“A very sensible day yesterday. Saw no one.”
—Virginia Woolf, Jan. 31, 1939
One of my favorite prompts inThe Steal Like An Artist Journal asks the reader to remix a comic strip:
My son got a daily Peanuts calendar for Christmas, so for fun I’ve been taking the old pages and making collages out of them:
This one is made up of a bunch of extra leftovers:
I really love how surrealistic they get when you squeeze two images of the same character into one panel:
And how just swapping a few bits of text can change a strip’s meaning completely (and make it autobiographical — this was originally about Charlie Brown waiting for his dad to get off work):
This one starts with a piece of text from some litter I found on my walk:
It’s interesting how in the process of cutting it up, you really learn a lot about Schulz’s strip: how wordy the balloons are (something Nancy creator Ernie Bushmiller famously complained about), how everything belongs to one world and is easily re-arranged and re-combined. Heck, even the characters can be spliced into each other: here’s Charlie Brown with Linus’s hair:
It seems like this kind of thing would be a great exercise for the classroom. I’ve done a variation in workshops in which participants take single panel cartoons from the comics section and swap the captions, like this example in Gary Larson’s The Prehistory of the Far Side:
The Far Side and Dennis the Menace used to be side by side in the Dayton Daily News. One day, back in August of 1981, someone “accidentally” switched their captions. What’s most embarrassing about this is how immensely improved both cartoons turned out to be.
I still find collage — glueing one thing to another — the most restorative thing I can do to get back to a good place in my work. It never fails to get me unstuck. These two collages were, fittingly, made from a Restoration Hardware catalog. The robot above was made for my 5-year-old, and the comic below was art directed by the same 5-year-old. (It’s been a happy, lazy Sunday.)
My sons draw all the time, but they don’t seem to care one bit about their drawings after they make them (I envy them), so they leave piles of finished and half-finished drawings everywhere. I go through them and find scraps of construction paper that I want to paste in my notebook. Sometimes I’ll make a collage out of them:
And sometimes I’ll actually use one of the drawings as a writing prompt, like this scribble of the digestive system Owen drew:
In a way, the page becomes a collaboration between us, even though I rarely ask their permission. See also: Orchestrated drawings.
The art of collage, for me, is mostly one of contextomy and juxtaposition: you put two things next to each other that aren’t really supposed to be together and you get a new thing. (1 + 1 = 3.)
I’ve been obsessed lately with the simplest cut: what’s the least amount of cutting or folding or editing that you can do for maximum effect?
I really got thinking about this when a woman in one of my workshops made the newspaper headline collage above. (An exercise from The Steal Like An Artist Journal.) It was so simple and funny it was like a gag out of a Nancy comic strip.
For a more visual example, here’s a picture of a sunset and moon that I took at the same time, but edited together with Instagram’s simple Layout program:
The simplest, cleverest expression of 1+1=3… that’s what I really love.
There are stone monuments scattered throughout my neighborhood — fancy signs announcing the parks, etc. I find them sort of hilarious — they’re so serious, and they look like big tombstones. (They had to cost a fortune!) I like to go around and take pictures of them and then make a game of cutting them up so they announce other things. The only rules are that I never add, only subtract, and I try to make the edits as simple as possible.
(For this one I cheated just a bit and rubbed out letters with the clone stamp in Photoshop.)
Filed under: de-signs
Reading some of composer Robert Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians, I came across this piece of advice for composing, which I thought was spectacularly bad: “If you are starting out on a composition, begin by working everything out in your head. Do not try out a piece on your instrument until you have fully conceived it in your mind.”
This might be good advice for a musical genius, like Beethoven, Mozart, or Robert Schumann, but it runs counter to my own personal experience with art. Very few of my decent pieces have come from me thinking in my head, as in, thinking through a piece and then sitting down and executing it. In fact, I don’t know if that’s ever happened. Most of my good ideas have come from an exploration of specific materials, a kind of back and forth between eye and hand and head. These collages are good examples: I did not set out with any kind of purpose or ideas before I made them, merely some time, space, and materials.
I know some writers who claim to work out all their writing in their heads before hitting the paper, but 1) I suspect they’re liars 2) even if they do have it worked out, it’s in getting the words on paper and then editing those words that the ideas take on any kind of real form. As a young artist, I thought the ideas had to come first before you wrote, and now I think the opposite: You start working with your hands and the ideas come.
Better advice than Schumann’s might be from a newspaper clipping I saved called “How To Draw Blood” (you could cross out the last word), in which a worker at a free clinic started out by saying, “Develop intelligence in your fingers.” Her point was that every vein in every arm is different, and you not only have to think, you have to feel your way through a lot of medical procedures. The feeling is as important as the thinking.
Best not to overestimate the intelligence in your head: your fingers have a lot to teach it.
See also: Don’t Ask.
“Sometimes we are so confused and sad that all we can do is glue one thing to another. Use white glue and paper from the trash, glue paper onto paper, glue scraps and bits of fabric, have a tragic movie playing in the background, have a comforting drink nearby, let the thing you are doing be nothing, you are making nothing at all, you are just keeping your hands in motion, putting one thing down and then the next thing down and sometimes crying in between.”
I’m working on a whole notebook of these for fun while I watch TV. Here’s the first batch.