Collage Designs: Find Your Language with Mixed-Media Materials

Last week I was trying like mad to meet a deadline and had spread out my mixed-media collage supplies on the dining room table. Rubber stamps, stamp pads, acrylic paints, found objects, fibers, watercolor paper, ephemera, gel medium, colored pencils, and markers–you name it, it was there.

One of Meredith’s Steampunk collage designs.

My younger daughter walked in and asked if she could join in the fun. At 16, she has already won a couple of awards for her artwork–primarily drawing and painting (she owns her own set of Copic markers)–but she doesn’t have much experience in how to make a collage.

My nature is to try to control the situation; in this case to tell her what she could and couldn’t use from my stash, to ask her to be careful with this or that supply, and so on. But because I was in a rush for my own work, the only advice I offered was to tell her that if she was going to glue on an object with some weight, she should use heavy gel medium.

After that, I not only let her alone, I had no idea what she was creating until we both sat back about an hour later and looked at each other’s work.

With no rules and no preconceptions, Meredith had created a cohesive Steampunk-style collage using unusual materials like burned scrapbook paper (she did it safely over the kitchen sink), metal chain, and jewelry pieces, plus stamping and painting.

My daughter’s creative use of supplies reminded me of a phrase I heard from mixed-media collage artist and art therapist Erin Partridge: “Find your own language with materials.”

Collage art in progress, using sticks, gel medium,
acrylic paint, and alcohol inks. By Erin Partridge.

Erin doesn’t necessarily use materials the way she is “supposed” to. She stamps with the matte medium that clings to the foil cover of the jar and adds texture to a stretched canvas by gluing fresh leaves over three sides. Her philosophy is that you find your own way creatively by “throwing all the art rules and the materials rules out the window and having fun.”

Here are three ways to find your own language with materials:

1. Buy or borrow a supply you don’t know much about and haven’t used before, like alcohol inks or pan pastels, and don’t read the directions on how to use it. (DO read any safety precautions listed, however.) Then play with the supply any way you like and see what happens.

2. Host an art date with a friend and each of you bring an array of unusual found objects. Exchange the objects and then use them to make a piece of art.

3. Explore the possibilities of one supply. For example, put a dollop of regular gel medium into several small cups or on a palette. Then mix in a different substance into each one, such as glitter, mica flakes, sand, dirt, pearl pigments, and so on. Spread each on a piece of canvas and see what happens.

Erin suggests several more ways to loosen up and find your own way to use art materials in her instructional video, Mix It Up! Paint, Collage, and Found Objects, is one of my favorites. My experience making art alongside my daughter prompted me to pull up Erin’s video on Craft Daily and watch it again.

Once I was on the site, I used my subscription to sample other video tutorials that would offer collage inspiration. There are a lot of full-length video tutorials on collage and texture, with more being added regularly.

Ultimately, I was reminded that working alongside another artist–whether it’s a family member or an artist/instructor via video tutorial on Craft Daily–is a great way to see the creative potential in your supplies.

P.S. Do you prefer to work alone or with an art buddy? Why? Leave a comment below.

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Blog, Collage, Mixed-Media Techniques

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