“An ingenious mind is never too old to learn.” ~ Mary Granville Delany
I love reading about artists and their lives. Upon the recommendation of a good friend who is also an artist, I picked up The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock, and spent a few wonderful hours discovering an artist most of us have probably never heard of, Mary Granville Delany.
Her story made me think about how art can bring meaning to our lives at any age. She lived from 1700 to 1788 and is considered by some to be the first mixed-media collage artist. At 72 years old, Delany began her life as an artist by replicating the flowers in her garden. She used torn pieces of paper that she collected, or created papers using watercolors, turning them into what she called paper mosaics. In the years before she died, she created more than 1,000 collages. I was inspired by her attention to detail, her diligence to her craft, and her gift of observation.
I always have lots of paper scraps in my studio, and decided to apply Delany’s concepts to my work by challenging myself to create my own collaged garden. I like new projects, and a challenge always generates fresh ideas. For my collage, I used a broad selection of ephemera, along with hand-painted, printed, and purchased papers. The papers you choose should reflect the colors you would like to see in your garden. Since it is the 21st century and not the 18th, I put a contemporary twist on the idea of piecing, using clean, stylized lines.
- Canvas or canvas board (I used an 11″ x 14″ canvas board.)
- Palette knife or key card
- Fluid acrylic paint (I used Golden® Artist Colors in Historical Manganese Blue Hue, Titanium White, Hansa Yellow Medium, and Green Gold.)
- Collage papers, assorted colors and types, including hand-painted papers
- Fluid matte medium
- Golden Acrylic Glazing Liquid, satin
1. Paint the substrate with layers of soft color. I used a brayer to roll on Historical Manganese Blue Hue and Titanium White, working on a previously used canvas board. (FIGURE 1) Old bits of paint can be seen through the new layers, which adds depth and interest to the piece. After that layer dries, scrape on a bit of another color, using a palette knife or a used hotel key card. I used Hansa Yellow Medium along one side as an accent.
TIP: Recycle used boards and canvases for collage. Layers are good, even ones you don’t like.
2. Gather bits and pieces of paper from your stash in colors that represent your garden vision and your favorite flowers. I used a lot of my own hand-printed papers. (FIGURE 2) Keep in mind all of the elements you want to create when selecting the papers—flowers, leaves, branches, and flowerpots.
3. Tear and cut the papers into a variety of shapes, including petals, leaves, stems, and blooms. (FIGURE 3) When choosing papers for the flowers, look for ones that have subtle variations in color to better represent real blooms. Prepare more papers than you need before you begin assembling the piece. Having a variety of cut and torn pieces to choose from will make the collage come together more easily. Consider shape, height, and width when cutting the papers, so the composition is balanced.
I find it easiest to place the tallest, thinnest piece off center. This creates a wider “vista” or middle viewing area. Once that piece is in place, I look for a piece with some volume, something shorter and broader, to balance it on the opposite side. I go back and forth from there, using the height and width of the various pieces to determine placement while maintaining my vista.
4. Adhere large background elements on the substrate first, using matte medium. (FIGURE 4) I consider these pieces the foundation of the garden. Since this is a view of the entire garden and not a single flower, the garden needs a framework. I chose neutral-colored papers that were transparent or had circle motifs. Keep the busyness of the patterns down to a minimum, so the background doesn’t compete with the flowers. Let each layer dry.
5. Mix paint with glazing liquid, using 3 parts paint to 10 parts glazing liquid, and apply a glaze over several areas of the background. Since my background was reading very cool, I chose Green Gold for the glaze. (FIGURE 5) This yellow-based green warmed up the blue and offered better color support to the other layers. When using a glaze it is best to apply thin layers. This allows you to control how much color shift occurs. If more color is needed you can add another layer. Transparent glazes are great for adjusting the colors below them.
6. Adhere the tallest collage elements for the garden on the board using matte medium. I used 3 different plant shapes, which filled the upper space without crowding. Remember, details count. As you place the elements you may notice that something extra is needed. I saw that the tree could use some detail and chose to add tiny bark lines using paper. (FIGURE 6)
7. Keeping in mind our discussion about balance, add in smaller elements to the left and right of the composition. Choose pieces with volume and height to create a nice variation in the composition while maintaining the vista. Vary the colors of the elements to achieve a natural look. As you assemble the garden, determine which pieces will be in the background and which pieces will be in the foreground before you start gluing. I like to position the pieces on the background first without gluing them, so I know I have them arranged the way I want them. Snap a photo of your composition with your phone or camera for reference.
8. Once you are pleased with the composition, adhere the pieces to the background with matte medium. (FIGURE 7) Here, the orange circles draw the eye upward, and the pink flowers on the bottom left help fill the bottom of the composition with color. When using color in a composition, that will have to be balanced as well. If you use a bright color like orange somewhere, echo it with a similarly bright color in another area. Balance of color, shape, and size helps bring harmony to the composition.
9. When you place the last element, it is always good to step back and give the piece a final look. This gives you the chance to see if anything seems to be missing, allowing you to add any necessary details. Details make a big difference. I saw the opportunity to make a few small changes that would give additional depth and detail and added bright pops of white paint to the orange flowers, some leaves on the tree (with extra bright green leaves on the left of the tree), and little bits of grass at the bottom. All of these elements combine to complete my view of the garden. (SEE OPENING IMAGE.)
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of meeting many first-time artists in the classes I teach. I’m often struck by how many people come to art as they retire from more formal professions. Learning something new and integrating it into one’s life at any stage of life is so important to our mental health as we grow and change. As this issue of Cloth Paper Scissors hits your mailbox, I’ll have celebrated my 70th birthday. I’m grateful daily for what art gives me in my own life and how it allows me to share in yours. Keep painting.
Chris Cozen is an educator and self-taught mixed-media artist as well as a Golden Artist Colors Golden Artist Educator. Chris has authored several books, including Acrylic Solutions: Exploring Mixed Media Layer by Layer and Acrylic Color Explorations: Painting Techniques for Expressing Your Artistic Voice, with North Light Books. She has also hosted numerous instructional videos on acrylic techniques with Artists Network TV. Visit her website at chriscozenartist.com.
This Exploration: Painting article also appears in our May/June 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. Flip through our lookbook preview to discover more of the inspiring mixed-media art projects inside this issue!