Go On a Tear

Aunt Zelda (collage, 15×10-?) by Michael David Brown.

As a purely creative—and enjoyable—art form, it’s hard to top collage. There’s not a lot of preparation work or mental preconception involved. You simply gather a collection of papers and other materials, and let your imagination run wild. Typically, I invent a scenario in my mind, then find a way to produce it on paper. It’s that simple. Best of all, you don’t have to worry about mistakes. Unlike painting, collage lets you lay down an area of color, and if it doesn’t look right, you simply pick it up and try something else. This frees you to follow your instincts and carry your creativity into areas you might not otherwise approach, regardless of how much—or how little—art experience you have.

To create a successful collage you need only follow one rule—start with the large, basic shapes to establish a strong foundation. Only when you’re satisfied with this foundation should you glue the materials in place and move on to add the smaller details. To get you started, I’ll walk you through three collage pieces. Let’s begin with Aunt Zelda (at right), a collage I put together in one of my workshops. This piece evolved from the basic idea of doing a portrait where I said, “Well, let’s do everybody’s crazy aunt.” I had a pile of cheap, scrap construction paper and several pieces of wallpaper, so this became the basis of my portrait.

First, I used some wallpaper to lay down a background, then tore a piece of construction paper to create the purple area of the face. Next I picked up some red construction paper and tore the hair. I said, “Well the type of crazy aunt that I’m imagining has a big mouth with lipstick going over the edge of the lips.” So I cut out these outrageous red lips. At that point, my foundation was in place, and I had to ask myself: “Does this do something for me?” “Do I like the basic thrust of where I’m going?” The minute I reached this point with Aunt Zelda, I knew I liked her.

With the hair, face and lips, my foundation was in place, so my next move was to put the neck under her lips. I then tore the edge of the body from another scrap of wallpaper and placed it below the neck. Now I was ready to develop her personality a little more, so I asked myself, “What kind of earrings should she have?” One of the students in the workshop was wearing hoop earrings, so I decided to use those. Then I said, “Every crazy aunt has a cat,” so I added the cat. It was becoming clear that Aunt Zelda was feisty, so I gave her a small cigar. Finally, I decided she’d have a pot of flowers, which I cut out and added along with the sunglasses. I also positioned her nose and used crayons to smudge her cheeks. My last step was adding the blue paper frame and her name across the top. The frame is a combination of wallpaper and images cut out of a jewelry catalog.

Scott Burdick, who was born in Chicago, Illinois, studied at the American Academy of Art under the artist Bill Parks and attended Columbia College for film, writing and photography. Today, between frequent worldwide trips in search of painting subjects, Burdick and his wife, artist Susan Lyon, live in a rural area of North Carolina among the forests and foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Burdick has won numerous awards for his artwork from such groups as the Oil Painters of America and the American Watercolor Society, and he?s a signature member of the Northwest Rendezvous Group.

You may also like these articles: