Painting With Paper

Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson made my heart race–well, her work did. I saw her work in Featuring magazine, and knew that I wanted to find out how she did her work. I took her workshop in Sedona and was so pleased with my results, I framed my work and hung it in my house. It’s the first time I’ve done that, and that’s saying a lot.

Elizabeth and I kept in touch after class, and I discovered she’s coming to Sedona again in November. You’ll want to take her class, she’s an amazing teacher–and mentor. She let me ask her a bunch of nosy questions, and I thought I’d share her answers:
1. Did you start out as a collage artist?
No I did not, I am a classically trained artist. I have a BFA from Syracuse OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUniversity and my training was focused in realism and honing drawing skills

2. What were your first collages like?
My first collages included painting over the top of papers that were already glued down (now I paint all my papers first and never paint on top of them once they are glued on to the board) I also used to use purchased papers that were already colored and used them “out of the box” Nowadays I hand-paint all my own collage papers with acrylic.

3. When you change your technique, how does that happen?
My technique changed from purchased papers to hand painted papers due to an issue of fading, so out of necessity came a change that elevated my work to a much higher level.

My own painted papers are far more beautiful than anything I ever purchased in an art supply store. [Note: This is true. I’ve swapped papers with Elizabeth and her painted ones are richly colored and visual textures.] I used to frame my work under glass, but I found that this decreased the evidence of texture in my finished work, so I looked into varnishing instead. I used to paint over glued down papers, but in an attempt to loosen my grip on realism, I decided to challenge myself with the task of creating images ONLY from torn bits of paper and no brushwork.


My work has really “evolved” out of necessity and my constant desire to improve up on my process. I am always open to new ways to create papers and new solutions for collage. I often incorporate mixed media in the underpainting process that I leave to show through in the final collage. Mixing media is always a way to keep things fresh.

4. Who do you take classes from?
My influences for color work are Kimberly Kelly Santini and exceptionally loose colorful brushwork is Lisa Daria Kennedy.
My influence for whimsical collage work is Peter Clark.  My influence for whimsical mixed media is Maria Pace Wynters
My favorite art history movement is Art Nouveau for the organic form and swirling lines, my favorite artist of all time is Gustav Klimt.

Sour Spots5. How do you know a piece is done (how to you keep from overworking?)
I know when a piece is done when it speaks to me, I cannot explain. When I am happy with the composition and balance, the color and the image, then I stop. It’s instinctual and something I’ve learned with practice. I overworked many a collage in the beginning. It’s terrible when you look at your work on the easel and say “Oh, I liked that a lot better yesterday.”

6. Do you paint papers for each piece, or  do you spend a day painting papers in colors you like or know you will use?
I paint papers for inventory primarily, I spend a day playing with color and technique (If I am low on yellow, I paint yellows and all other colors that interest or appeal to me.) I tend to gravitate toward blues and purples and I have to remind myself to paint warm colors as well.

There are some exceptions to this. Upon preparing to collage flamingos, i realized that their salmon pink color was not something I did not have in my repertoire, and so I had to paint papers for them specifically. They are not really very pink.

7. How do you find the right paper to use?
I organize my papers in the studio in clear plastic bins, by color, I have a bin for Lavender Lemonade smeach of nine colors, with some cross over. This helps me to work fast, not searching through a multi-colored pile, some papers are torn in half and put into more than one drawer. When I travel, I take gallon sized plastic bags of paper divided by color and put them into a tote bag with small containers of glue and a short handled brush.

8. How did you get into teaching?
I have taught collage workshops for the past five years all over the country. I started in Florida with a group who asked me to be their very FIRST instructor and it was my very FIRST time teaching. I was nervous, but my husband reminded me that I had been volunteering to teach kids art for years in the elementary school level.

My first collage workshop was a huge success, we hand painted papers with a variety of techniques, we did a basic apple to get the hang of creating volume with shading and following form.  [Note: We did apples, too. They are harder than you would imagine]

Then the students moved on to a project of their choosing, and I was there to help them individually through the challenges of that project. We did a critique at the end where everyone can learn from each other. In my classes I tell a lot of personal stories and make people laugh. I realize that that an art retreat weekend is one part art and one part fun for most of the folks who come out to learn from me. I try to make collage accessible and less intimidating by creating a fun NELS3427atmosphere for learning. I’ve been lucky enough to be referred to teach and have had so many good reviews on my class that I now have no shortage of teaching opportunities. I am fully booked for 2014 and that’s a good place to be.

My next class is in my FAVORITE place on the planet, Sedona, AZ at the wonderfully equipped Sedona Art Center. A visit to the Lark Art Gallery is a must on Friday night as they represent my more whimsical animal pieces and will have an opening reception, an opportunity to discuss my work and techniques up close and in person.

* * *
Sedona is lovely in November, and the class is a treat to dig into your own creativity without distraction. For me, that’s the big plus of leaving home to take a class. No distractions. Ask Elizabeth about her hobby: she participates in triathlons.

Quinn McDonald wishes she could be in Sedona in November. But, alas, she is teaching on that weekend.

Collage, Creativity, and Copyright

An entire classroom of people bent over their artwork today, placing painted pieces of paper onto an underpainting in the technique we learned from Elizabeth St. Hilare Nelson. Using the paper we painted yesterday, we tore, shredded, and ripped pieces no bigger than a quarter and glued them onto the underpainting. At points in the day, my fingers were numb, coated with glue from pressing the work flat. At other times, my shoulders cramped from the concentration of bending over the work.

And at the end of the day, here’s the apple. Everything you see is paper glued onto a canvas board. No underpainting is showing.

I have a few corrections to fiddle with tomorrow morning. I want to extend the shadow under the apple just slightly on the right side tucking it under a bit more. And on the wall behind the apple, in the upper right-hand corner, there’s a bit too much unbroken blue–a piece too big. It needs to have a smaller piece placed on it to make the blue look more like a part of the rest of the wall.

appleThe parts I like are the words hidden in the collage and the gold threads defining the curve of the apple.  Sheets from my journal went into the work, as well as stamped words, done for pattern. That is going to become the way I make this technique mine–adding texture through words and letters. Tomorrow–on to the more difficult koi image.

While I was thinking of putting this piece on my blog, I was thinking of copyright again. With artists showing their work on the web, and more people caring about speed and less about giving credit and accuracy, it’s hard to own your own artwork and writing.

On one hand, most artists and writers don’t want to be so private that none of their work is seen. On the other hand, no artist or writer wants to see their work claimed by someone else. Not much better is seeing your work on Pinterest or on another blog with no link back to your website or blog. Mash-ups and sampling are popular, giving credit and linking back, not so much.

Copyright won’t protect you from theft, and it’s often hard to find the person responsible for a blog in order to contact them and ask them to give you credit or remove your work.

The DIY Doyenne has an excellent blog on the matter. Margot Potter, better known as Madge has some great ideas. KevinandAmanda will help you discover if your photos are being used on other blogs.  If you are searching for the original source so you can give credit (thank you!), you can use the tips from The Graphics Fairy.

To protect your work with a watermark, Madge suggests using the easy directions at Picmarkr or Stipple. And after passing on all that great information on Madge’s blog, I should mention that Madge has a pdf book out called The Fine Art of Shamelss Self-Promotion. Because unless we promote our own work, it’s a slim chance anyone else will.

Quinn McDonald may never get all the glue off her fingers.

Saturday Creativity Links

The last week, I have been swooning over those “paper as paint” collages–people who carefully cut, tear, and paste paper pieces to shape images, like Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson, who paints with paper. She creates richly-colored paper collages that are illustrations.

This video shows how she builds the support, does the underpainting and then collages.

Peter Clark does the same thing with his dog collages. He uses a variety of

"Too Precious" by Peter Clark's garment collection.© Peter Clark.

“Too Precious” by Peter Clark’s garment collection.© Peter Clark.

papers, including maps (maps!) to create movement. I’m in love with the greyhound and the dalmatian. He has other sections on his site, too. I’m not generally a fashion maven, but his collages of garments have huge charm for me, as well. Clark has a book out, too.

"Hidden Staircase" © Ronni Jolles, from her collection of sold work.

“Hidden Staircase” © Ronni Jolles, from her collection of sold work.

Not all artists who use this collage have the same result. Another artist who does paper painting collage, but with a totally different look  is Ronni Jolles.  Jolles  subjects are landscapes, and very different from Nelson’s or Clark’s. The subjects she uses are more textured, so her work seems more like mixed media. (Yes, collage really is mixed media as it uses paint and paper). Some of her work is almost photographic.

Interpretation and execution is one of the interesting things about creativity. The same idea can be carried out in so many different ways.