The materials of collage are the images that surround us and the objects of every day life. Collage provides artists the ability to create (new) meaning by reframing and transforming these materials. Though many may feel intimidated by the idea of creating a visual representation of themselves or their ideas, collage frees creators from the pressure of the blank canvas and invites them to see all images and texts as art tools at their disposition.
My workshops almost always begin with making works of collage concerned with messages of a personal nature as it allows participants to work with familiar subject matter and empowers them to ignore intimidating narratives about the creative process and the artist as expert. They are the experts when the subject matter is concerned with their own experiences and perspectives. Encouraged to make very thoughtful choices in their use of symbols (i.e. ones that are not arbitrary, but instead are full of meaning to them) and to move beyond “I like...” to create “I am...” visual statements, participants have created brilliant works of collage that use visual metaphor and puns; reflect their lived-experiences; express aspects of their individuality and share stories of personal growth and vision.
Here are a few images that really speak to some of the tactics we explore in collage workshops.
Juxtaposition in storytelling
The above collage is a great example of how to use juxtaposition to create dynamic tension between background and foreground when constructing meaning. The message about its creator is clear: They are a risk taker. But perhaps they even frighten themselves with the risks they take as they are unable to take the leap with their eyes open. Consider how the message received by the viewer would change if the background were to change: What if the child was placed in an empty playground, or stepping over a crack in the sidewalk? The juxtaposition of a playful child against the very real danger of the environment the artist has placed them in, is crucial to what the piece expresses.
Two sizes, same story
The re-contextualizing of images that collage does, provides spontaneous and improvised opportunities to blend differing scales of size. For example, it is quite easy to take an image of a baby, paste them onto an image of a skateboard and paste that onto an image of the milky way, using collage to create an intergalactic skate park for infants! This self-portrait (above) is a perfect example of the capability of the art medium of collage. By combining two images of different scales, the result is an image that tells an epic story of journey and personal power. It also evokes the idea of miracles and possibilities by presenting us with a “walking on water” visual pun.
Meaningful symbols and setting mood
The self-portrait above is a great example of how collage can be used to express a difficult concept or personal trait such as (in this case) introversion. By choosing a black & white image to represent a quiet space for thinking, (the brain symbolizing the self) surrounded by the image of the outdoors, a powerful mood is created.
This collage (above) demonstrates how to create meaning using symbols that are commonly understood. The artist has used the knight chess piece, which can only move in an L pattern, to represent themselves in a world with no right angles required for their freedom of movement.
Collage materials are the stuff of life
Participants are encouraged to use materials found in their pockets and bags in their work as these materials are much more closely connected to themselves than say images found in magazines, thereby already reflecting a part of the story of their life. In the work above, the artist used their own writing, taken from a book full of hip hop rhymes they were working on at the time, in their self-portrait.
What items might you find in your pockets or bag (a keepsake, a bus pass, a grocery list) that reveal something about who you are?
Student and Participant Work
Click on an image to view. Hover at the bottom of image to see grade, school board or organization and year works were created.
Students seeing their work below are invited to add their name or a title to their work by contacting me here
PLEASE NOTE: These workshops are ongoing and as such this blog post may be updated with new works and/or modified to highlight new examples. Come back again to see what's new!