Cut & Paste, Part 2

It’s finally part 2…and less than one month later. Not too bad.


We left off at my break-through moment about creating art intuitively…and then came winter break.

I don’t think I lifted a paintbrush once the entire time. Or a pencil that wasn’t mechanical. And we all know artists never work with mechanical pencils.

When I got back to school in January, it felt like I had to break through a wall. Kind of when you’re trying to work out after weeks of just sitting at home. (Not that I’ve experienced this, but I thought, you know, some people might be able to relate.) That quarter I was only taking one studio class that was mostly self-directed. Sometimes assignments are obnoxious, but they do force you to create. It’s like easing back in. Like going to Zumba classes and being able to just follow the crowd instead of having to plan your whole workout. (I halfheartedly apologize for all these gym metaphors. I promise I’m not trying to guilt-trip anyone here.)

Anyway, my first piece in January was a collage. I did it because we were cutting and pasting paper in another class, and because I didn’t have to come into the studio to work on it. The amount of physical effort and technique that goes into a collage is almost nothing! Which was just what I needed when the assignment was due at the end of the week and I hadn’t started! Unfortunately there’s a lot of mental back-story to a collage.
One problem was that I had no baseline to work from. What makes a “good” collage, exactly? I didn’t know. But I was good at being analytical, remember? So I used a weird combination of intuition and analysis. I cut out images that interested me, just going off of the visual. It didn’t matter that pigs and swimmers’ legs and whipped cream off the top of a milkshake ad didn’t seem to relate. Except that they sort of did. Spread out on my couch and coffee table, I surrounded myself with cut-up bits of paper. A tip to aspiring collage-ists: Don’t make any sudden movements or else everything will blow away.

After I got into the swing of things – not letting my cut-out eyes and hamburgers and lips fly away – I tried to group them. Some configurations were awkward and ugly – even I could see that – but others might be good? I couldn’t tell.

I based these first few collages loosely on gender – something I’ve been exploring lately. Plus a Buddha, since I just liked the picture. In a sense, I had to throw any conceptual intent out the window. I didn’t try to communicate any specific message. As a result, these collages felt completely random, but I hoped that visually they could work.

Here are my first two:



Pretty rough. But the bodybuilder image, titled “Goal!” ended up in my first exhibition. And it did look a little better in a frame.

From here I didn’t expect to be doing more collage, but to my surprise, I just felt like doing more. And so I did. While that sounds pretty simple, for me it was strange. How often do you get to act on your random impulses? Well, maybe you do this a lot, but I don’t. I’m type A, tightly organized, trying to keep my distractions at a minimum, but also an artist. Which is a pretty good excuse to do what I want. So I cautiously followed my artistic urges.

But I couldn’t start from scratch, nor did I need to. There have been plenty of artists who have done collage, but I hadn’t really been exposed to them. Time for research.

I had been looking at a lot of Max Ernst’s collages in my Dada and Surrealism class, and his approach was very different than what I had been doing. Rather than building the piece up from scratch, he used found images – which were often already visually interesting or bizarre – and changed only a few pieces.

He was into birds.

So this became the next stage in my collage-ing. Not the birds, but the use of found images. This is what I made next.

I ended up working in only black and white. I don’t know exactly why, but I liked working within this limit; if I were using color, my source material would be almost endless. I haven’t yet gone to the internet for material yet…that might be too much. And digital collage is completely different story.

At the same time, collage is limiting and requires extra effort. I can’t go to an art store and buy my materials like I would for scratchboard or oil paint. To really get going, I have to collect a lot of material, so there’s a greater range in what I can create.

All the while, I’d also been looking at Keith Haring’s work. While I enjoy his simplified, stylized figures, and see a lot of similarity to my own work, he also tried his hand at collage. The complete opposite of Ernst, Haring incorporated paints, ink and graphite into his collages, while also expressing overtly political messages.

These are his older collages, which are clear critiques. They remind me of a piece I started, but never finished, on media coverage of the Egyptian revolution in 2011.

These are Haring’s later collages, with the messages less overt and an incorporation of other media.


I’d like to try his mixed media approach too, but haven’t gotten there yet. Maybe I’m still not done with black and white, or maybe I just need a break from college.

That, and I don’t know where collage will fit into my gallery categories.


Can you spot all 6 differences?

Cut & Paste, part 1

Collage is the noble conquest of the irrational, the coupling of two realities, irreconcilable in appearance, upon a plane which apparently does not suit them.”   -Max Ernst


Recently, I’ve started doing collage. I don’t know about it being a “noble conquest” or “coupling of two realities,” but I suppose my perspective on collage has grown. In the beginning, my philosophy might have been something like this:

Collage is the way in which art class deadlines may be met swiftly, with minimal effort on the part of the student artist.
True, I was only trying to be practical when I started collage. But also true that I had been seeing a lot of Max Ernst collages in my Surrealism and Dada class, which helped get me into this new media.

While I can say that I wanted to get away with doing less work, I also know that I can’t help being sincere in the things that are important to me. Currently those would probably be my majors, art and sociology (among other, non-academic things). So collage also came about as both a new routine of art-making and an attempt to move beyond my artistic comfort zone, a process I had actually (accidentally) begun the previous November.

In my Intro to Oil Painting class, we were asked to create a “forgery” of another artist’s work for our final. Meaning we had to produce a painting in the style of another artist. I love street art, so I chose Jean-Michel Basquiat.


Unfortunately, liking an aesthetic and being able to reproduce it don’t go hand-in-hand.

Street art, and really any abstract art, is really REALLY difficult for me. Yes, it might look like a four-year-old drew it…but my version looks like an awkward adult’s stiff attempts at recreating her childhood. (Obviously she should have just glued popcorn to construction paper and called it a day.) I’m just not as attuned to what makes an abstract piece strong or visually pleasing. Or – yes, I’ll say it – successful.

So the Basquiat piece started out as a disaster. It was a couple days before final critique and I was seriously ready to consider this painting a failure. Then my professor, feeling my pain, swooped in and miraculously guided me in the right direction so that I had an artistic epiphany-breakthrough moment and everything turned out alright. Basically. With some prompting, and new materials, I was able to finish the piece by messing it up. My breakthrough moment was learning to be loose and messy, and so I used oil pastels! On top of my painting!

I scribbled and scratched up the painting – this time being a little less analytical – and it was fun! The piece that had caused me so much misery was turning out to be fun. Plus it was loaded with all kinds of angry messages about my university (very street-like, don’t you think?) – even better! Actually, part of what had been so paralyzing to me was that I had lofty ambitions for the concept of this piece. It was, and still is, a very important message that I want to communicate, and so having it end in failure would have deeply upset me. But the moral of this story is that I got a taste of what it was like to create loose, intuitive art, which is something I see continuing through my collages.

I leave you here, because this post is getting long, and I’m getting tired. And by calling this post part one, I’m trying to trick myself into posting sooner.

Let’s end with a collage:


Max Ernst
Max Ernst

Read Part 2 here.