The Birth of a Collage

So Saturday night, I’ve been thinking about the story, and I feel the need to collage. I need to see the church and the tavern and the street, I need to get the tone and mood of the story down. It’s slippery. I want a fun world but not a farce. I want darkness but not dystopia and dread. I need a visual. So I take a nap and dream about building this collage and when I wake up, I haul all my boxes and bags that should be labeled “Wood Crap” out and start going through them. At 6AM, I have the major part of the collage built, just need the base and the back board and a lot of spray paint. I go to bed, get a solid six house of sleep, get up and make the base (a lousy job, but it’s collage not part of my house, so no worries) and the backing board (I love the way the first coat of spray paint mottles on wood, just like a night sky) and then put it all together, badly because I’m thinking about the story, not about what I’m building. By Sunday at five, I have the base structure of the collage built. After this, it’s paint and paper and found objects stuck on as I tell the story to myself and write it down, an ongoing visual notebook. It’ll take months to finish this and the story, but for right now, I have the start of my collage and the start of my book. Here’s the step by step version. Please ignore the mess that is my house and front walk. Thank you.

Step One: Dump all the wood crap out on the counter.  Continue to find more as you work.
Step One: Dump all the wood crap out on the counter. Continue to find more as you work.

Step Two: Organize wood crap.
Step Two: Organize wood crap.
Step Three: Build the easy setting, Maggie's Tavern, four stories with attic.  (Put in floors later, probably with paper.)
Step Three: Build the easy setting, Maggie’s Tavern, four stories with attic. (Put in floors later, probably with paper.)
Step 4: Build the basic church.  Embellish later.
Step 4: Build the basic church. Embellish later.
Step 5: Assemble Monday Street.
Step 5: Assemble Monday Street.
Step 6, Set the street upright and embellish.
Step 6, Set the street upright and embellish.
Step 7: Spray paint the backing board.
Step 7: Spray paint the backing board.
Step Eight: Spray paint the street.
Step Eight: Spray paint the street.
Step 9: Assemble the base.  Then spray paint with stone paint.
Step 9: Assemble the base. Then spray paint with stone paint.
Step 10: Put it all together.  (That black blotch is not a lighting problem, it's where the crypt exploded and took out the bottom stories of the church.)  Next steps: paint, paper, pictures, junk stuff, STORY.
Step 10: Put it all together. (That black blotch is not a lighting problem, it’s where the crypt exploded and took out the bottom stories of the church.) Next steps: paint, paper, pictures, junk stuff, STORY.

36 thoughts on “The Birth of a Collage

  1. This is cool–dollhouse collaging in a sense. Your creative process has grown more three dimensional. I’m drawn to those cramped little spaces and wonder what’s going in there. There’s something about the instability implied by the balls too…

    A physical structure for imagination. Nice.

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  2. So fascinating to see it come together step by step; I can’t wait to see what comes next.
    Just out of curiosity, do you keep the collages of your books once the books are complete? I understand that there could be a storage issue, but they are so much a part of each story I don’t see how you could part with them.

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      1. Not a huge office, but lots of shelf space, and since I’m in the de-accessioning phase with most books…I’ve got space. Students walk in and say, “What are these?” I answer, “Drafts.” So I show them the Bet Me shadowbox and hand them a copy of the novel. “Two forms of imagination–visual and verbal–in the same creator.” Then I think, “I’ve got the best office on earth!”

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        1. You’re definitely the best teacher on earth.
          This sucker is big. Like 40 x 48 and made out of wood. Fortunately, you’ll have at least two years to make room for it.

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      2. Hell, you could have a gallery show of these. I just dig up cardboard and stick things on, you make a diorama…and heck, a dollhouse.

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  3. Oh, wow, how cooooool! I would love to do stuff like this (visualizing makes so much “real”). However, with my husband, I would just get everything spread out to start and he would start packing it back up again because he can’t stand the chaos. So I’d get one hour’s work in every three hour time slot. Grrrrrr.

    (Seriously, though, if the books ever dry up, goddess forbid, you can always go into the custom doll-house business!)

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  4. It’s amazing. I’d be worried about putting all my creative energy into the collage rather than the story, though. (I’m keen not to get distracted by visual art at the moment, having just switched from photography to writing.)

    I’m deeply envious of your experience and knowledge. I spent this morning creating a river in pastels and watercolour pencils, and then discovering I couldn’t add words to it very effectively, and that I may not be able to stop it smudging. So perhaps I should start again with acrylics. (I’ll experiment a bit more first.)

    This is just the start of a collage/treasure map designed to support me in having a go with fiction. And I’ve been telling myself not to get caught up in trying to make it work as art; that it’ll work anyway. And then you posted this.

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    1. PS. What I’m doing, of course, is experimenting to find out what works for me. Didn’t mean to whine – I just hate not knowing how to do things. And this year is all about being a beginner. What’s really inspiring is that you’re playing so much.

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    2. It isn’t what you end up with that matters, in this kind of thing, it’s what happens while you’re making it. That’s why this will probably fall apart in a couple of years, but the book will last. I hope. This was just part of the process.

      But what you’re doing is making art, the end of your journey is the thing you’re making. This is just one of roads to where I’m going, a process, not a product, if you will.

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      1. Got it. I discovered this for myself just after I posted yesterday: when I did more work on my river, it suddenly morphed into something else which pointed to other possibilities.

        Love that collaging works like this, since I love playing around with words and images.

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  5. I want to leave some insightful, encouraging commend, like Mary (Egads) did, but it’s Monday morning and this is all I’ve got:

    *falls over in delighted amazement*

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  6. Holy cow! I remember when making a collage (in my elementary school) involved cutting out pictures from old magazines; macaroni noodles; glitter; and lots of glue that never seemed to dry quite properly. This is stunning!

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  7. It really doesn’t matter how you do it or what it looks like what matters is what you’re thinking while you’re doing it. For example, I now know the the woman who runs the boarding house is Mrs. Stripe because of all the striped wallpaper I’m putting in her boxes. That’s not her real name, but nobody in this part of town uses a real name, so Mrs. Stripe it is. And I know that the magic dump in the crypt is making the wood arches in the nave sprout leaves because when I glued the paper arches in, they looked like trees. It’s all part of the discovery process, so what it looks like doesn’t matter, it’s what happens as you put it together.

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  8. I can see where it will, once completed, suck you into another world as it is intriguing now. It looks quite large – where will you keep it?

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    1. Right now it’s on top of the pie safe. I’ll probably work on it on the table under the TV since I dropped the TV and broke it and now there’s just a wall there, but most of the time, out of the way, way up on the pie safe. This place is small and there’s no room in my workroom.

      Someday my garage will also be a big workroom . . .

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  9. Wow! This is ah-mazing! You are on fire, and I love that you’re collaging because it means you have been pulled right into your story, and you’re excited about that. You put a lot of creativity into your collages but I know it’s your way of walking through your story. Unfortunately, my collages are a piece of art paper with cut and past pictures and a few words or meaningful phrases. They work for me. I have a closet full of them, thanks to you, because it was here many moons ago that I learned about collaging. : )

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  10. Is this for one of the stories you’ve talked about previously? Or is this the one you recently said you’re scrapping a ton of words and are more or less starting over? Or a new one?

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    1. This is for a story set in the same world as two previous collaborations we’d talked about and didn’t do anything on and the stories I’m writing on my own (remember The Frog Principle? It’s the same world, fifteen years earlier). It happened because Lani said, “I have this scathingly brilliant idea . . .”

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  11. I find that collage isn’t my thing at all. However, I would have taken the backing board as it is on the picture and hung it on the wall. It reminds me of Mark Rothko’s paintings which I saw at an exhibition years ago.

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    1. You know, I leaned it against the wall over the pie safe before I put it all together and thought, “Huh. I like that.” The first light coat of spray paint on wood does lovely things.

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  12. If I remember correctly, you didn’t have this much 3D in your previous collages? Texture and pop-up bits that were somewhat 3 on a 2D format as opposed to buildings.

    The minute I read through this it reminded me of that scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind where Richard Dreyfuss’s character told the other character about the drop behind the hill/mountain and “You should have tried clay.” All this paraphrased from having watched it ages ago.

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  13. this is totally off-topic, but i didn’t see where i could comment over at reinventing fab. are you familiar with inge look? she’s an artist in finland who does a series called “aunties” that kind of remind me of you and krissie.

    you should check it out. 🙂 http://www.ingelook.com/

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    1. We definitely have that kind of good time.
      There are comments at ReFab. There should be a reply tab at the end of every post.

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  14. Wow! Wow! Wow! You’re such a handy woman. I don’t do collages or models but I always need to draw a ‘map’ of a sort. Where is the river in connection to the house, and where the windows look, and where are the stairs, this sort of things. Or the furniture arrangement in a room. The geography helps me with the characters’ movements in the story.

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  15. I think this particular collage is going to be a stunner. I definitely want notice when it’s completed and posted. I tried to collage, but I have discovered I’m much better with sketching my own story boards. I think it’s really helped a lot, and I realized that I can really draw. Should’ve known that before now (my dad is an incredibly talented sketch artist), but I didn’t come into it till about a year ago. It helping my stories, and it’s really therapeutic and fun.
    Now, Jenny, would you do a collage where Richard Castle falls in love with the ME, Laney or anyone other than Kate Beckett? Jiminy Crispies, that ‘heroine’ is the human equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

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  16. Can we have a peek into the dachshund’s lives when you get a free minute? Sometimes I wonder how they are not in every collage picture or covered in spray paint.

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    1. LOL. One just wandered into this fantasy story disguised as a stone gargoyle.
      At the moment, they’re all sacked out on the bed while I type. Of all the comfy places in the house, they love that bed best.

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  17. OMG, I’m back online and look at the treat that meets me! What a collage…you should really auction that off in say…Brenda Novak’s auction or here, for a worthy cause when you’re done with it. It is full of awesome. 🙂

    (I actually developed an eye twitch after the third day of no internet…)

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