Create a Fairy Tale Collage with Cathy Nichols

Cathy Nichols is known for her colorful artwork, and especially for the way she weaves stories into her art. In her January 2018 Art Lesson, Cathy shares how she uses selected words on a book page as a jumping-off point to create her colorful narrative collages. I loved the idea of starting with a book page, so I selected a few pages from a vintage children’s book and got to work.

I chose several words to build my story around, and circled them in pencil: “two girls,” “They were great friends,” and “we’ll go home,” envisioning young sisters who were also good friends. I adhered the page to the substrate and set it aside to dry.

I created several sheets of colorful prints with my Gelli Arts® printing plate, using colors that reminded me of flowers and the outdoors. I was pretty heavy handed with the  paint, so there is plenty of great texture in the prints.

Choosing several colors that evoked a beautiful spring day set the tone for my story.

While the printed papers dried, I applied a watercolor wash to the book page, using blue and green, avoiding the circled words, and set the page aside to dry.

As the story grew in my mind, I started cutting and tearing the printed papers and other collage papers to bring my story to life: land shapes, a sun, clouds, tufts of grass, and flowers, and started adding them to the page.

Storytelling with mixed media is enhanced when you use your own colorful printed papers.

Figures from Tim Holtz® Idea-Ology® Paper Dolls were perfect for my central characters. I added them to the scene and thought about what to add next.

I decided to add some colorful accents with gel pens to make the the black-and-white figures stand out.

Adding color to the girls’ clothing and accessories added interest and texture.

The last words, “we’ll go home,” made a house on the hill a necessity. I cut the house from the printed papers, and highlighted the windows and the door with a white gel pen to make the house look welcoming. I used a brush pen to add a path up to the house, and gel pens to draw trees, grass, and flowers. I really enjoyed adding the details, and had to make myself stop­.

Storytelling in mixed media is easier with a jumpstart.

Starting with words from a book page was more relaxing than starting with a blank canvas. As I chose the words, the story grew in my mind, and everything fell into place from there. Give it a try the next time you’re feeling creative, but don’t know where to start.


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Blog, Collage, Mixed-Media Techniques


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