What is a collage anyway? This was the question I asked myself as I prepared for the collage workshop I taught  in my studio this week. I pulled out collage books from my bookshelf. I started piling up supplies from my studio. I made lists of supplies I needed to buy. I started making lists of ideas. Again, what is a collage?? I admit that I got kind of frenzied. I’ve taught collage. I’ve included aspects of collage in my own work. But suddenly I couldn’t pinpoint what the heck defines collage. How does one organize the different possibilities into a coherent learning sequence?

While I got frantic, I could tell that Jim was watching from the sidelines, maybe just slightly amused at my antics. Apparently this is part of the process I need to go through to prepare for each workshop. Every time. Even if I’ve taught it lots of times before.

Pre-collage mess

Pre-collage workshop mess–this is a snapshot of the inside of what my brain feels like as I get prepared


In addition to gathering up information and supplies, I also spent quite a bit of time experimenting with various techniques.

Pre-collage experiments

Pre-workshop experiments with various transfer methods


Things gradually start to fall into place. Out of the shambles come glimmers of how to get the workshop organized. This time I decided to make samples of various techniques and ways to use materials. I stuck them to the wall, where I could see them and reorganize them easily. Once the sequence made sense I left them in place to become a handy reference for workshop participants.

Wall samples

Samples of techniques


I also tack up a rough idea of a logical sequence in which to teach.

A rough sequence for the first day

A rough sequence for the first day


Finally I can’t stand the chaos any more. So I pile everything in a really big heap, so I can shove tables around to figure out work spaces for participants. Then I set up each space with tools and miscellaneous useful items. Can you believe how neat the tables look now? Supplies, paper towels, water, folders with information and more are organized for each participant. What you can’t see is the huge heap of stuff piled up beyond view.

Set up for collage workshop

Set up and ready for the collage workshop


I set up a table with supplies for stamping and stenciling and creating tar gel skins. Don’t know what tar gel skins are? Well, they’re fun. You, too, can learn how to make them when you take collage next Fall or Spring!

Set up for collage stamping & stencil


Next, I sort out the huge pile and voila! Ready or not, it’s workshop time.

Polly & Kathy hard at work

Polly & Kathy hard at work


Charla & Merrill making tar gel skins

Charla & Merrill making tar gel skins at the stenciling, stamping and gelling table.


Jenine hard at work

Jenine, looking for just the right image to add to one of her collages

I’m thrilled when I see each person’s space full of stuff. Ideas are flying back and forth. The tables look like they did when I was getting prepared. Creativity is happening! By the end of the first day, each person has a start on three different collages. A remarkable amount has been accomplished. By the end of the second and final day of the workshop, everyone is exhausted but brimming with ideas for completing the collages.

I could have sworn that I took snapshots of each participant’s collages before they left, but somehow I ended up with only a few. Did my camera eat the rest of them?

Below is one of  Merrill’s works in progress. What you see are gel transfers of images of fish. I was very excited by what she figured out to do with the fish. But I didn’t end up with photos to show the more completed work. Darn it!

Merrill fish transfer in progress

Merrill fish transfer in progress


Jenine's collage

One of Jenine's collages, using paste paper and stamps she'd made in previous workshops she had taken here


Charla, cardboard layering

Charla used cardboard layering with tar gel skin, and a variety of torn papers for this collage


Kathy's collage

Kathy assembled a stained background, gel transfer and lacy papers for this collage


Polly's collage

Polly stained her paper, then added crumpled tissue, painted over the tissue and added a variety of torn papers.


What a great group and wonderful couple of days. After everyone left, I put everything away (neatly). Now I’m ready to paint.