Tag Archives: Xacto


Last month at a meeting of the Atlanta Collage Society I had the opportunity to show to my peers the latest collage I was working on.  I showed them the book from which I got the idea for this exercise in flattened perspective:  Study for Bart Van de Leck’s “Composition 1916 no. 4” done roughly in what looks like tempera paint.  He was an architect by trade, but he messed around with his drawings of houses and rooms to create new compositions.  I was really impressed with how a flattened drawing could still have depth, so I set about to recreate it in my style.

I explained to my peers that I was using 1/4” strips of magazine papers (cut precisely using a ruler and Xacto blade) for the blocks of color, and strips of plain white art paper as the outlining.  The background edges are covered in a neutral decorative paper from the art supply store, to simulate the plain yellowed paper Van der Leck used.  They asked the standard question:  “What glue do you use?”  When I responded, “Yes! paste,” they got into a lively discussion of everything they don’t like about Yes! paste.  That was the extent of the presentation and following discussion.

I don’t think my fellow collage artists knew what to make of my attempt to copy a master.  Perhaps what I did is too left-brained, too precise.  I think most of them prefer to let their inspiration take them wherever it wants to, free-wheeling their way through multiple collages at a time with minimal planning, experimenting with many mediums.  Perhaps what I do is too much design and not enough spontaneity.  Maybe I’m too mired in structure and too restrictive with myself.  Probably so.

But can’t a self-controlled, structured approach also be a reflection of an artist’s soul?  Does every creative act have to be like a child’s finger-painting—wild, undirected, accidental—or can creativity show self-restraint, too, where what is left out is as important as what is included?  (Think visual poetry.)

As usual, I have no idea how anyone will respond to “Unfolded.”  I am hoping that it becomes the kind of piece in which one can get lost following the blocks of color, marching up and down the unevenly flattened steps that lead only to another block of color . . . .


“Unfolded,” 20×20″ on gallery-wrapped canvas



Originally I thought that I would ONLY make collages based on places I’ve been and sights I’ve seen, but, of course, as I’ve grown, I’ve loosened my self-imposed restrictions.  Or, maybe, another way to say that is that I’ve opened up my possibilities.  Indeed, sometimes my inspiration comes from someone else’s.  When my gallery mate and her husband returned from their September Mediterranean cruise, they came back with photos of amazing views.  She was particularly fond of a photo she took of the harbor, buildings, and sailboats in Toulon, France.  I fell in love with the photo, too, because of the glorious South of France light, the pastel-colored stucco, and the reflections on the water.  I wanted to immerse myself in that photo, to feel the cool air and warm sun on my head and squint away those bright shards of light.  Since I couldn’t be there physically, I decided to reproduce what she saw using my medium.

I had never before done any architecture using my collage technique, and I’ve never before attempted reflections. I combined multiple techniques that I’ve discovered over the years.  I could not have made this collage without a cutting mat, a straight edge, many Xacto blades, and my tiny super-sharp scissors.  Drawing on the 22”x30” illustration board took several days because I wanted the straight edges to be perfect.  I struggled with the perspective, never having studied art formally and learned ways to do this.   I started by drawing 1” squares all over the 24”x18” surface area of the backing board.   I then sprayed the pencil drawing with matte ModPodge to prevent it from smearing.

I decided I wanted the collage surface very smooth — almost like the photograph — so I used rubber cement as the adhesive because I can push out the glue to the very edges of the pieces of paper, making a super-smooth surface.  Also, the rubber cement prevents the edges of the paper from turning white and creating outlines as can happen when I use water-soluble paste.

I worked from the top down, coming forward in space.  Finding enough magazine pages with the precise shade of blue with minimal pattern for the sky was a real challenge, and I ended up having more variation in the sky than I intended.  I guess that makes the sky more impressionistic as if you could see the air drafts.

To make sure that the building cutouts were as perfect as the straight lines in the drawing, I used gridded tracing paper to make templates from which I cut the magazine papers.    I chose to ignore all of the people on the balconies and on the sidewalk.  My version is pristine, without human interference.

After I created the buildings, I pieced the palm trees on the sidewalk.  They were fun to create even though the pieces of paper I used were ridiculously small.  I always cut many more of those kinds of pieces before I begin gluing, storing them in a small dish.

The reflections are hand-cut strips of paper of varying lengths.  Most are probably about  1/8”-1/4” wide.  I worked row by row, left to right then right to left, back and forth, for a couple of weeks.  I wanted them vague and suggestive, not precise as the original photo was.

I know very little about sailboats, so I reduced them to geometric shapes and opted for just a suggestion of sails and railings.  I used cotton floss for the rigging and for the cross on top of the tower, applied carefully using matte ModPodge as glue.

As always, I sprayed it overall with matte UV protective spray and coated it with satin varnish.  Framed, this vision of light is 24”x30”.

I finished it just in time to enter it in a juried art exhibit at ART Station in Stone Mountain Village.  It has won second place.  I’m hoping it will have a long exhibit career and several wins before it goes to a good home.  Or I may end up keeping it for myself.

Toujours Toulon

“Toujours Toulon,” 24″x18″, on exhibit at ART Station, Stone Mountain, GA, 11/21/15-1/2/16;  SECOND PLACE winner


Toulon, France (original photo)