Trial and Error

There have been a couple of eureka moments in the past couple of weeks. One such moment came when I found a reference photo I thought I had lost forever (Filing system? I don’t need no stinking filing system!) and the other moment came to me after watching the work in progress of fellow collage artist Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson.

When I shifted the focus of my art making away from oil painting to painted paper collage, I found myself working in a medium for which I had had no formal training – in fact, I’m not sure if formal training really even exists in the art of collage. Although this was a very liberating experience artistically, it also meant that I no longer had any tried and true method or efficient working system to fall back on. Basically I have been making it up as I go along. My first collages were made on paper, which I found wasn’t really a heavy enough support and maddeningly prone to buckling.

My first serious attempt at collage: Rocky © 2007 Alyson Champ

After trying out rigid, acid free mat board and then canvas, which were better than the paper but still posed problems, I tried out medium density fiberboard, or MDF, as a support surface and this I liked: it’s rigid and stable and smooth. Unfortunately, it needs to be completely sealed to make it archival and safe.

I chose to seal the panels with black gesso because my idea at the time was to have a little of the black background show between the pieces of paper to give the collages a stained glass appearance.

Yellow Iris (2009) in progress. Note the “puzzle pieces” of collage on the black background.

The problem with the black gesso was that it was so dark that I had to work blind; I couldn’t transfer my drawings onto the black surface because no pencil, chalk or charcoal was really visible on the black. Nor, as it turned, was the stained glass effect quite as appealing as I had hoped. So, what to do?

For a while I continued working as I had simply for the lack of a better method. And then I happened upon Elizabeth’s work (shown below) and EUREKA! She draws directly on the panel and then preserves the drawing, while also sealing the panel, with a clear, acrylic sealant. Duh! Now why the heck didn’t I think of that?

Fine Feathers – in progress, ©2011 Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson, photo used with permission.

As you can see, Elizabeth works free hand on her panel. I still prefer to make my preparatory drawing on paper first, work all the kinks out, and then transfer the main elements of the drawing via tracing paper onto the panel. Having a drawing to refer to and a basic drawing of the planned collage on the panel itself certainly is making my life a lot easier! And if you think Elizabeth’s drawing is terrific, I encourage you to check out the finished collage on her website, It is fabulous!

What’s On the Easel?

Quite a lot, actually! Thanks to some generous friends, I now have many more reference photos for my Well Dressed Dog collage project – yeah, I know I keep changing the name of the series but I swear “Well Dressed Dog” is it!

I’m also continuing to work on my large collage “Mara Under Water”. Check out the drawing and prepped panel below:

Pencil study for “Mara Under Water” © 2011 Alyson Champ

“Mara” transferred to the 20×24″ panel

You can see what a help Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson’s method has been.

This week, I almost managed to finish another collage, my second rooster to date. The very handsome subject of this collage is our own rooster, Pretty Boy Floyd.

Pretty Boy Floyd – 9×13″ painted paper and fabric collage on panel, ©2011 Alyson Champ

He knows he is good looking. I’m not sure if my hens have an opinion.