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The Art of Collage: An Interview With Collage Artist Alexandra Sheldon

AlexandraSheldon

Alexandra Sheldon has been creating visual art since she was just a child. At the age of fourteen, several adults in her community even volunteered to mentor her by sharing their crafts, including silk screening, weaving, print making, and drawing.

For more than twenty years, Alexandra excelled as a landscape and still life oil painter—then one day she was asked to fill in for a local collage instructor and fell in love with the freedom collage offered artists.

Today, Alexandra enjoys teaching collage workshops and selling her own “painterly collages” to collectors worldwide. Join me as we discover why Alexandra believes collage can transform the soul, bring beauty to the world, and lift up the hurting.

Alyice: For those who aren’t familiar with collage artwork, can you give our readers a brief explanation of what constitutes a collage?

Alexandra: The word “collage” comes from the French verb “coller” meaning to glue. Collage refers to two dimensional materials glued down to a surface. Assemblage would refer to materials, including objects, glued down to a surface.

AlexandraSheldon-Art

Alyice: You prefer your students to create collages using their own paintings, and images. Why is that?

Alexandra: As a painter, I began playing around with collage as a way to use old unsuccessful paintings and drawings and found it quite liberating.

I am not against using magazine images, but I want my students to make many different materials from scratch. I try to elicit an individual touch from each student I work with. I might, for example, have a class start off by tracing different plants with colored pens. Then we would cut those “drawings” up for collage and combine them with other hand painted papers.

Alyice: In your workshops, you teach both beginning and advanced artists how to create collage art. How might a beginning artist’s collage differ from an established artist’s collage?

Alexandra: I love working with beginners. Sometimes they are easier for me as a teacher than the more experienced. An established artist might have a difficult time getting loose or experimenting whereas a beginner has nothing to lose!

My technique as a teacher is to get people moving right into the process of making art. It’s vitally important to keep students from feeling intimidated so I try to get them to return to a kind of joyful art making. Art making that we all remember from childhood.

Music helps this process so I tell my students to “let your body take charge of this next exercise. NO THINKING. Breathe. Now begin by drawing circles in time with the music. . . “

That being said:

A beginner’s collage has a raw unconscious look to it. Often beginners are less aware of the edges of a piece, of the shapes that float around. Their work is unmoored and disconnected. Color, in their collages, might be too hot, or what I like to call “Walmart” colors—unmixed and straight out of the tube.

More experienced collage artists tend to have stronger pieces coloristically and compositionally. They are more able to follow the flow of the piece.

AlexandraSheldon-Art1

Alyice: In your opinion, what makes a good collage composition?

Alexandra: What makes a good collage composition? I don’t think it differs from any other kind of art. All the usual suspects come into play: movement, texture, light, color, theme, form, line, space.

But it’s a good question because composition is the very key to collage. Basically you are playing with shapes in relation to each other. At times I feel as if I am conducting a circus. As the ringmaster, I am controlling all these characters, all the shapes that are flying around.

Alyice: In your workshops, you stress the importance of individuality—of making art our own. How can artists gain the self-confidence necessary to do this?

Alexandra: My main emphasis, as a collage teacher, is to elicit from students their own individual touch. From the start, people are asked to mix colors, paint papers, make prints, create different textures, cut elements from magazines, etc.

Everyone is treated like a beginner (this is very freeing for seasoned artists) and the classes are active and rigorous. In this way, I don’t give anyone a chance to get anxious—well, that’s the goal anyway.

The main thing is to promote a sense of joyous exploration.

AlexandraSheldon-Art2

Alyice: When creating collage, it’s sometimes tempting to replicate the designs of other artists. How can a beginning artist use an existing collage as inspiration without actually copying the work of another artist?

Alexandra: This is another astute and interesting question. In my classes I try to reiterate the importance of learning from other artists, rather than mindlessly copying them. If a student in my class is greatly inspired by a reproduction of another artist I might let them use it in their collage as an exercise. Sometimes inspiration comes to us in this way. I believe that beginners need to do whatever feels right and exciting.

I might encourage them to cut up the reproduction and “plow” it into their own work. Or I might encourage them to make something similar; something that has that special spark or beauty to it. Or I might try to figure out what it is they especially like about that reproduction and then help them to create materials that mimic or emulate it.

I often teach themed collage classes where we study some of the greats. For example, I like to study Romare Beardon, the great African American collage artist. I get students to set up a collage, as an exercise, similar to Beardon’s interesting interiors. It is really important to study other artists. Art is, after all, a kind of daisy-chain. But in the end, the key is to learn from the artists, not copy them.

Alyice: When it’s all said and done, collage is about bringing harmony to various shapes, colors, and materials. What one tip can you leave our readers with, in regards to bringing to creating a harmonic collage?

Alexandra: The best tip I have in making collage is to immerse yourself in the physical process so that the busy, critical mind gets bored and tunes out. The body and the instinctual, intuitive spirit can then come out and play. I think this is how “good art” gets made. Remember, work hard and get out of your own way.

To learn more about Alexandra Sheldon, please visit AlexandraSheldon.com.

*Note: this post may contain affiliate links*

Diane Gilleland is an independent craft writer, publisher, and teacher who credits her mother for her creative nature.

Having earned a degree in graphic design she set out to make a living as a graphic designer, but after a few years in the. . . read more

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