An Artist's Guide to Using References (Pt.4): An Effective Method to Create Unique and Expressive Art
Do you frequently struggle with creative block? Does it bug you that your artwork isn't as original or engaging as you'd like it to be? How often do you take time to explore different sources of inspiration or experiment with alternative methods that could possibly propel ideas for new work?
In today's post I will share one of my go-to methods of artistic exploration that I use when I need to get my creative juices going. This technique is one of the easiest and most practical ways to boost your inspiration and I will explain why I consider it to be so powerful so that you can use it to your advantage as well.
Whether you are currently in period of creative block, are in an exploratory mood, or you simply need ideas for a new piece, I highly recommend trying collage ! It is an excellent way to produce or kick-start the production of engaging and personal artwork. As an extra bonus, I find it incredibly fun and therapeutic (and boy do we need both of these things as artists sometimes)!
This blog post is the fourth in a four-part series about the use of different types of references when creating artwork:
1. Using Other People's Photographs to Create Art (when it's okay to use other people's photos and how to do it in a way that will ensure your artistic progress)
2. Creating Artwork Based on Your Own Photography (click here to learn fast and easy ways to produce your own reference pictures)
3. Why Drawing from Direct Observation is Essential and 10 Tips to Improve (click here to learn why this drawing/painting method is so important in order to progress artistically)
4. Using Collage as an Effective Method to Create Unique and Expressive Art (click here to find out why collage is so powerful and how you can use it to your advantage)
``Our souls as well as our bodies are composed of individual elements which were all already present in the ranks of our ancestors. The ``newness´´ in the individual psyche is an endlessly varied recombination of age-old components.´´
The term collage comes from the French verb coller, which means to glue. It is an art technique in which a new composition is created by arranging a variety of clippings taken from preexisting materials. Though there are many, many ways of going about creating a collage, it usually involves selecting some type of substrate (which can be paper, canvas, wood, cardboard, etc.) and materials like paper, fabric and photographs to glue on it. The photomontage is a type of collage that incorporates primarily pictures or pieces of pictures to create a new image.
An assemblage is a type of artwork worth mentioning in this post because it is somewhat related to the collage. It is basically the arrangement of an indefinite amount of three-dimensional objects to create a sculpture. Assemblage art usually involves the use of wood, metallic objects, plastic and even items collected from trash bins.
Brief History of Collage
The collage was made famous in the early twentieth century by Cubist artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, who started gluing pieces of paper and other objects on their paintings. These artists completely altered the course of abstract art by incorporating real-world materials into their work and inciting the public to arrive at their own conclusions about what it may all mean.
The photomontage was heavily used by Dada artists like Raoul Hausmann and Hannah Höch, who created bold artwork in response to political and social issues of their time. They used collage to transmit important ideas to the public who was dealing with the aftermath of World War 1.
The collage is associated with the beginning of modern art, as artists passionate about experimenting and finding new techniques to implement began turning the art world on its head. These artists began challenging conventional ideas of what art is for and how it's supposed to be created.
To this day, collage remains a technique that never fails to cause an impact and is still used by artists to address topics that are important in the world.
``The beauty of the collage technique is that you’re using sounds that have never met and were never supposed to meet. You introduce them to each other, at first they’re a bit shy, clumsy, staring at their shoes. But you can sense there’s something there. So you cut and paste a little bit and by the end of the song you can spot them in the corner, holding hands.´´
(This quote was found at Austin Kleon's website.)
A Few of My Favorite Collage Artists
(German 1887- 1948)
(German 1889- 1978)
Kurt Schwitters, Hannah Höch, and Raoul Hausmann were all artistically multitalented and key participants in the German Dada movement. They became known for their bold, expressive collages that communicated thoughts about the state of their country following World War 1.
The messages behind their most important works were either deeply autobiographical or charged with political/social meaning. Though their artwork may seem nonsensical and even humorous, these artists brought important topics to the public and made them think about the current state of their society.
Like Cubism and other movements, Dada was considered avant-garde. These types of artists were tired of old art perceptions and sought to create change by exploring new techniques and introducing new ideas to the public.
Many Dada artists used mass produced printings like magazines and newspapers to create their works, blurring the line between what is and isn't art. They stimulated their audiences to interact with their works and incited them to arrive at their own meanings.
Read my blog post titled How to Effectively Use Other Artists' Work as Inspiration and a Great Method to Start Developing Your Own Artistic Style.
Why Collage is So Powerful and Why You Should Use it To Your Advantage
Though I personally use collage as exploration or to create a reference image for a future painting, and not as a finalized piece in and of itself, it is an invaluable part of my creative process. It has a lot of advantages that I have yet to find in other techniques.
To start off, collage requires nearly no preparation and you probably have any needed supplies at home. You don't have to be particularly inspired to start, as frequently, one gets inspired along the way. Collage is cheap, practical and almost always yields some type of positive result that you can use to progress artistically.
It is an easy and fast way to exercise your knowledge of Art Fundamentals. Everything you have in your head about compositional arrangement and Elements/Principles of Art like shape, color, texture, balance, rhythm, etc. is applied by creating a new piece out of ready-made materials.
Furthermore, the technique requires almost no effort at all, which is great if you need a break from your current processes. I find collage is created almost subconsciously. All you have to do is allow yourself to work. When creating a collage, your mind starts connecting ideas and coming up with meanings that are personal to YOU.
NOBODY else could have created that composition because YOU picked the individual pieces that called out to YOU, and YOU arranged them in a brand new way. You created this work based on the ideas and connections that you formed in your head and nobody else has your tastes and/or thoughts.
FInally, collage leads to very expressive and unique artwork. It helps to get to know yourself as an artist and often brings out ideas about what you are personally currently going through.
My Collage Making Process
1. Collect your supplies
To begin, decide whether you're going to be creating a traditional or a digital collage and prepare your supplies. I do both, by the way, depending on the circumstance!
2. Create your individual clippings
Take your time searching for individual elements that call to YOU personally. Prepare AT LEAST 5-10 individual items and create a variety in terms of texture, color, shape, etc. I also recommend picking out different types of subjects. For example, create some clippings of human figures (or parts of the human figure), a few of inanimate objects, animals, textures that can be perhaps used as backgrounds, etc.
For this exercise I looked for my images online, but I also wanted to include my own hand in my composition, so I went ahead and took a picture. If you're creating your collage digitally, make sure to keep your images organized in folders so you don't give yourself a headache while doing your photo editing!
Click on each photo to go back to its original source at Unsplash and Pexels.
Go to my blog post titled My Favorite Free Image Sites & Two Examples of References with Finished Illustrations to find a list of excellent websites that offer free quality images that you can use in your work.
Start playing with your clippings, arranging them in a variety of ways to see what is most interesting. Don't paste anything down yet! I usually start by creating what I want my focal point to be and then add to it. Think of where your biggest shapes are going to be placed and then add smaller ones as you go. The point isn't to fill up your entire background space, but to add smaller elements where it makes sense to depending on your overall message.
Try to think more about a possible meaning, than about saturating with color and shape just because it looks pretty. As you go, you'll inevitably begin creating connections and thinking of ideas that are personal to you. At this point, I almost always start thinking of possible titles for my collage!
4. Carefully paste everything together
Paste everything together, thinking about overlapping elements and position within space. Try to apply your knowledge of Art Fundamentals so that you can create a composition that has meaning to you, but is also visually pleasing.
5. Consider whether you can take your collage a step further!
Finally, it's time to think about whether you are going to leave you collage as an exploratory exercise or whether you are going to create something with it!
Personally, I decided to create a watercolor painting with mine! In the past, I have even used collages as references to create large canvas oil paintings! The possibilities are endless!
Have you ever had positive experiences creating collages? Do you have any particular way you use them? I'd love to know your thoughts! Leave a comment in the comments section below!
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