I’m finally beginning to understand why it is that the collage art of Elizabeth St. Hilaire pulls on my emotions. Her animal art in particular has me longing to reach out and pet any given cow, bird, or fish that she masterfully portrays. I learned that her process starts with drawing basics.
In the following free excerpt from Elizabeth’s book Paper Paintings Art Workshop, you, too, will see how she applies a common drawing exercise to the beginning stages of her collage techniques. Do this, and watch your art improve.
Creating Collage: Putting It All Together by Elizabeth St. Hilaire
In my paper paintings collage workshop, we always start with an apple. Why apples? Because if you can render the very basic shape of a sphere in collage, give it shading and create volume, then you can take what you learn and apply it to more complex shapes. For all the eggs I had to draw in art school, followed by cones, spheres and cubes, I give you the far more interesting apple.
A sphere can be rendered like the earth with longitude or latitude, meaning that the directional ripping of the apple can be successful either vertically or horizontally wrapping around the form, and sometimes a combination of both directions. This helps the student to learn how to apply directional ripping, to follow the form and to create dimension of a simple shape.
You may change this up with another simple sphere fruit or veggie; I have also painted oranges, peaches, pears, and blueberries to mix up my repertoire. They all offer that simple shape, with a range of color and texture that exceeds eggshells by far!
1. Composition Manipulation: Cut out an image of an apple and place it on a piece of paper. You can cut other photos up to create your background, but since I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for, I decided to draw in the background–a simple tablecloth. I also opted to draw in a larger stem, a leaf, and a shadow.
2. Mark up the Reference Photo: Look closely at the striations and marks on the skin of the apple to determine what direction your brush marks or torn paper will follow. I see vertical direction here, longitude lines that follow the form in a vertical direction. Marking up the apple reference photo helps to visualize the direction the tears of paper will follow.
3. Thinking Ahead: Working Back to Front–Mapping out the Process: It’s helpful, especially when you are just starting out in paper painting, to completely map out your process as I have here. Remember, you’ll always start with your background. You will move on to your main subject, establishing a hierarchy based on what part of the subject is closest to you and which areas have the most overlapping paper edges. In my composition, after the background I will complete the areas near the top of the apple, which also will be the lightest value areas. I’ll follow that area with the stem, then the body of the apple and then the leaf. (Assign numbers to the individual parts of the apple. Lower numbers like 1’s and 2’s will represent the first areas you will collage–these are the areas farthest from you. Higher numbers like 4’s and 5’s will be the last areas you collage, as they are the areas closest to you.) ~Elizabeth
After the above steps, Elizabeth tells us to do the following to the collage:
• Prime your surface.
• Sketch your composition.
• Create the underpainting.
• Begin the collage by starting with the background and working your way to the main subject.
• “Audition” the collage pieces in various places.
• Glue the collage pieces to the substrate.
• Trim the edges of your work.
• Add your signature.
• Varnish the final collage.
Continue Elizabeth’s step-by-step collage lesson in much more detail when you get your copy of Painted Paper Art Workshop. In addition to the collage techniques you’ve seen here, you’ll learn techniques for making your own hand-painted paper, collage basics for beginners, and more. Remember that you can use the code TOP10 at North Light Shop to score 16% off of our top 10 mixed-media resources from 2016, including Elizabeth’s Painted Paper Art Workshop, Seth Apter’s Photo Play video workshop, and Annie O’Brien Gonzales’s Bold Expressive Painting.
Just for fun, I’ve included a few bonus pieces of Elizabeth’s collage art below, where you can get even more mixed-media inspiration. You won’t want to miss the collage piece in which she uses a unique printmaking technique called Gyotaku (not familiar with this? Here’s a teaser: it involves fish!).
Yours in art,
Bonus Collage Art
About the collage Aesop’s Fable: “The smooth, restful and negative space here is the golden yellow of the top background,” says Elizabeth. “It was created by adding multiple layers of gesso with a palette knife, applying a shade of darker ochre paint and wiping it off with a paper towel so that it sits only in the recessed areas of the gesso, then applying a lighter golden yellow on top, wiping lightly to allow some areas to be lighter than others.
“The Gyotaku artist is Chuck Seaman, who exhibits in Key West with me. He provides me with imperfect and test prints from his process to incorporate into my work. Gyotaku (Japanese, from gyo “fish” + taku “rubbing”) is the traditional Japanese method of printing fish, a practice that dates back to the mid-1800s. This form of nature printing may have been used by fishermen to record their catches, but it has also become an art form of its own and is practiced around the world.”