How to collage images

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Collage is easy and fun process to make art out of existing art. While this experiment focuses on using just images, you can also collage with paper and typography. By using preexisting images, you don’t have to worry about drawing anything from scratch. If you are a beginner and worry about your art being messy or imperfect (which are vital aspects of art-making), this might offer you the freedom you need to get started creatively. Rod Judkins in Figurative Painting with Collage quotes Nita Leland: “Collage is like a hall of mirrors. Every direction you look, you see something different and visually stimulating.”

You will need: photographs or images from magazines, books or any paper source. Scissors or scalpel knife. Optional glue or sticky tape and a tray to put things on or work from.

  1. Cut out images that catch you eye. Don’t overthink: cut out and create a pile.
  2. From your pile, pick images and start arranging. Play around with different combinations without thinking of a final look.
  3. If you like a combination, take a photo or fix it in place with glue or tape.
  4. Optional: Set a timer for 2 minutes to force quicker decision making so once the time is up, the work becomes finished by default.

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connectionIdeas for further experiments:

  • Cut out words or letters to add to the images.
  • Draw over or around images to add details.
  • Take photos of selected images to create digital versions and play around with layouts on the computer.

Have a jar/box/folder/somewhere to keep all the images you cut out as anything unused can be used at a later date. Sometimes you might spend your time cutting images and other times you may spend your time arranging. Having an image bank to draw from allows you to get creating much quicker in the future.

The artist Max Ernst in Max Ernst believed “Collage is the noble conquest of the irrational, the coupling of two realities, irreconcilable in appearance, upon a plane which apparently does not suit them.” Collage quickly allows you to bring together unexpected images and arrange them however you like. The process is one of trial and error but also very ‘low-risk’ because you don’t have fix anything in place. Because there are so many strange and different possibilities with collage, you’re only limited by your imagination.

“The only way to be creative over time – to not be undone by our expertise – is to experiment with ignorance, to stare at things we don’t fully understand.” – Jonah Lehrer

How to do a rubbing

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Rubbings taken from a deck: turning the paper to create lines in different directions

Rubbings or frottage is an old technique of printmaking where you take a rubbing from an uneven surface to create a textured piece of art. It’s a very quick method of mark making that has a bonus element of mystery because you can’t predict what surfaces will work best until you have a go. You become a kind of creative detective, hunting out patterns and testing them collect results.

Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire in Wired suggest that some common strands in creative fields are “the ability to extract order from chaos, independence, unconventionality, and a willingness to take risks.” Margaret A. Boden explains that exploratory creativity, one of the three types of creativity,  “can produce highly valued (beautiful, useful, interesting…) structures or ideas.” That this approach “can often offer surprises that are rather deeper than merely seeing the previously unseen.” Surprise marks may emerge with each movement of your hand so you don’t always know what you’ll end up with.

You will need: paper and a pencil. Optional to use crayons, charcoal or chalk.

  1. Find some textured surfaces or objects.
  2. Place paper over your chosen area.
  3. Use side of pencil to rub over the paper to reveal the hidden pattern.
  4. Repeat the process with a different surface.
The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Experimenting with different surfaces: some rubbings are more unsuccessful than others

Some of the rubbings in the image above hardly show the pattern beneath so weren’t as successful as the clearer pattern created by the decking. That feedback helped scout future rubbing subjects so no “failed” attempt was actually unsuccessful. This experiment is perfect to take with you on the go so if you ever spot an interesting wall texture you can quickly take a rubbing. The more you do, the more you build up your knowledge around what surfaces work better than others. Because it takes so little time, the focus becomes more on quantity and testing than perfecting which is a much freer (and fun) way to make art.

“The most expected thing you can expect is what’s unexpected.” – Dick Allen, Zen Master Poems

How to draw dot-to-dot

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Pattern created with black and blue felt tip pens

This fun line drawing experiment is easy to get started and has endless creative outcomes. As an art-making beginner it can be hard to know where to even start. Setting rules and constraints gets you to go from being paralysed by choice, to taking clear action immediately. Making something is always a better than making nothing when it comes to your creativity.

Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire in Wired to Create explain “Because of our natural adversion to uncertainty, there are very few things in life that we enjoy more than a sure thing or a tidy solution! But in order to think differently, the fear of uncertainty has to go.” This experiment is great because it starts you off with a clear objective, which will keep your mind from being paralysed about what to do next. But once you start drawing lines, there’s no one solution so you start to tap into your creativity. In a way it’s a safe kind of uncertainty.

You will need: paper, pen or pencil. Optional: felt tip pens, crayons, coloured pencils and ruler.

  1. Add dots randomly on your paper. Do this quickly, don’t overthink it.
  2. Join the dots using a pen or pencil freehand.
  3. Optional: use a ruler if you want a straighter line.
The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Left: using pencil lines. Right: red pen creates a more minimal outcome

Ways you can approach experimenting:

  • Change the quantity of dots: make lots or a little to get a different starting point.
  • Change the quantity of lines: make lots of a little.
  • Change quantity of colours: use multiple colours to draw the lines.

Let your instincts guide you where you draw your next line. There is no ‘wrong’ line you can make, only 100’s of possibilities. In a 1991 speech on creativity, John Cleese suggested, “it’s also easier to do little things we know we can do than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about.” Start with little and as your confidence grows with practice, you can gently push yourself to create more ‘complex’ or unusual patterns if you wish. Or continue to keep things simple and enjoy the process of making patterns from the random dots.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” — Steve Jobs

How to make rearranged word poetry

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

A variation on the rearranged work poetry (cutout poems) and collage typography experiments, but one that is transportable as you can always play with ‘final’ rearrangements in a notebook on the go. It’s is the same process as magnetic poetry, that encourages word play around the fridge and similar to the game Boggle. Danielle Krysa in Collage talks how “transformation is one of the best things about collage: the artist gets to finish telling, in a completely new way, a story that was started by someone else.” And how starting with a blank slate isn’t always best: “For anyone who has ever looked at a blank page and found it too darn perfect and intimidating – collage is a blessing. Starting with something and building on to it is a chance to remake stories, to create art out of something rather than nothing, to embrace whimsy and humour and pastiche.”

You will need: Text to cut up. Scissors or scalpel to cut. Glue if you want to fix permanently in place.

  1. Cut out the words: try to find a quote or title in bigger font so that cutting it up is easier
  2. Rearrange the words into different phrases, either manually or write them down
  3. Optional: fix in place with glue
The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Left: original quote. Right: words cut up ready to be rearranged

You could try adding the finished phrases or poetry into other collages. You could mix and match different size fonts to give a different look. There are no rules about what you should make and you may find yourself drawn to certain words and combinations. Krysa explains “I think there is an element of my subconscious taking control while I work – only afterward will the subtle details and meaning within the work reveal themselves.”

I once did writing workshops in an elementary school, and it was the kindergartners and kids in the early grades who knew how to play with words. “A horn sounds red!” one write. “Mad is like touching the devil,” wrote another. “Mad is so bad it tastes like liver.” By the time they got to third grade, they were obsessing about whether to write their names in the upper left-hand or right-hand corner of the page. – Barbara Abercrombie, A Year of Writing Dangerously

How to use your surroundings as a photo subject

Pattern of pink details: mostly building materials found on foot in urban environments

There’s world of strange details, patterns and shapes within your everyday surroundings. But it’s a hidden world unless you intentionally start to look closer. Finding the art in your local environment allows you to let go of the idea you have to go somewhere beautiful or faraway to find interesting things to photograph. The constraint of going for a walk in your everyday surroundings and finding one thing that is different or interesting focuses your attention and forces you to “make it work” right where you are. Danielle Krysa in Creative Block interviewed Stephaine Vobas on getting creative: “Your attention to small things are little gifts, or clues, as to what you should be exploring further. Delve deeper.”

You will need: a camera or cameraphone and to look for details on foot

  1. Spend time looking around at small hidden details underfoot, around and above you as you meander on foot.
  2. Restrict yourself to a specific number of photos say between 1-10 photos. The restriction forces you to be more thoughtful and question if it’s worth taking the photos.
  3. Review photos at home at a later date to see if there are any reoccurring patterns or subjects that caught your eye.

Carolyn Schlam in The Creative Path speaks of an ‘inspiration hunt’ walk: “Think of your daily life as a hunt for art. Take note of what you notice and what you keep noticing. What interests you?” She encourages this process of reviewing possible connections because “These connections are the gold mine of your inspiration. Use them.”

The Sparkle Experiment Hidden Photos
Example of finding patterns – capturing X’s in urban environments

Feeling unsure what to look for?

  • Choose one colour, say red, and be on the lookout for red things
  • Choose one type of shape
  • Choose only black and white objects
  • Choose signs or symbols
  • Choose to really narrow it down and look for a specific thing eg. drainpipes, window corners or pavement cracks

More constraints makes it easier for you to find possible subjects. When you can photograph ‘anything,’ the endless choice could overwhelm and paralysis you. It is also vital you limit the number of photos because in a world of ever-expanding data storage, people tend to overtake due fewer restrictions. This creates extra work and mental energy due to deciding which images to keep or delete. Deciding before you even take the image saves your future self from additional review work.

By slowing down and focusing on what’s at your doorstep, you start to see hidden connections and allow yourself to be intrigued by ‘uninteresting,’ unexpected details. This new way of looking will feed back into your life in more ways than you’ll realise.

“You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.” – Andy Warhol

How to make patterns with everyday objects

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Created using a circular piece of metal

We love to feel prepared before trying something new because it’s not easy putting ourselves in an unknown situation. It’s uncomfortable. When making art you may think you need to go out and buy lots of ‘good’ art supplies but what if you used what was already in your cupboards at home?

In The Runaway Species, Anthony Brandt and David Eagleman talk about raw materials used for creativity “Human creativity does not emerge from a vacuum. We draw on our experience and the raw materials around us to refashion the world.” What if part of the fun was exploring everyday objects to see what marks they could make? In this experiment you do just that and because you don’t need to buy anything new, you can get started straight away.

You will need: paper, paint, a plate and household objects of your choice. Ideas to start you off: cutlery, rubber bands, corks, cardboard, sponges, string etc. The list is endless. Use one paint colour to keep things simple. If you don’t have any paint, use coffee. You can experiment with adding more or less water make it lighter or darker. Use a plate to mix your chosen paint and allow you space to dip your objects onto.

  1. Take your chosen object, dip it in your paint
  2. Experiment making marks!
The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Left: Created using a small piece of plastic. Right: Created using a fork.

Different objects with create completely different marks. The marks made above by a fork required it to be dipped more frequently into the paint so a slower mark-making approach was created. This experimental approach to making marks creates an intuitive way of working as you test making different sizes, shapes and how much paint to use. There is no right or wrong way to make marks, just make them and see what turns up. By using unorthodox painting tools, you lower your expectations around how ‘good’ the marks are. So if you use a fork to paint, you instantly have lower expectations compared to when using a paintbrush.

Flora Bowley
 in Creative Revolution talks about creating in a kind of “ambiguous territory,” when creating work without a firm plan of where you’re headed. That you will be rewarded for your bravery to “create with no map” and “opening yourself up to the unknown can also be invigorating and deeply revealing. By experimenting using tools where the markmaking results are unpredictable, it allows you to safely let go of outcomes so you can focus on the playful nature of exploring. As Bowley suggests, “the more you flex your brave intuitive muscles, the easier letting go becomes.” Have a look around your home and see what you could use to experiment making your own patterns and marks.

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Created using a small piece of plastic

“Good scientists, like good artists, must let their minds roam playfully or they will not discover new facts, new patterns, new relationships.” By allowing yourself to playfully create new patterns using what exists around, you opens yourself up to other unknown possibilities.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention

How to collage typography

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Finished rearrangement of the original below

If a white piece of paper blinds you with too many possibilities, starting with another piece of art and editing that can get you straight into the art-making process. Creating instant restrictions creates less resistance to getting started because there’s less choice on offer. Austin Kleon in The Steal Like An Artist Journal encourages us “If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.” By mixing up existing art into something new, you’re creating your own art and experimenting with what you like visually.

You will need: Text (or images) to cut up. Pencil and ruler if you want to be really accurate. Scissors or scalpel to cut. Glue if you want to fix permanently in place.

  1. Divide your chosen text into squares of equal sizes and cut out
  2. Optional: Use pencil and ruler on the back if you don’t want to do it by eye
  3. Rearrange the squares into a new arrangement
  4. Optional: fix in place with glue
The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Left: original printed typography found in a magazine. Right: image cut into equal squares, ready for rearrangement

Why not try cutting different size shapes and then fit things together like an abstract jigsaw puzzle. Play around creating more irregular shapes and arrangements that aren’t so neat and square. Cecil Touchon uses a similar process to create his Typography Abstraction art and so ‘frees the letters from their burden of being bearers of meaning.’

Seeing something arranged differently and changing your perspective will feed back into other areas of your life in a positive way. In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Creativity, he says “Good scientists, like good artists, must let their minds roam playfully or they will not discover new facts, new patterns, new relationships.” By allowing yourself to playfully create new patterns using what exists around, you opens yourself up to other unknown possibilities.

Look what’s already laying around your home that you can cut up and rearrange and go have a play.

 “…nothing is completely original. All creative work builds on what came before.  Every new idea is just a remix or a mashup of one or two previous ideas.”Austin Kleon, Steal Like An Artist