Torn Paper Collage

This exercise took the previous composition further into abstraction using collage.  I found it challenging but completely absorbing.  Having no idea where exactly to begin, I tore up an old magazine, in particular selecting images that had large areas of colour and graduated tone.  The focus of the magazine was walking so there were a lot of photos of landscape and wide blue skies – hence the green and blue dominance in the final piece.

Process: I glued a page from an old telephone directory into my sketchbook to take away the threat of a blank page.  On this, I outlined in pencil the rough structure of the flower for guidance. The aim was to focus on tonal values rather than form and shape but I found that I needed structural guidelines before I could do this.  Starting was difficult but I decided to work from the column (in the centre) and the anther cap (above the column) outwards to establish the tone from the back first, and then coming towards the viewer. One challenge was to represent gradation in tone without being over-fussy. This is difficult to achieve on an A4 scale and perhaps I should have attempted this exercise in A3 or even A2 in order to be able to show more subtle tonal contrasts. However, the task was manageable in A4 for a first attempt in representational collage.

Originally, I had intended to collage the petals but, in the end, chose to use the background for this and then to add strips of paper in high values, paradoxically, to indicate the shadows on the petals and so hint at their structure and movement.  I have indicated the lateral sepals, which are predominantly in shadow, with the two small light blue paper pieces near the corners at the bottom, which hints at the size and lower edges of the petals. (The one on the right will disappear with “editing” of the collage).

Upon “completion”, I was not entirely happy with the image but was unsure what exactly was wrong and left it overnight.  Today, I scanned the image and then saw the problem.  The central part of the flower is not properly aligned with the labellum or lip (this can be seen clearly by looking at the angle of the red markings on the labellum, and their exaggeration in the image exaggerates the problem).  However, I did not realise this until I saw the scanned image, which is shown below:

Img393  Version 2

Having decided to make some changes, I also added further interior markings, enough to accentuate contours. This also improved the colour balance by adding more red to complement the green, improved the visual alignment and overall clarified the image.  I could still see a problem with the angle of the labellum the back edge of which should be angled slightly towards the viewer, and this also affected the position of the labellum’s tips (whose botanical name I have tried and failed to discover), the right one of which needed repositioning.


While the focus of this exercise is not structure, the image felt a bit disembodied and so I tried to emphasise the petal structure rather better. I also find the pink strip on the edge distracting and so have papered over this somewhat haphazardly.  Here is the “final” version:


I converted the image into black and white to check the tonal contrasts – even more visually confusing…. It would probably be less so if the entire flower had been collaged but the main issue here is one of unclear tonal contrasts. Value changes are clearer on the anther cap and the column than elsewhere.

Img401  Version 2


Overall, not a completely successful exercise although the final image is an improvement on the first version but is too fussy.  This is due to my difficulty in simplifying the image into broader, clearer areas of tone, which is partly a question of scale.  Undertaking this exercise in A3 rather than A4 would help. I realised at the outset that I would not be able to include all of the labellum in this format.  I had intended the A4 image to be a “practice run” but it has taken far longer than I anticipated and I am not now going to make a further attempt right now.

I found it challenging to match paper samples that have similar value. One strategy would be to sort paper samples into batches of similar value before embarking on the collage. This would be facilitated by using commercial papers of single colours; finding images with sufficiently large areas of colour/tone in magazine photographs to use for such an exercise is difficult. Collage requires planning and collection over time from varied sources. However, it is a very satisfying process – a bit like a jigsaw puzzle where you get to make the pieces!


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