How do you challenge yourself to create more art and improve your craft? Having a consistent daily habit of creativity is certainly helpful, and a growing number of mixed-media artists are participating in daily art challenges to help inspire and grow their artistic skills. In this article from our November/December 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, artist Robyn McClendon shares her 365-day project to create a collage a day. Plus, she shares one fun technique she used for creating a collage. Read her article below to get inspired, then have some fun developing your own daily art challenge techniques and ideas.
Collage a Day by Robyn McClendon
365 Days in the Life of a Journal is a project for which I created a collage a day for a year. It is an outgrowth of many years of bookbinding and using journals to capture ideas for various projects. Oftentimes I would fill these journals with ideas and then abandon them, only to start another one months later—all this in the hopes of challenging myself to higher levels of creativity and consistency in my art.
Artists frequently hear that we must work daily, challenging ourselves to push our craft. This is very true, and yet I discovered that not many artists, including working artists, have created a separate discipline that is designed solely to challenge their creative mind on a daily basis. This practice should not include current projects, deadlines, or upcoming projects. Rather, it should be an easy time for working ideas and techniques.
As an adjunct professor at the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design in Washington, D.C., and a resident associate in the Smithsonian Institute museum system, I was always searching for ways to encourage more innovative work ideas and techniques from my students. I would use many of the ideas that I found personally demanding, and that seemed to help me be more consistent as an artist. One of my biggest challenges was innovation. I have learned that consistency is the Achilles heel of most creatives. Many of the daily techniques I use now come from these early days of personal challenge.
When some of the most famous and accomplished artists of our time are interviewed, they all point to a common routine of starting their studio time with a redundant activity. It may be painting the same image over and over again, or sketching in a small format, or working in a journal, but they do this every day without fail.
This 365-day project has made me more prolific, and I am never at a loss for ideas. Every day, every page, I have new creative inspiration, and by the end of the year I end up with 365 new ideas that generate more ideas. Ideas seem to flow naturally from this process. In addition, the practice encourages the desire to try new techniques. Because it wasn’t at all intimidating, I felt like I was playing, and just enjoyed the process. The idea of making mistakes didn’t exist.
Similarly, this project has played the same role in my life. Keeping a daily journal has added to my confidence as an artist, and I express my ideas more clearly. Using a journal is very easy to do. A journal can accommodate a multitude of disciplines, is small and portable, and can be taken anywhere. You’re never without the opportunity to inspire yourself, capture ideas, and work on techniques to feed your passion.
Because I still work in my journals daily, every aspect of my day becomes inspiration. It can be the weather, the color of flowers growing outside my studio window, a news report; just about anything can be documented in my journal. Generally, I work on different techniques in my studio, and the ideas I place in my journal form a starting point for the larger artwork that I create. My art journaling not only generates ideas that inform my artwork, it is also an opportunity to document my life.
Like anything, committing to this exercise took concentrated daily effort and motivation until it became a habit. Having received the benefits of daily journaling, it’s now difficult to go without it. If you need accountability, join an artist group or online community to help keep you on track. Also, I suggest doing what you enjoy. It doesn’t matter what kind of art you make, just so long as you do something every day.
NOTE: One of my earliest journals was 30 days of creating hearts: red hearts, purple hearts, cutout hearts, collaged and painted hearts, etc. . . . nothing but hearts. I didn’t know what else to do, so I just kept creating hearts. At the time I thought I didn’t have any ideas, and that my work was unimportant, but now I realize my creative self was loving me during a difficult period in my life. It’s now one of my favorite journals. This is when journaling really became a habit.
Studio Tip: I have two studios, one in my house that is rather large, and a smaller one outside my home. I have found that because I work on many projects at the same time, having the work going on in separate spaces helps me to keep a fresh, creative flow. I also find that different environments really stimulate my creative ideas. I love to travel for this very reason. Carrying my art journals with me is a perfect outlet for my creative process. I don’t have a dedicated time to work in my studio, but I do work daily. The portability of my 365-day journaling process has helped me stay in the creative process, and I have found that my students find this very helpful as well, so that there is as little separation between art and life as possible.
- Blank journal (I love making my own. Experiment with the size, paper weight, and style of journal, and in time you’ll discover what works best for you.)
- Gelli Arts® Gel Printing Plate
- Acrylic paints, 3–5 colors that work together (l love Golden® Artist Colors and Blick Matte Acrylics.)
- Scrap paper for waste sheets
- Paper to print on (Use anything from drawing paper to old book pages. Experiment.)
- Stains (I used Ranger Tim Holtz® Distress Stain in Pumice Stone.)
- Collage items: scrap papers, thread, fabrics, yarns, feathers, photos, etc.
- Glue (I used a UHU® glue stick. It’s very sticky, yet when dry it doesn’t become brittle and cause the work to lift up over time.)
- Washi tape
Here is one technique I use for creating a collage. Have fun developing your own techniques and ideas.
1. Roll out a smooth layer of paint on the Gelli plate, starting with a light color. If the plate is clean, put 2–3 colors on at the same time and mix them slightly with the brayer. (FIGURE 1)
2. While the paint is still wet, create patterns in it with various stencils: Lay a stencil on top of the paint, brayer over it, and remove the stencil to reveal the negative image. (FIGURE 2) Alternatively, leave the stencil in place and move on to step 3.
3. Lay a clean sheet of paper on top of the plate, and place a waste sheet on top. Smooth the sheets well with your hands for 10–15 seconds, remove the waste sheet, and then pull the paper off to reveal the print. Repeat as many times as you like, working from lighter to darker colors until you like the results. Let dry.
NOTE: I use this type of print primarily as a background for collage, so I am going for interesting colors and textures with this process.
4. Lightly cover the entire print with Distress Stain to tone down the color a bit. (FIGURE 3)
1. Gather your collage elements. Play around with their placement on the journal page until you come up with something that speaks to you. Use papers, string, washi tape, etc.
NOTE: Often times these collage papers are the waste prints or paintings from the previous day. They allow me to explore colors and textures, which may not have worked the day before, in a new way.
2. Secure the elements to the page with glue stick or washi tape.
3. Date your work and write a few words about your inspiration for the day, personalizing it any way you like. Write about what inspired the piece, a quote you like, or about the creative process itself.
1. Starting with a Gelli plate that has leftover paint on it helps to quickly build up color and texture in your work.
2. Distress Stains are an easy way to create overall harmony when you want to work quickly and not build up a lot of color.
3. Keep a box full of small scrap papers, thread, fabrics, yarns, feathers, photos—anything you find interesting and fun to use. That way they are at the ready for your daily journaling.
Robyn McClendon is a nationally and internationally exhibiting artist. She teaches workshops and helps creatives through innovative creativity coaching.
Learn more about Robyn at bit.ly/YourCreativityCoach.