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Creating a Symbolic Collage Art Journal

Updated on December 1, 2019

From Kartika's Collage Journal

Simple Collage Art Journals

Your collage art journals can be put on a shelf or creatively displaced in a number of ways. I have a display stand on my dining table where I keep an open journal—changing my art just requires turning a page. These journals are different from other journals where I play with mixed media art and writing—these books are for collage only and have a different look and feel. This process has become one of my favorite ways of making art and getting in touch with my creative spirit. I find the results beautiful, inspiring, and surprising. It is amazing what you can create with such simple materials—materials that are inexpensive and easy to find.

Getting Started:

Choose an art journal: I recommend starting with a larger sized journal (I prefer a hard cover). The pages can be lighter weight because I’m not using paint, water, or markers that require heavier, quality water color paper. One of my favorite collage journals is around 14" x 16” (shown below). This larger size allows plenty of space—I open the book and work both sides simultaneously, so the pages are complimentary and balance one another.

Magazines and paper ephemera: I like to collect an assortment of magazines to have on hand for all of my collage work. If you are already a collage artist, you are probably a collector of various kinds of publications, such as: National Geographic; Elle; Vough; Art Today; Craft, etc—you get the picture! Each magazine has its unique style and allows you to create more eclectic collages (it is fun to mix it up). I just ordered Nylon and Vanity Fair (luckily I’m an avid reader, as well as art journaler!) If you love to collect stamps, cards, photos, or print images from the computer, this kind of ephemera will enhance and personalize your art journal, adding interest to your work.

Adhesives: To collage on paper, I prefer to use the simple glue stick—using heavy Matt-medium can create buckling on lighter weight paper. You can choose both permanent glue sticks and the temporary kind (some glue sticks are not permanent and allow you to move your pictures around until you make final decisions on placement.) Some people like to use double sided tape and this can be helpful to have on hand. You can also use different kinds of decorative tape such as Washi tape as art elements on your pages. Duck tape can be applied in layers over finished pages to both protect your finished products and add a very cool look.

Themes to get you started: One approach is to start with an idea that inspires yoI. Here are a few I’ve used:

  • Giving Myself Permission—in what ways do I need or want to give myself permission? Such as—do I need more time for myself or to share with friends? Do I need to give myself more play-time and permission to be funny, corny, or crazy? Find images that speak to this.
  • What is missing in my Life—what areas have I been neglecting that need attention? Do I need to focus more on my art, hobbies, or my relationships? This can help you get in touch with where you want to be in your life.
  • What makes me Grateful—what is it that makes you happy to be alive? What works for me in my life—is it friends, work, coffee in the morning, cooking, knitting, writing, etc. This can be a reminder of what you love in your life and what you want to be thankful for.

Start Cutting or Tearing: This is the fun part, and I suggest you try not to think too much about it. It works well to just start cutting or tearing out images that resonate with your theme or how you feel in the moment. Try not to over analyze—art is a right brain process so you don’t need to understand why that picture of the girl walking on water intrigues you. Just spend some time pursuing the images and cutting out the ones that attract you. Be patient and really have fun with this. Don’t rush it or think you have to use everything you cut out—you can always save the things that don’t work for another collage.

Play with the Arrangement: Now it’s time to experiment with placement—relax and don’t be in a hurry to glue things down. On the other hand, if you are compelled to glue a piece in place, trust yourself and go for it. Sometimes I find myself working very quickly and other times, I take lots of time—both can be very satisfying. When we are working in our art journal, it is time to get into the flow and go with it. I consider making art meditation in action—allow yourself to be in the moment without judging your choices. You are doing this for yourself.

There are no Mistakes: One of the beauties of collage making is that you can always glue images over images or carefully remove an image if you want to make changes in a “final” product. This takes away some of the fear we have of doing something wrong or making mistakes. Our inner critic is often our own worst enemy, and knowing we can always change things up or collage over our work, makes this easier to deal with. And collage and art journals are personal works, and can be for our eyes only.

Collage in the 20th Century

Some people ask: Is Collage really art? Yes. Collage is a powerful tool for self-discovery, and can be traced back hundreds of years. The technique reappeared in the early 20th century as Picasso and Brach began to explore and produce collage art and assemblages. While art historians say Picasso was the first to use the collage technique in oil paintings, it is Braque who first integrated collage into his work by applying it to charcoal drawings.

Since then, collage continues to gain recognition as a valid art form—a form that lends itself to an almost unlimited array of expressions. It is beautifully adapted to complex digital art. Yet, stunning works can be executed by the simplest processes and the most basic tools—the bare bones of paper and adhesive are the only tools needed.

Discover your personal Symbols and Life-themes

Joseph Campbell says, “The function of mythological symbols is to give you a sense of ‘Aha! Yes. I know what it is, it's myself.’”

What draws us to the images we choose for our art work? Symbols have long been a meaningful means to interpret reality, explain the mystery of the cosmos, and help us gain insight into ourselves. All religions and cultures abound with symbols that speak to our beliefs and cosmology.

I notice that I keep finding and choosing to use certain symbols over and over again. Even though I’m not always conscious of why I choose these images, I trust they are meaningful on a deeper level. For example, I frequently draw or use circles, spirals, birds, hands, feet, angels, portals, archetypal wise women, vessels, and a variety of animals. And, I’ve come to see how they relate to my personal mythology and they have become part of my artistic vocabulary. Then I start to investigate what these symbols mean universally as well as how they relate to me personally.

The more aware you become of the symbols you find yourself consistently drawn to, and the more you incorporate these images into your art journals and other art works, the more you discover interesting things about your psyche, and the more interesting your art becomes. And, isn’t this what you are going for in the first place?

More Hubs on Creating Art Journals:

Journal your Heart Out

From Kartika's Art Journal - Breakup

Into the Buddha


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