Collage Composition in Three Easy Steps

I've written before about the benefits of working among artsy people who can give you feedback and advice on your art. I especially rely on Jenn Mason for critiques on my collage projects.

Artwork by Mary Walter, Jenn Mason, and
Vivika Hansen DeNegre.

Well, in the last few months we've added many new, creative people to our offices where we put together Cloth Paper Scissors, Quilting Arts, and Stitch. There is so much going on that recently, we started a regular Monday morning show-and-tell so everyone could talk about their creative pursuits.

Stitch Editor Amber Eden often wows us with a new dress or blouse and Stitch Assistant Editor Rosemarie DeBoer usually has sewing or knitting project to reveal. Quilting Arts Editor Vivika Hansen DeNegre has brought in her fabric collages and Jenn's most recent "show" was an assemblage.

Last week, three of my coworkers brought in artwork they are preparing for the Feed Me: The 7 x 7 Show to benefit Meals on Wheels Jenn is hosting to coordinate with her local Open Studios event: a small quilt, a mixed-media fabric collage, and mixed-media painting.

Once again I was able to observe how a collage should be layered with a background, a foreground, and a middle ground.

collage background
The background for my collage.

As Jenn once explained to me,  you should assemble a collage the same way you might put together a clothing ensemble: the background (step 1) is the basics (like a skirt and top), the middle ground (step 2) is where the accessories should go (like a bag and shoes), and the foreground (step three) is where you apply the finishing touches that pull everything together (like jewelry and makeup).

Take, for example, this piece I created starting with a gelatin monoprint as the background. 

gelatin print collage middle ground
The middle-ground of my collage.

The gardens around my house have been going wild with color lately, so I pulled out a bunch of garden- and flower-themed ephemera from my stash. By a lucky coincidence, I had some sheet music whose lyrics, "Tulips and Heather Bring us Together," fit my theme perfectly and gave my collage a story.

The negative house space would be the focal point. Normally, I would focus on getting that part perfect and then collage around it. But, keeping Jenn's ensemble analogy in mind, instead I worked on the middle ground as a whole, playing with the sheet music and several other pieces of paper until I found a composition that made sense overall.

Finally, I added the foreground: the details that would bring this collage together.

The sprinkle of flower sequins echoes the colors of the flowers in the house and bird, as well as the shape of the silk flower in the upper left-hand corner. Aren't I clever?

The silk leaves visually bring together the bird and flowers, because they overlap and because both images have leaves in them. To hold down the branch and add texture and a unifying color, I stitched it with colored hemp.

gelatin print collage
The fully dressed collage, with all
the foreground details.

A little mascara (black gel pen) around the lower images makes them stand out. I also added a bit of eye shadow (beigy-gold metallic gel pen) to the leaves and blue flower to give them more depth.

I am very happy with how this collage came out. Jenn's advice about planning your background, middle ground, and foreground really helped me execute this collage to my satisfaction. Instead of wondering where my focal point went, I am now happily focused on the results.

Jenn demonstrates how to make a collage using layers and gives tutorials in making gelatin and acrylic monoprints in her new Cloth Paper Scissors WorkshopTM video, "Mixed-Media Collage: Working in Layers."

You can download "Mixed-Media Collage: Working in Layers" right now or order it as a DVD. It's the next best thing to having Jenn Mason offering you advice from the neighboring desk. Need more collage advice and inspiration? We have hundreds of books, DVDs, downloads, and other products in the Cloth Paper Scissors Shop.

P.S. Do you work among other artists? If not, how do you connect with other artists for inspiration and advice? Leave your comments below.


Blog, Collage, Mixed-Media Techniques


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