And here’s what it looks like in my diary, without any cleanup:
In this week’s newsletter, I share collages and pages from my COVID diaries.
In Tuesday’s newsletter, I wrote about how there are very few collage problems that can’t be solved with a photocopier.
Collage problems #collage? original sound – Austin Kleon
In last week’s newsletter, I shared a method of easy collage I call “The Simplest Cut.”
In Show Your Work! I wrote about a way of working I call “chain smoking”: lighting the beginning of one project up with the end of another.
“We work because it’s a chain reaction,” Charles Eames said.
Each piece leads to the next.
One thing leads to another.
I wanted to show you four collages I made in sequence to show how my chain smoking actually plays out.
The collage on the above right, “Get Back,” began with the old image of Circleville, my hometown, which was ripped from a box of Wittich’s chocolates my mom brought for Christmas. I made it on New Year’s Eve.
(I don’t usually give my collages titles, but I am in this case, just for clarity.)
This next collage, “Go,” was made in my diary on the page facing “Get Back” a few hours later. It started as scraps of tape I didn’t use in “Get Back, ” then I added the security envelope pattern to match, and found some old onion prints I had made on newsprint that seemed to echo the wheel of Circleville.
I much prefer “Go” to “Get Back” — it’s looser, more visually interesting.
I wasn’t trying too hard.
I made this piece, “10-2-4,” on New Year’s Day, with the label from the box of a 4-pack of Dr. Pepper my son Owen got for Christmas. (10, 2, and 4 are the times of day the Dr. Pepper company research showed that people needed a pick-me-up.) I added even more onion prints from the newsprint I’d pulled out for “Go.”
The afternoon after I made “10-2-4,” I started the piece on the left, “Waves.” What’s interesting is that the beginning of the piece doesn’t actually show up in the finished piece: I had started with Sinclair Lewis’s head from the NYTimes Book Review, and thought it’d be cool to have the onion prints exploding out of his head:
I didn’t think this was very interesting at all, but I liked the way the waves looked — they reminded me of Hokusai — so I simply covered up the head:
I should note that almost none of this was planned out, and I wasn’t conscious of this chain when it was happening. When I make these pieces, I’m in a flow zone, working with mostly just instinct, moving things around on the page.
What’s remarkable to me is that in each pairing, it was the piece made of “leftovers” that led me to the most interesting place.
That’s the beauty of collage and working with real materials: when you don’t have a plan, when you don’t know where you’re going, you end up somewhere you didn’t anticipate.
It’s real discovery.
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If you like behind-the-scenes posts like this, you’ll love my newsletter.
“I used to steal magazines from a store on Genesee Street, in Waukegan, and read them and then steal them back on the racks again. That way I took the print off with my eyeballs and stayed honest. I didn’t want to be a permanent thief, and I was very careful to wash my hands before I read them.”
What I do is, I keep a list of phrases in my notebook I want to make and then when I have a minute or I’m burned out, I make one.
Sometimes they’re phrases we say a lot around the house. (This one is stolen from one of my favorite movies, Withnail and I. I say this in mock outrage a lot to my kids.)
Sometimes they’re more abstract. (I took the Target tape off a package.)
Sometimes it’s a phrase I can’t stand. (“Don’t get me wrong.”)
Sometimes my wife suggests one like “They can’t all be winners.”
Sometimes I notice a phrase everybody starts saying.
I like to do conversational shortcuts and the passive-aggressive phrases you hear a lot in the South and the Midwest.
These pieces are very different than my other work, so it’s not exactly clear to me what I should do with them. Not sure they’re right for a book, but maybe I can work my way up to a dozen or so and make a notecard set or a series of posters out of them.
That’s the thing about new work, it’s not really your job to judge it, you just keep the channel open and let the stuff come…
In Edgar Wright’s outstanding film The Sparks Brothers, Stephen Morris, the drummer in Joy Division, says they were listening to two records on repeat when they recorded “Love Will Tear Us Apart”: an LP of Frank Sinatra’s greatest hits and Sparks’ No. 1 in Heaven.
Your output depends on your input, but a lot of your input is random: you’re interested in lots of different things, and those things, occasionally, will talk to each other in your work.
Lately I’ve been thinking about being more intentional with input. Thinking about input as collage. Taking the principle of juxtaposition (1+1=3) and using that to guide your input: what weird, seemingly disparate things can you feed your brain that will come out later in a new mix?
The input collage can be subject or genre based and even better if it’s multi-media. (For example, reading art books and physics books at the same time, or watching a lot of westerns and kung fu movies at the same time or looking at paintings in a museum while reading physics papers while watching kung fu movies, etc.)
There’s a balance here between feeding your brain intentionally and then backing off and letting your brain do the subconscious work of mixing your inputs together.
In Art & Physics, the writer and surgeon Leonard Shlain wrote about his interesting method of “self-education” in the books’ subject matters:
Serendipitously, I discovered a way to heighten my creativity. My habit was to read a popular physics book late at night until the snooze gremlin nudged me with the signal that it was time to call it a day. Prior to falling asleep the following night, my mind relatively empty, I leafed through art books. The next morning, I would often connect images I had seen the night before with concepts in physics contained in my previous night’s reading. Something mysterious happens in the creative process during dreamtime, and I am an avid proponent of the school that advocates, “sleeping on it.”
It’s been pointed out before that dreams and collage work in the same kind of holistic, non-logical, non-linear manner. I love the idea of our brains gluing together the bits while we slumber…
Here are some printing experiments with a leftover red onion and blue ink stamp, a la Bruno Munari’s Roses in the Salad.
— Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) August 2, 2021
I’m also a big fan of using peppers. (Or whatever leftover vegetables happen to be on the cutting board and the mood strikes.)
I’ve started incorporating some of these prints into my collages: