Dress Your Collage in Layers

collage background
The background for my collage.

cate pratoOne of the great advantages of working with a bunch of artsy people is that every day is a chance to do a little show and telland get feedback.

Thus, when I was having trouble getting a collage just right, I headed straight for Cloth Paper Scissors Editor Jenn Mason's desk one Monday morning, artwork in hand.

I had started the piece by layering some papers, with an image of an antique coffee pot as the focal point. But as I added found objects and more papers to the composition, the coffee pot was receding into the background. It had gone from focal point to bit player.

"This always happens to me!" I whined to Jenn. "Where am I going wrong?"

She thoughtfully considered the piece and then explained that a collage should be layered with a background, a foreground, and a middle ground.

Seeing my bemused look, Jenn employed a metaphor. I should assemble a collage the same way I might put together a clothing ensemble: the background is the basics (like a skirt and top), the middle ground is where the accessories should go (like a bag and shoes), and the foreground is where you apply the finishing touches that pull everything together (like jewelry and makeup).

Where I had gone wrong was in putting my coffee pot on before my skirt, so to speak.

Clearly, I needed some practice. My coffee pot collage was a bust, so I started over by making some gelatin prints using my latest favorite product, the Gelli ArtsTM Gel Printing Plate. (No mixing, no waiting, no freezing or breaking; it's ready to make prints when you are.)  I inked up the plate with some fluid acrylics and, using a basic house shape for a mask, created a series of prints on watercolor paper.

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

Once they were dry, I selected one as my background.

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.


Blog, Collage, Mixed-Media Techniques


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