HOW TO CREATE A STRIP ABSTRACT (Something to Try at Home)

Last week I received a comment on my posting that asked how I make my strip abstracts.  I replied to that comment at a high level, but I thought maybe I’d document the process here so that you can try this at home.  I love making these because of the unpredictable outcome.  I’m never entirely sure what I’ll end up with.


While searching through magazines for images and patterns I might want to use in my collages, I come across whole or partial ads that are interesting compositions:  a giant eye, a face close-up, an atmospheric grouping of models in unusual colors or positions, a giant flower, pictures from outer space, etc.  I set those pages aside, separate from my sorted color “palette” (stored in old plastic in/out trays leftover from my classroom teaching days).

Periodically, when I get in the mood, I sort through my pile of whole-page ads and group them by color, pattern, and image.  It may take months of sorting and pondering and adding before I have enough related ads (3+ pages) to begin an abstract.

Without cutting yet, I place them side-by-side or on top of each other to see what orientation might work best.  I usually trim the pages using an X-acto knife and ruler to simplify the image and/or to make it them all a similar size horizontally or vertically.


I cut each page into ½” strips, carefully reassembling each page. (I have a 2’x3’ gridded cutting mat on which I do my cutting and arranging.)  It’s hard to make each strip a perfect ½” from top to bottom, but I try to be as precise as possible to make it easier when gluing them in place.


Once each page is reduced to strips, I lay out the image, alternating strips from different pages but making sure to do so in the order of the original pages.  This step may take several tries before I find a combination I like.  Often I’ll start with two images A & B, then switch to a third image B & C, and then wind up with C & A.  Or, if the strips aren’t all the same length, I may need to introduce another image below and/or above the short strips.  (Sometimes I do this to bring in more color or repeat a pattern, too.)  Since the overall composition and the passages of light and dark throughout are most important, I often slide the strips up and down to achieve the desired effect.  The outside edges of the strips don’t have to line up because the image will be matted in straight lines, and the extra paper won’t show anyway.


Once I have the strips arranged the way I want them, I measure the overall image, and draw a box that size on a large sheet of multi-media paper.  I center the box so that there is at least 1”-2” white space all around.  If the strips on the final image are to be arranged vertically, then I draw vertical guidelines one inch apart inside the box.  (Conversely, if the strips will be laid horizontally, I draw horizontal lines one inch apart.)


In gluing down the strips, I work left to right (or top to bottom).  Inevitably, the edges of the strips don’t line up exactly with the guidelines, but that doesn’t matter as long as I keep the strips as perfectly vertical (or horizontal) as I can, so I try to keep the edges equidistant from the guidelines throughout.  I always make sure that I have a few extra strips to add on either end if necessary to fill in the box.

To glue, I use a stiff flat brush less than ½” wide, and I apply softened Yes paste in a straight line down the page.  Then I place the strip over the glue, making sure it aligns with my guidelines.  I use a damp, fine-grained cloth to wipe up the excess glue and to make sure that the strip lies flat (no wrinkles!).  Then I go on to the next strip, slightly overlapping it on the previous strip so that there is no gap, no white paper showing through.  The gluing actually takes up the least amount of time.


When I’m done and the image is dry, I spray the surface first with ModPodge acrylic spray (matte finish) to help set the ink, and then I use a sponge brush to apply a couple of coats of gloss medium.  I finish off the piece with several coats of UV-protecting glossy spray.

Below is my most recent concoction.  I started with two full-page images of Tilda Swinton in futuristic garb from a fashion magazine, and I added a third image from a science magazine of a female manikin onto which a variety of colorful digital images had been projected.  I call this piece “Prescience,” meaning the ability to see the future.

"Prescience," 10"x16"

“Prescience,” 10″x16″


3 thoughts on “HOW TO CREATE A STRIP ABSTRACT (Something to Try at Home)

  1. Pooja

    At what angle does one fold this in a fan like form to view both the pictures when the paper is tilted?


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