process

Commissions

/Creating work to someone else's spec

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I don't do commissions, well, ever. But recently a friend asked me to make her something specific.

The final piece is above, and I'm pleased with how it came out (and more importantly, so is she), but since I completed the work, I've been thinking about the process of making a collage — which usually involves at least some elements of randomness — to spec. 

It went something like this: 

After I agreed to make her a piece, she sent a ton of "inspiration" images. Photos of things she liked and said, "Like this." Most of the images were of Western landscapes at sunset with lots of dusty pinks and yellows, or vintage black and whites photos of cowboys and cowgirls. And then she said, "Horses. Make sure there are horses." And then she sent Hollywood production stills from 1960s Westerns. 

Her ask seemed easy enough. It was like she'd sent me a list of ingredients and then said, I don't care what the meal is but make sure you use these. Except that, well, I couldn't actually use the inspiration images she sent because I didn't actually have them (they were digital). 

And so it took me 3 months to make the piece. 

Most of that time was spent sorting through every scrap of paper and every book and magazine that I own. And when I found the pieces, the collage came together quickly. 

Which is always how it happens. All of the time is spent on the searching. 

All of this is to say, I guess I do commissions now. If you're interested in your own unique something, here's more info on pricing and process

The Time It Takes

On the slow birth of each collage/

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This week, I was fortunate enough to sell three collages to a collector here in Pittsburgh. When I dropped off the work, the buyer made a comment about how long it must take to make each piece, that they must take a really really long time.  

Looking at the pieces he bought, which were mostly simple constructions—5 or fewer pieces of paper glued together—I realized that the actual assemblage of the pieces probably took less than an hour.

But I also realized that wasn’t completely accurate, that each piece had taken much much longer to come together, that each piece was probably years in the making.

Each piece is years in the making. 

I don’t know why this hadn’t occurred to me before, but I’m grateful for his observation because it jarred loose my brain enough to see that the trajectory of every collage—from conception to completion—actually looks like this:

  1. Find the source material (an old book, rescued from a junk shop, for example);
  2. Explore the source material (flip through the pages, again and again);
  3. Remove the images and pages from source material that “speak” to me;
  4. Add images and pages to piles of other images and pages removed from other source materials;
  5. Sort the through piles (a weekly ritual) and re-sort;
  6. Cut images and pages into pieces;
  7. Add these pieces to piles of other pieces;
  8. Cut these pieces into smaller and smaller pieces, and add these to piles of scraps;
  9. Sort through scraps (a daily ritual) and re-sort;
  10. Place scraps and images next to, and on top of, one another;
  11. Move scraps and images around until one or two or five begin to feel “right” together;
  12. Maneuver and juxtapose those one or two or five scraps and images until they finally, finally “fit” together;
  13. Glue; and
  14. Repeat

The realization I had is that sometimes, it can take years until a scrap of paper finds its way into a final collage—that I can look at the same image or scrap a hundred times before it finds its way into a collage (and if you take into account the age of the source material ... some of my collages were kind-of, sort-of, not really, but technically started 100 years ago when original image was first captured on film).

This process is not an exact science, and, in fact, it more closely resembles the Dada-esque concept of Chance Operations than anything else.  

I’ve written about this before (here and here, and you can watch a quick timelapse of the process here), and what I’ve always said is that, for me, collage is about feeling my way through each piece, about the simplicity of and a fascination of paper. It's about sorting through scraps and disparate pieces. It's about pushing on that feeling until something new takes shape.

Sometimes nothing feels right. Sometimes I don't find what I'm looking for (whatever that is). And other times I walk away from my work table with ten newly assembled pieces.

That, in the end, collage is about making connections.

Collage is about making connections: to thoughts and ideas and feelings. And even people. 

Usually, that means the connections between two disparate scraps of paper. But more often than not, it's about making deeper connections.

To thoughts or ideas. Or feelings.

Or people.

And that’s the other crazy part to this story. The guy who bought these three pieces, he first encountered them four years ago in a coffee shop that had let me hang my work.

At the time, he wasn’t in position to buy the work, but somewhere in the back of his mind, the work remained, and it was only after we random connected on Instagram that he reached out.

I think about that sometimes. That you never know when something good is going to happen. That even during the long stretches of not selling any work--that during those times when you’re questioning what you’re doing, the quality of the work, whether it’s worth the time, whether what you’re making is any good--that if you just keep showing up, keep doing the work, a connection with happen.

Sometimes it just takes a long time.

Intensity vs Consistency & Quantity vs Quality.

On showing up every day and doing the work/

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I've made a commitment to make at least one new collage every day. 

On the surface, making new work on a regular basis sounds like a no brainer. And maybe it is. Or, at least, maybe it should've been more obvious to me that an artist should do one thing:  show up every day and make work. 

But that's not how I approached my work.

I would go long stretches of time creating nothing. My mind was always thinking about collage, but I wasn't carving out the time to do actually do the work.

And when I would finally sit down and start cutting, the output would be incredible (I once made three dozen pieces over the course of four days). It was ridiculous and exhausting--and totally unsustainable. And apparently the wrong way to approach not just art but life. 

When I would finally sit down and start cutting, the output would be incredible, but it was also ridiculous & exhausting—& totally unsustainable.

Recently the swissmiss blog shared a video that paired a talk Simon Sinek gave entitled "Intensity vs Consistency" with the animation of Jocie Juritz. And it's fucking rad. Check it out.

This, coupled with the idea that quantity (or frequency) often leads to higher quality, especially when it comes to art making, has me doing things differently. 

And so, I'm making new work every day. First thing every day, in fact. 

I wake up at 5 am and start cutting and pasting until at least one collage comes together. And then I start the rest of my day. 

So far, I've made a bunch of pieces that I'm not crazy about. But I've made others I really really like. But the most exciting thing is that the daily ritual is keeping my mind more focused on the craft (and concept) of collage. And I'm starting to see that the pay-off of effort is not about a single day of success, but the success of many days

Previously, when my output was sporadic, sure, I thought about collage a lot. But now that I'm actually doing it everyday ... shit, it's all I think about. 

Which is the best possible outcome. 

The ABCs of Collage

Always. Be. Cutting./

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Always be cutting. Srsly, that's the only rule. 

There are no bad cuts. There are no mistakes. Just keep cutting. Keep making a mess of things. Keep pairing images down. 

Smaller. Stranger. More fragmented. And then wait for something to take shape. 

Now paste.

And repeat.

 

Why I Collage | Part 2

There's something cathartic about stripping images down to their simplest forms and then building them back up again.

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As I mentioned in my previous post, for me, collage is about making connections.

Usually, that means the connections between two disparate scraps of paper. But more often than not, it's about making deeper connections.

To thoughts or ideas. Or feelings.  

In fact, when I see hundreds of paper fragments spread out on a table out on a table I think, "That's exactly what my brain looks like. A fucking mess with tons a bits of things floating around just waiting to be utilized."

There've been plenty of articles written about creativity and making connections, and even cult leader Steve Jobs once said, "Creativity is just connecting things."

And I believe that to be true.

It is also magic in the way that it can connect the past with the present. 

It's impossible not to feel connected to a bygone era when you spend hours poring over 70-year-old news magazines. Collage is all about recycling, reinterpreting, and reprocessing our collective past, present, and future. 

There's also something cathartic about stripping images down to their simplest forms and then building them back up again.

Collage is a place to put my anxieties and fears, to exercise control over the world itself, and to brush back the overwhelming digital crush of apps and push notifications and social media rants and constant news and updates and marketing messages and images upon images upon images. 

With collage, I'm in control. 
 

Why I Collage

The act of collage to me is all about discovery and connection. It's about giving order to a self-created chaos. It's about mental health. 

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I've been thinking about this a lot recently. Why I collage.

I'm wrapping up a three month fellowship program and so much of our time has been spent talking and thinking and writing about what we do—and why. 

What I do is easy: I make pictures out of pictures.

The process is even easier:

I cut, paste, and repeat. 

But the why ... that's been more difficult to nail down.

It seems like every week since the fellowship started, I've had a new angle on an artist statement, a new reason why. But in the end, the only thing I know to be true is this: 

The act of collage to me is all about discovery and connection. It's about giving order to a self-created chaos. It's about mental health. 

I don't have a set way that I collage. Every piece is different. I have a few preferences (source material usually predates 1960; a human face is rarely left intact or uncovered; and I always cut, never tear). 

But that's about it. The rest is about feeling my way through each piece, about the simplicity of and a fascination of paper. It's about sorting through scraps and disparate pieces. It's about pushing on that feeling until something new takes shape. 

Sometimes nothing feels right. Sometimes I don't find what I'm looking for (whatever that is). And other times I walk away from my work table with ten newly assembled pieces. 

But it doesn't matter if I make something new, only that I showed up and sorted through the debris. 

The tactile nature of collage, and the process of cutting and pasting, is therapy. 

It's relaxing and it gets me away from a fucking screen and the internet and every other distraction in my life. It's analog and it reclaims a small part of my pre-digital brain. 

Also: I'm a kinetic person who abhors idle hands. I need to be doing—and in doing, I often find connections. To people, to things, to ideas. And, in this case, between fragments. 

Fragments of thoughts.

And various random scraps of paper. 

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Starting Points

Let the failing begin.

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I feel like I've been working on this web redesign for three years. But the reality is that I've merely been thinking about working on this redesign for that long. 

I've allowed myself to be psyched out by the challenge of creating work worth sharing—and blogging about things that are worth reading. 

I know this is normal. This fear to begin. Because once you begin, you can fail. 

But failing is always better than never beginning. 

So I'm prepared to fail. And fail again. 

Let the failing begin.