. Comic books and any artist books containing picture inserts were top of the list, while still leaving room in the budget for anything I thought could be interesting later. This year I purchased bulk comics from gumtree, which I think is probably the best way to build up a collection fast and for cheap.
- Plan: Cutting images out can take a long time, I usually like to sit down in front of the tv, put something on I can half pay attention too, and start browsing through my haul. I like to look through everything first, so I can prioritize what images I want to focus on. Paying attention to the back of any page you’re cutting out, I’ve made the mistake too many times of destroying a great images while cutting out an okay one.
- Cut: There are a lot of tools you can use to cut, but personally I enjoy using a box cutter the most. Scissors are great for long straight lines but don’t handle detail well, and while a scalpel might sound the best for this, often the blade is too flexible to remain steady. Don’t panic over perfection either, it’s always better to cut too loose than to tight at first, as you can always trim down.
- Construct: Place you acetate flush on your foam board, with two small tabs of tape, connect the two together on one edge, creating a hinge that lets you raise and lower the acetate. We’re going to assemble our collage on top the foam board, and use the acetate as a flap to hold everything in place.
- Assemble: It’s important to remember with this method you get unlimited tries to get the collage looking right. After assembling lower the acetate flap, be careful as it can get quite staticky, which can lift the cutouts out of place. There is a bit of fidgeting with things that goes on to get things perfect, having a knitting needle or something similar to move cutouts around without lifting the acetate up too much is helpful.
- Scan: Place your hard cardboard over the acetate, sandwiching the work between the cardboard and foam. Now is the tricky part, we want to flip everything upside down, place it face down on the scanner bed, and slowly pull out the cardboard. This has given me the best results in keeping my work looking correct while flipping. Preview the scan so you can make sure everything is looking good, much like photography sometimes it’s wise to save the shot anyway even if you’re not %100 happy. When you’re scanning the final images, you want to scan as higher resolution as possible, I would recommend a minimum of 600, but personally like to shoot for 1200. This gives you the most flexibility with scaling and cropping your final works.
- Process: This part is highly dependent on how much digital intervention you want to have with your work. My first step is to get the image to look as much like the original cutouts as possible, as the scanning process lightens up a lot of the darker areas. From here you can either get it print ready, or adjust the colors however you want. Personally I enjoy simply trying to replicate the original cutouts as close as possible.
- Print: Using an Inkjet printer will give you the best results. Hopefully you’ve maintained a high resolution on your files, to give the best possible quality in your print. The choice of matte or gloss paper is up to you, I find the matter better represents the collage qualities, and accentuates the overlaps in paper without the interference of gloss.
I made this work for a recent art auction with the RMIT print student union Open Bite. It’s a great example of the kinds of images I’m looking for, and the benefits of non destructive collage.
Comic books, especially those from the 80s and 90s are a goldmine for overly dramatic, and high mindedly ideological pieces of text. Divorced from there ‘comical’ context, the words can have new meaning. Where they once referred to a villainous plan to spread plague, they now can speak to addiction and withdrawal. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say comics take themselves too seriously, in fact I love that something so silly can contain these complex themes. Instead its about elevating the words, to a form that they might be given more time and respect.
The woman that takes up most of the frame is Ellen Terry, painted by George Fredric Watts in 1864. Over Terry’s mouth is an image of a young woman smoking a cigarette, taken from the New 52 run of green arrow. These kind of serendipitous pairings of images that align perfectly feel too powerful to ignore. In this case, the implication of the pairing speaks to the representation of women through the last 200 years of art. I have no choice but to except this reading as a part of the work, and the inevitable implication of my male gaze in the process. Beyond this though, the meaning I choose to build around the pairing of images, uses a duality of identity to speak to the complex nature of addiction.
Finally the background image, taken from a 90’s batman comic book, is as the title might suggest, an advertisement for Coca-Cola. Balance and composition is as important in collage as any other medium, though as you lack as much control in collage, getting it right can be difficult. Something that helps the smaller pieces stand out is large flat areas of color, and the vibrant Coke red does that for us here. Coca-Cola is a product many see as addictive, with a high sugar and caffeine content. It’s presence in the work sets a baseline experience of addiction, as most can understand consuming sweets until you’re sick. This contextualizes how the viewer can start to think about the structure of smoking, drinking, and other addictive habits.
Old 52 is a simpler work than Drink Coca-Cola, in concept and form. At it’s most base level, it functions as an example of that serendipitous connecting of two images. Some of the images used in these were cut out over a year ago, and only finding a partner after sitting dormant in my binder, waiting for another image to click with.
The stoic image of Le Condottiere is overlayed with an intense visage, a pious man having his hand removed, at his own request. How we represent violence and the men who perpetrate it, is often in conflict with reality. Men who wage war presented as devout, disconnected from the wars they’ve waged, and lives they’ve ended. Unlike Drink Coca-Cola, there is no narrative built around the intertwined images. The subject has no voice, no inner monologue, only screams and the Rum-Rum-Ruuumm of some abhorrent device.
I have a lot more tattoos than most people expect, I lived with my current housemate for around 2 years before they realized I had a complete(ish) back piece. There’s a stereotypical question that seems to be on everyone’s lips when they see a tattoo, “What’s that mean?” I get it less these days, but it’s something I had to think about when I was in my tattoo getting prime.
Here’s what I settled on, and it’s the same answer for pretty much every tattoo.
I pick images that look good, and fit. More than that though, each tattoo caries emotional weight, I remember what my life was like at the time, and how I felt the months following each. What I mean to say is that a tattoo for me acts as a landmark in my life, to measure my mistakes, triumphs, and relationships along the way.
Art can be kind of the same. You make something new, only for it’s completion to coincide with a life altering event, creating a unbreakable link between art and life. Old 52 is one of those, an uncomfortable, sad, and confusing landmark.