Tag Archives: Yes! paste


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



I think I’ll coin a new phrase:  Creating art is the act of wrestling with oneself.

I went on vacation for a month, which was wonderful because it stimulated all kinds of imagination and had me continually saying “What if . . .” in a creative way.  In fact, towards the end of the trip I was ready to get home and make myself useful in my studio again.  But coming home and facing a mound of laundry, business paperwork, and banking, along with an overgrown yard, quickly sucked the creativity right out of me.  When I finally got out to the studio, it was to face my incomplete American Falls collage, started two months earlier.  Oh, what a struggle to wade back into those swirling waters, when my brain was filled with new images!

I realize I could have swept the incomplete work aside and started something new, but I don’t allow myself such indulgences—instead I suppressed the new ideas until I completed the river collage and cleaned up every last scrap of paper from the floor and workbenches.   This approach made me very grouchy, but now that it’s over with, I’m glad I stuck it out. Here is the finished product.

Over the American Falls

“Over the American Falls” (12″x24″), on gallery-wrapped canvas

Finally I’m ready to start something new, but that, too, comes with its own challenges.  I selected a photo to use as subject matter—the ghostly relic of a pre-Civil War building—but then realized I didn’t have an illustration board large enough to create it on.  (For an 18″x24” collage, a backing less stiff than medium-weight, hot-pressed 20″x30” illustration board may warp with water-based Yes! paste.)  I had to shelf that idea and look for something I could create using materials I had on hand.  So I found a photo I took in Australia of a Victorian stone wall, and I got all excited when I thought that I could collage each individual “stone” on small pieces of mixed-media paper, and then glue those pieces together to form the wall . . . sometime later after I’d bought some illustration board.  Alas, nothing is easy—when I tested my theories of how to assemble the “wall,” I realized that I needed to glue down the “mortar” lines first, then measure and cut the backing paper for the individual bricks.  This meant that once again, I needed a sheet of illustration board BEFORE I could begin.  Grrr!

Today I went to the art supply store and bought several backing boards so that I can make no more excuses about starting a new project.  Now to decide which to start on first . . .

Falling Waters

I’ve been six weeks in my home studio now.  Although I find that I spend only 2-4 hours out there on any given day, I have been making progress on a piece that I want to share.  The title is still pending, but it’s based on a photo I took from the American side of Niagara Falls last summer.


A work in progress . . .

As you can probably tell, I’m working on gallery-wrapped stretched canvas, 12×24”.  I am wrapping the design over the edges, all the way to the back of the stretcher boards, so the image will be visible from all angles when hanging on the wall.  I bought two canvases this size because I plan to create a collage of the Canadian falls, too.

The sky and the trees were easy to reproduce, but when it was time to add the Observation Tower, I had no idea what to do.  I found inspiration in a box of manipulated papers that I have.  The term “manipulated” paper implies that some artist has taken a piece of reclaimed paper and added to it somehow.  I don’t very often paint or dye my own papers, so most of what I have I have received during paper exchanges at the Atlanta Collage Society’s holiday parties.  I owe a big “Thank you!” to whomever provided me with the ideal papers for this collage.

For the Observation Tower, I layered two complimentary papers.  The bottom layer is an old piece of Manila paper imprinted with a purple-inked dittoed geometric pattern.  To make sure that the shadowy angles of the building were precise, I glued strips of dark magazine paper on top of the Manila. On top of that I layered a thin piece of semi-transparent spongy packing material that had been dyed randomly with clear phthalo blue acrylic paint.  I had to use ModPodge as adhesive for the packing material because my water-soluble YES! paste just wouldn’t hold it in place.

The next challenge was the walkway and bridge.  They had to appear to reveal the background through the bridge supports.  For the pedestrian walkway (above) I found just the perfect magazine artwork which had the pattern of a chain-link fence in the foreground and the correct shade of sky blue in the background.  For the section in front of the trees, I cut up an ad for a wrought-iron park bench with a grass-green background.  Over the strips of paper I used cotton floss to bring out the support structures of both the pedestrian walkway and the bridge to Canada.

Once the tower and bridges were out of the way, I tackled the water and the falls themselves.  I have to work in small sections, in layers, from the source of the water in the direction that it is flowing.  I’m not used to working from right to left, but I am adapting.  So far, my biggest challenge with the water is finding enough bright light/white papers that still have patterns and variations of shading in them to represent foamy whitewater.  Most white/light backgrounds in magazine papers allow words and colors to bleed through from the backside once wet with paste.  Sometimes this works favorably and creates an interesting look, but most often it’s just annoying.  I’m up against this problem currently, and so it requires me to go back through my light papers stack to see if I have anything else I can use.  In the worst case, I’ll have to dig through more magazines to find usable bright light/whites.  I don’t like to put a project on hold for a day or two while I patiently page through magazines looking for usable material.  It’s very boring, and it interferes with my “flow.”  I’d much rather pick out my papers before I begin and have them all in front of me so I can constantly push them around and paw through them as I work.

As reference, here is a copy of the original photo I took last June.  What in the world did we do before we had good cell phone cameras?


Looking across the American Falls to the Observation Tower from Luna Island

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″