When I first started painting, the only medium I used was acrylic paint. It didn't take me long to add collage to my artistic bag of tricks. Not only does collage add a fascinating new dimension to your work, it can be made from almost anything, anywhere, at any time. Below are the most frequently asked questions about collage posed to me when I was teaching adult art classes at Kennesaw State University. If you haven't tried collage yet, grab a few supplies and get busy!
Q: What, exactly, is collage?
A: Put simply, it is a work of art created by layering papers and/or other elements and adhering them to a substrate such as canvas, wood or heavy paper.
Q: What media are used in collage?
A: Acrylic paints and acrylic mediums are extremely popular with collage artists. Acrylic paints themselves have adhesive properties, and the enormous range of specialized acrylic mediums available offer a vast range of effects. Other choices are watercolor, ink, colored pencil, pastels, graphite, gouache, dyes, charcoal, crayon, even oils….the list is almost endless. For our purposes here we’ll confine our discussion to acrylics.
Q: What is the best adhesive to use?
A: It depends on what you’re gluing. Lightweight papers like tissue, gift wrap, and text weight papers can be glued down with liquid matte or gloss medium, sometimes diluted with a bit of water. You can also use gel medium diluted with water for those items. Heavier materials, such as 140# or 300# watercolor paper, heavy card stock, small twigs, etc. can be adhered with gel medium. Soft gel medium works well for most collage materials. Really weighty items -- rocks, large shells, tiles and the like -- require heavy or extra heavy gel mediums.
Q: What else do I need?
A: A scissors or craft knife. If you use a craft knife, you'll also need a cutting mat to keep from carving up your worktable. You'll also need brushes in a few different sizes for applying adhesive. Inexpensive flat brushes work just fine. You'll also need a container of water for your brushes and some paper towels for blotting. Baby wipes are also useful for removing glue residue from your fingers. And a soft rubber brayer comes in handy also.
Q: How can I keep my papers from wrinkling as I glue them down?
A: To minimize wrinkling of papers, smooth them onto the support by stroking gently with your fingers from the center outward. Or use the rubber brayer, stroking in one direction only. Place a piece of freezer paper, waxy side down over the work, then run your brayer over it. Then peel the freezer paper off gently. Remove excess adhesive with a damp paper towel. Let each layer dry thoroughly before applying another layer over it. You can speed things up with a hairdryer in many cases.
Q: Why use freezer paper?
A: It protects the brayer from coming into contact with the glue. The freezer paper also peels off the wet surface without taking half the collage with it.
Q: What kind of support should I use?
A: Anything from cardboard, chipboard, illustration and Bristol board to heavy watercolor paper, stretched canvas, wood panels, canvas board, or mat board can be used as a substrate. Whatever you choose, it must be of sufficient strength to support the type of materials you’re adhering to it. Canvas board is a good choice because it’s inexpensive, sturdy enough for most applications and is readily available.
Q: How is the support prepared?
A: On supports such as mat board, illustration board and Bristol board, seal the side edges by running a piece of candle wax or paraffin over them. (This keeps moisture from separating the multiple layers of paper from which they’re composed.) Then apply liquid gloss medium or liquid matte medium to the front and back. Canvas and canvas board usually come pre-gessoed so sealing the surface with gloss or matte medium isn’t required, but I do it anyway. (That’s both sides for canvas board, front surface only for stretched canvas.) If you’re using wood, sand first and remove all dust. It’s a good idea to apply GAC 100 (made by Golden), which prevents discolorations in the wood from bleeding upwards into the work, followed by gesso, followed by matte or gloss medium if desired.
Q: What materials can I use to make a collage?
A: Almost anything. Papers both “found” and hand painted, fabric and fibers, pressed and dried grasses and leaves, magazine illustrations, old correspondence, playing cards, sheet music, lichen, pebbles, rocks, shells, photographs, electronic components, game pieces, junk mail, canceled postage stamps – you name it. If you can glue it down, it’s fair game for collage.
Q: What about archival issues?
A: If you’re not concerned with the work’s longevity, use whatever materials strike your fancy – archival or not. But if you’re aiming to create heirlooms for future generations, or museum quality pieces, use only acid-free, Ph-neutral and archival materials. If this isn’t possible (and it probably won’t be) you can still protect your work by encasing each element. Encasing simply means applying liquid gloss or matte medium or diluted gel medium to both the front and back sides of the item, then gluing it into place.
Q: What about varnish?
A: Once you’ve completed your collage, brush a coat of gloss medium or gloss gel over it. When this dries thoroughly, apply a high quality varnish with UVLS protection. If you fail to varnish it your collage will feel "sticky" or "tacky" indefinitely. It will also collect dust and debris like crazy. Not good!
Q: How can I use collage?
A: Besides using it for making two dimensional fine art, collage is often used for altered books and journals, greeting cards, artists’ trading cards, scrap booking and the like. In the past I've also used it to make handmade business cards. You can take this art form even further by collaging papers onto furniture to give dressers, tables and cabinets a whole new look. When used in this way, it's referred to as decoupage. But that's a whole other topic!
©2015 Lynn Edwards