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Telling a Story with Collage

Telling a Story with Collage

Grape vines and Strawberry patch

For the last three weeks, I’ve been working my way through an online course from the Jeanne Oliver network (Jeanneoliver.com), called “Art as Allegory” which offers instruction in several collage techniques which may help you tell a story. The instructor shares a story from her childhood which she is still telling people to explain why she feels she needs to work extra hard sometimes. She encourages course members to recall a similar story that they often relate to people, and perhaps find a way to let it go.

Since I told most of my childhood stories in my eBook “Looking for Connection,” I had to find a current story that I keep repeating. The most obvious is how the time required to care of my yard prevents me from making art in my studio.

Thankfully, we have had a good number of rain days this month, and I have completed one of the two projects suggested in this course. Of course, my work doesn’t look anything like what the instructor showed, but that’s the point of these courses; showing techniques and helping you generate ideas in your own individual way.

We started by making a set of 4” x 4” substrates out of foam-core or cardboard, to be made into a book, or mounted on a backing. The boards were covered in plaster gauze, (which I had never used), and when dry, given a coat of Plaster of Paris, allowed to dry, followed by a light coat of acrylic paint, most of which was wiped off. I used cardboard, didn’t smooth the plaster as well as the instructor did, and didn’t wipe off as much paint as she did.

In between rain showers, I walked through the yard taking photos of plants and sections that require significant amounts of work throughout the year. I picked up a few sticks, leaves, and seeds to add interest. I printed out color prints of my photos on regular paper. The printer I have now has ink that does not run when it gets wet, so I could adhere the prints to the squares with matt medium and cover the whole block with a coat of it.

The green paint on each square adds to the feeling that this is a garden. One block shows my grapefruit tree and berry bushes, another, the strawberry bed and grapevines in the photo at the top of this blog. These two are in the center of the finished piece because they are the reward for the labor.

Bird feeder upper left, fountain lower right

 

Around these are photos of the bird feeder and fountain, and invasive plants that need to be removed annually, lest they take over the garden. I show the sycamore leaves that accumulate everywhere, vines of ivy and honeysuckle that need to be trimmed back, and the palm fronds in my driveway from the neighbor’s trees.

 

The crack where the water gushes out from a leak.

 

 

Also, I have the sage that feeds my hummingbirds during the winter, the iris bed where these beauties are gearing up for spring, and the sprinkler system that has sprung a huge leak somewhere under the patio cement.

 

 

And, not to be forgotten, a photo of the pile of branches that were left after I picked up sticks from storms this month and couldn’t fit these into the green waste bin .

Photo of branches too large to go in green wast bin from last two storms.

I located a 16” x 20” board with an old painting that I acquired somewhere, and loosely covered it with a coat of dark brown paint. I mounted the twelve squares to this board with heavy gel medium, leaving half an inch space between them. I weighted it with bags of rice, while it dried for a day or two.

I picked up a frame at Michael’s using my 50% off coupon, and actually hung the finished piece up on Sunday. Finding a good place for this in my house took some doing, as all my walls are well filled.

The finished collage

I’m really delighted with the outcome. If I should have to leave this property when I get older, this collage will hold many fond memories and stories for me.

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If You Don’t Give Grandma Gift Ideas, She’ll Send You Something Silly!

If You Don’t Give Grandma Gift Ideas, She’ll Send You Something Silly!

Pipe cleaner butterfly

At the beginning of November 2018, I was cleaning up my studio area after completing on online class, and noticed five small substrates I made during the summer, lined up on a rack, waiting to be used. I quickly decided I didn’t want to see them there in 2019, so I laid them out on my work table, hoping for an idea to come my way.

I thought back to the art retreat I went to in 2017 in Santa Rosa, where I spent two days learning how Finnabair makes her fascinating creations. I hadn’t made anything like that since I came home. I looked at the experiments I had been doing with handmade paper, wire, and palm bark. What would happen if I added these materials to what I learned at the retreat?

I had to find my notes from the retreat to recall how we began the piece I made. I didn’t have the finished item from the retreat because I had given it to my granddaughter for her High School Graduation.

I cut up patterned paper into small squares, pasted them to each substrate with gel medium, and coated them with soft gel, through which I dragged a comb to create texture. When that layer was dry, I added torn strips of handmade paper and a small piece of palm bark to each substrate. I was making a series so they all had a small amount of each material.

At this point, I realized I needed a focal point in each piece. While looking for something else, I had recently come across a box of curious animals made of coiled pipe cleaners. They had been in that drawer for years, since I added my mother’s craft stash to mine. They looked like the things she made in Florida at the mobile home center. There was a caterpillar, a mouse, two bears, and one I couldn’t identify, which I decided would be a butterfly.

Pipe cleaner caterpillar

I added garage junk: nuts, screws, paper clips, washers, and odd metal and plastic pieces using  gel medium for the glue. I highlighted the metal with metallic paint. I was having such a fun time, but what was I going to do with them when they were finished?

I hadn’t done any Christmas shopping because I had no idea what to get my three granddaughters. Why not give each of them one of these creations?  The little animals were made by their great-grandmother. This was just the incentive I needed to get them finished soon even though I was cleaning up the yard every day, too. The next logical thought was that the mouse should go to my son.

Full view of butterfly collage

To the caterpillar and butterfly pieces I added some dark green paper leaves and flowers. I tried to highlight the leaves with some shiny paint, but it didn’t work out well, and I couldn’t remove the paint.

These were both on wood substrates.

 

 

Brown Bear on cork base with silver highlights

 

The brown bear is on a cork substrate which was glued to a piece of craft wood to give it stability. I liked working with the cork. It made a nice texture for adding paint, and the gel medium stuck to it well. The dark brown mass in each collage is the palm bark. The tan area is the handmade paper which was torn into odd shapes. This piece has silver highlights.

 

Pack Rat in his nest

The mouse is actually a pack rat as can be seen by all the junk in his nest. The next is made with the palm bark. On the bottom below the bark is a strip of black woven mesh, probably nylon, which I picked up in a garage at an estate sale. The metal pieces were highlighted with brass metallic paint. His corrugated cardboard substrate was glued to a craft board.

 

Panda

One of the substrates was made on a piece of cardboard with the lower right corner cut out. I resolved this by mounting it on a piece of light weight craft board that was slightly smaller than the cardboard, painted that corner with a pink metallic paint that I used for highlights on the piece, and glued a small shell to the craft board. The green diamond pattern on the bottom and right side were made by using thickened gesso with a stencil. After it was dry, I applied green paint and rubbed most of it off. This has a little panda bear sitting in the palm bark, surrounded by tiny fabric roses. He has now joined the menagerie in my bedroom

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Odds and Ends

Odds and Ends

The apple mystery from last week was solved Wednesday morning.

Caught

I generally write my blog on Monday or Tuesday and schedule it to post on Wednesday at 7:00 a.m. When I got into the kitchen last Wednesday morning, there was the culprit.

I believe he got in through the cat door, decided he would stay in the warm house, and was camped out under the dishwasher. The apples were too big to take through that small space.

I put the finishing touches on the collage series that I have been working on the last few weeks. I decided to use them as Christmas gifts, and will post photos of them in January.

Panda

I am keeping this one which was made on an odd piece of cardboard with a lower right corner missing. I glued a heavy cotton fabric on the cardboard and put white gesso on the fabric. The pattern on the bottom and the right side was made by spreading thickened gesso through a stencil. After the gesso was set, I painted with diluted, green, acrylic paint.

The panda is sitting on palm bark, under which are some odd scraps of printed paper covered with soft acrylic gel that was scratched while wet. I added more paint, and three fabric roses. The panda was made out of pipe cleaners by my mother more than thirty years ago.

I mounted the whole thing on a 1/8 inch thick piece of balsa wood from the craft store. This filled in the missing corner, which I painted, before adding a shell fragment.

Last Saturday, my basket making group had their Christmas potluck. We have a custom of distributing the handmade gifts we brought, where the wrapped items are set on a table and we draw numbers for the order in which we select a gift from the table, or from a member who already has chosen a gift. The gift can be “stolen” up to twice before it is opened.

I came home with “yard art” in the form of a bird house made from a gourd.

New Yard Art – Birdhouse from a gourd

I had a perfect place for it. Some years ago, I attached a copper hook to an arbor set among trees, with plans to hang a hummingbird feeder there. All it ever drew was ants—my hummers want the real deal.

Coming up this week is another potluck on Thursday. And, I will be putting up window lights in the form of (electric) candles, one to each window. This is a custom I have had since I lived in Tidewater Virginia, where every house had candles in the windows. They make the house glow inside and out.

As you prepare for the holidays, may your heart be happy.

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Illustrating Opportunity

Illustrating Opportunity

Fly like the Eagle

The forth circular collage in this series features a picture of an eagle soaring above a coast line with snow capped mountains in the background. This center image is ringed with beads that become a counterclockwise spiral going around three times, with beads becoming larger in a variety of colors.

When I arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1978, I soon discovered an enormous arts and crafts community of weavers and other fiber artists. There were guilds and small neighborhood groups, annual conferences, classes, and vendors of supplies.

Six years later, I became a full time college student at a price we could afford. A new basket-making guild was forming and I was invited to their meetings. At that time, I could drive to almost any meeting place or college campus in forty-five minutes from our home in Livermore. The doors of opportunity were open to me.

So, this circle represents that time of trying new things, weaving tapestries, exhibiting my work, getting an education and a profession, and getting a job. I eventually left my marriage and learned to make my own choices and decisions.

Love After Fifty

The fifth, and last, circle collage looks similar to the second one, but there are no beads around the edge of the picture of daffodils with a butterfly. The paper is sewn to the ring with turquoise embroidery thread. The beads in the center of the paper are organized on either side of a rippling line made of those tiny 3/16ths inch beads. The beads attached to the brass ring are various shades of pink.

By the time I made this series, I had been in my house with the big yard for eight years, and had a new man in my life, who continues to provide me with all kinds of adventures I could never have imagined.

Collages on My Wall

 

The five handmade paper collages hang in a vertical row on the wall next to my bed. I enjoy seeing them. I would not have the time or patience to make them now, so it is a good thing I made them when I did.

One of my goals this year of weeding through things, is to get to a place where, if I get an idea, I can try it out soon, instead of adding it to a list and losing track of the list. This goal is still a work in process, but I think I’m getting there.

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Thankful for Many Times and Places

Thankful for Many Times and Places

The second piece in my handmade paper series is based on the early years of my marriage, and when my sons were little. I was thankful I had the opportunity to marry Ray, who had an engineering degree. He didn’t want me to work and he had jobs that paid well enough that I could attend to the household, the children, and enjoy weaving and other crafts.

Wife and Mother

The circular collage features a photo of flowers (now faded), in a center circle on oatmeal colored paper that has flecks of white and other colors throughout the paper. This was sewn onto a brass ring with a cross stitch. The flower picture is circled with small beads, and then a ring of larger mauve beads. Farther out on the paper, the beads are a variety of sizes and colors somewhat randomly placed.

The gray scalloped shapes are made with narrow glass beads about 3/16ths of an inch long. The faint pink marks were made with a marker and have also faded. I have a thing about the color pink. In actual flowers, like roses I enjoy pink, but it is not a color I wear or use in my house, unless it is darker, sort of a rose color. A small amount of pink paired with larger amounts of green is nice also.

In this piece, I wanted some pink to represent my enjoyment of having a husband, a home, and children. I was thankful I didn’t have to live in Cleveland where I grew up. During these years we lived in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Missouri near Joplin, Nebraska in the southeast corner, and Portsmouth, Virginia.

I had been raised in the Lutheran Church, as had Ray. During our time in Virginia, I made a personal commitment to Jesus, and became close to some members of our church, and believers from other churches as well.

Jesus In My Life

The third circle in this series honors this time. The brass ring is sewn on top of the handmade paper with very fine dark thread. The image is a drawing from a magazine, looking down on the head of Christ with the crown of thorns.

I don’t recall any specific meaning for the arrangement of the beads streaming out from the center circle, but they make a dramatic looking piece. There are some faceted crystal beads sewn onto the ring, which don’t show up well in this photo.

After six years in Virginia, we were outgrowing our house, and Ray wanted a different job. An unexpected job offer came from California, where a huge world of opportunity awaited me.

At Thanksgiving, I sometimes struggle to name specific things I’m thankful for because there are so many. It is good to look back and remember all the experiences and blessings that have brought me to this moment.

Wishing you a joyous day tomorrow, wherever you are.

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Handmade Paper Series

Handmade Paper Series

“Don’t Live”

When I retired from my full time Creative Arts Therapy job at the beginning of 2005, I spent that year resting and recharging by playing with my art supplies.

I made small baskets out of daylily leaves from my yard. I spent two weeks during the summer making handmade paper on the patio.

I had been in a workshop learning to make paper some years before, and one of the Recreation Therapists from Palo Alto VA came to Livermore and we made paper with the veterans at the nursing home. That was a lot of messy fun, but when you are facilitating an activity it is not the same as making it yourself.

If you have never made paper, it can be an easy and fun outdoor activity. I shred junk mail and old financial papers to make the base pulp. The shredded paper is placed in a blender – get a used one at a thrift store – add water and blend. Pour the pulp onto a screen with a frame around it to drain off the water. Turn the residue onto a wad of newspaper to dry.

You can add colored paper before blending, and you may get a paper with speckles depending on how much you add to it. Add glitter. Color the whole batch by adding a small amount of liquid poster or acrylic paint in the blender.

The screen is called a mould and deckle, and is usually a rectangle shape. You can see demos of this on the internet. I didn’t want to bother to make a deckle, so I put screen cloth into an embroidery hoop, both of which I had. Of course, this resulted in round sheets of paper.

I also experimented with adding vegetable fibers to the mix. I went to the grocery and bagged up loose onion skins to add to one batch of pulp. After the two weeks of playing, I had a huge stack of paper circles. Then the challenge became what should I do with them?  I’m still working on the answer to that.

“Treasure”

 

 

I made some fragile baskets by stitching several sheets together. The director of the Art League gallery would not accept them, because she was afraid they might get damaged. The item at the left has faded from a lovely turquoise color.

 

 

I had some eight-inch brass rings I had acquired somewhere, so I stitched a sheet of my paper to one of them, and added some beads and cutouts from a magazine page that was popular that year. I was quite taken with it, because it reminded me of how I felt as a child and teen.

“Don’t cry”  “Don’t play”  “Don’t eat”  “Don’t stand”  “Don’t work”   “Don’t kiss”   “Don’t live”

We’ve all heard them:  Stop crying or I will give you something to cry about.  Don’t play with your food.  Don’t eat anything before dinner.  Don’t stand there, help me with . . .  No you can’t get a job, because I don’t want to have to haul you there and back.  Don’t you dare kiss anyone, you’ll get pregnant.  So, buy the time we are teens, we hear  “Don’t live.”

This is the first of five circles I made to represent stages of my life.

 

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Rise Above

Rise Above

Rise Above

This is the companion to the collage I showed last week. I worked on them at the same time, and they have many of the same elements, like the lace, a piece from the boiled book, and a strong black line of ribbon with gold highlights.

One of the ladies in my local mixed media group asked me what the paper in the upper left came from. It is a warm brown with a light pattern. I tore a piece off the bag from fresh baked French bread that I bought at Food 4 Less.

A few weeks ago, one of the other group members asked me, “What do you throw away?”, after I had mentioned some other odd item on a collage I had made. I thought for a few seconds and said “The butter paper.” I know it should be used to grease up a casserole, but I rarely need to do that at the time I put out a new butter quarter.

I do keep a lot of things other people discard because they might be just what I need someday. My friend, Robert, tells me about once a month, that when I can no longer live here, my sons will come in and put my whole collection of junk in a dumpster. That’s fine, I won’t need it then.

On a more serious note, what I did differently on these two collages than I usually do, was to lay them on my work table side by side, and try out different arrangements of the items I thought I would use in the second layer. The first layer had already been completed and can be see in the Oct. 17 blog titled “Shifting Gears.”

When I had arrangements I thought I liked, I left them on the table into the next day, and looked at them again several times as I passed by the table. I was not in a hurry to finish them until I had a settled feeling about them. Then, I glued the loose pieces in place and put them under weights for about two days. The lace part took a long time to dry. After they were dry, I mounted them on heavy cardboard and weighted them again.

I had a good feeling about these collages. The best description I can give you is that I’ve felt like I’m out in the woods trying to find the trail that takes me out of the trees. I’ve tried some paths that looked promising, but didn’t go anywhere. Now, I feel like I’ve stepped onto the beginning of the trail that leads to the destination I have in mind.

To stay on this trail I will have to “Rise Above” my old habits. Like wanting to get something put together quickly. Like trying to squeeze the work in between house and yard chores. I need to tune out of the noise of our contentious culture and listen for the voice of my inner being, until I feel that sense of “Yes, this works.”

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Divided

Divided

I don’t have a Halloween story for you today, but I can tell you about boiled books, which I have been mentioning the last two weeks. The process is somewhat like a witches brew. My local mixed media art group made these about two years ago.

We used watercolor paper, which we folded up into a packet, putting an assortment of leaves in between the pages. We clamped them together and put them in a large pan of water, to which we added a small amount of “Rit” fabric dye in whatever color we had, or wanted to try. They had to be weighted down with a rock because the paper wanted to float at the top.

As I recall, we brought the water to a boil, then turned the heat down to medium, and cooked them for several hours. We let them cool in the water. The next day we opened the packet, discarded the leaves, and set them aside to dry. The paper can be a bit fragile when it has been saturated with water for several hours.

We brought them to our meeting and looked at each others “books”, discussing which colors and leaves worked the best. I took mine home, added them to my stash of papers to use for something, and sort of forgot about them, but I see them when I’m looking for something else.

I decided to use them in a project for an online class two weeks ago because I wanted a dark shape that did not show a particular object. I used a page that was the outside of a package, and the impression of the clips I used can be seen, particularly in the collage I’m showing this week.

Divided

My original idea was to put something in between the two scraps with the clamps showing. I didn’t have anything in mind for the space. The rust + gold scrap was marking my place in a magazine I was reading, and when I took it out instead of throwing it away, I stuck it in the center space just to see how the color would look, because of that little line of rust on the clip.

Then, I went looking for a thin piece of something black, and found this wonderful ribbon in my sewing room that has two thin gold threads running through it. In order to get some of that rust color in another area of the piece, I used some oil pastels in the top left corner, before I added lace across the top. I also added a bit more paper on the bottom right, and a little white paint here and there.

I frequently have trouble finding a title for the art I make. This one was easy. I’ve been hearing the word “divided” all month, maybe all summer. Having different likes, dislikes, and opinions should not devolve into hatred. We are members of one nation with millions of ideas, feelings, and concerns.

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The Opossum in My Yard

The Opossum in My Yard

On September thirteenth, my yard-man informed me that there was some kind of animal under a plant along my front walkway. I went out to look at it and told him it was an opossum. I don’t think he had ever seen one up close. He thought it might be sick or dead because it wasn’t moving. At the time I was busy with my son who was installing an overhead light in the kitchen.

Late in the day when I remembered the animal, I checked where he had been, and of course, he was gone. Opossums are known for playing dead. Later in the month, I had two occasions when I was in the side yard and thought I smelled dog poop but couldn’t locate any.

A few days after a hard rain during the first week of October, I was picking up sticks and branches under my big sycamore tree. I spotted a stick on the brick step of the rarely-used side door. It is not unusual for have sticks slide down the roof above and land here. As I bent down to retrieve it, I saw some kind of mess on the edge of the step and on down into the dirt under a mock orange bush. This area had been clean the last time I looked at it.

Before I actually picked up the stick, I realized that it wasn’t really a stick. What was it? Looking closer I thought I saw a bone. By this time, my brain had assessed the scene and flashed opossum, as I noticed fur, teeth, whiskers, more bones, and the tail on the bricks.  Ah! This was the source of the odor I had noticed a week or so before.

This was not my first encounter with opossums. In my memoir, I recount an episode where a mother opossum had her babies in our garage. I am pretty sure that an opossum has been eating oranges from my tree for years, and last spring, cleaning up, I found excrement from a large animal in a well hidden area, and suspected it might be from an opossum.

Opossum image on boiled book paper

Last week, as I was looking for collage elements, I saw what looked to me like two beady eyes above a long nose and what might be ears above the eyes, in a boiled book page. Apparently, cleaning up the remains of fur, bones, and tail has lodged in my brain.

And so, I found myself at 11:30 pm on Saturday night trying to make a decent looking piece of work. I had decided I should put in some dark areas first, and then decide how and where to add light areas. I added some dark paint around the torn image.

I also added a strip of lace for light and texture on the left side, but then everything appeared to be going vertical and it needed a horizontal line. I used paint to extend the color of the boiled book to the other side of the lace. I tried adding rubber stamp images to soften the paint lines.

It looked okay as I turned out the lights and went to bed. Getting into bed, I concluded that I don’t like using paint with collage to try and make it work.

Finished collage with opossum face

Sunday morning in the daylight, the dark color around the opossum image was much too blue. I liked the mottled section on the right side, and decided I wanted some of that effect on the left side. I was able to find a remaining scrap that I had torn off days ago.

Mixing paint to darken the blue area took some work to get it dark enough without going to black. I also needed to match as closely as possible the color of the boiled book piece, so that it appeared to be going behind the lace, and provide the continued horizontal lines.

This collage was made on tag board which did not work with matt medium and dried with ripples in the top part. I mounted the collage on corrugated cardboard using Yes paste. It was weighted overnight to dry, but the ripples have remained, although they don’t show in this photo.

So, one of this series I’m making for the online class is finished, and I’m satisfied with it. Before I tackle the other two collages, (the beginnings I showed in last week’s blog), I’m going outside in the sun and dig up more weeds in my yard.

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Trying to Shift Gears

Trying to Shift Gears

While making breakfast on Sunday, my mind was busy pulling up ideas about what images I wanted to use in a series of three collages I’m making as part of an online course. I started with some background papers of colored tissue paper and neutral scraps.

Since this was a class project, I couldn’t tell what the instructor was planning from what she had shown at that point. Maybe I could use some pictures of birds or flowers was my first thought.

That thought got me thinking about my yard and all the unwelcome volunteers (plants) I’m in the process of digging up on the side yard. (Yes, I’m still weeding—after all, that is my “word for the year”.) I have hundreds of tiny three inch privet trees, palm trees, Pyracantha bushes, woody bushes I don’t know the names of, run-a-way ajuga, and of course patches of Bermuda grass in the regular grass under my large tree.

Next, my mind reflected on how quickly summer left and fall took over, even though the days are still warm. It is suddenly dark before 7:00 p.m. The house is cold at night. I need to shift gears so that I’m out in the yard in early afternoon instead of between five and seven.

And, I want to shift my thinking to more of what I want to do creatively instead of reviewing what has already happened. I find this incredibly difficult. It is so much easier to rehearse what went wrong, what I said, or what someone didn’t do, than to make mental space for what I could be doing now.

I understand why established artists and writers go to retreat places with meals provided for a few weeks or a month to concentrate on their work. I understand why artists, who can afford it, have a studio separate from their living place.

When I’m not reviewing the past, I frequently get involved in small projects. Sunday evening as I was preparing dinner, I needed brown sugar for a sauce. I have plenty of brown sugar but I couldn’t measure it because it was hard as a rock. I removed what I didn’t need from its package into a jar, went outside to the apple tree, picked a small apple, and placed a piece of it in the jar to soften the sugar.

A second small project was to soften hand soap scraps, collected over several years, so I can make round bars which I use for cleaning my brushes after painting or mixed media. Detours like these get things done that nag at me when I encounter them, but add up to chunks of time spent while creative projects wait to be completed.

Sometime Sunday evening, I recalled a suggestion I read last week in a library book which suggested looking at your own previous work when you need a new idea, and maybe that will trigger something. I also had the thought that I didn’t necessarily need to use an actual image of something for the class projects; I could use a color or texture for a focal point. I looked through some papers my art group did a few years ago and found some boiled books with colors that I liked which might go with what I already had.

In the process of this course, I’m using different adhesives, different paper, and a different way of thinking about images from the last class I worked through. I find that I’m not learning new techniques so much as comparing and evaluating the materials and processes and deciding which I prefer and what works best for me.

Instead of a finished project, this is what the three collages looked like at the beginning of this week. The dark shapes are scraps of a boiled book page.

Beginning of three collages for online class.

Obviously, I have a lot more work to do on them. Stay tuned.

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