Collaborative Collage!

This week I helped my friend, Nice Peter, turn all of the awesome viewer mail he receives into a giant collage to use as the background for his weekly show!  I really enjoyed this project because I got to make art out of art.  There was a wide range of mail, from letters and poems to elaborate drawings and postcards from all over the world.   A collage is such a great way to permanently display a lot of different pieces and every fan put so much time into their letters and pictures that this seemed like the perfect way to display everything all at once!

The first thing to do was measure the space for the installation – this one was a bit tricky because there was a door right in the middle of everything!

Before shot of the space and some of the fabulous viewer mail

Below is a screen shot of the HUGE pile of viewer mail – see the complete Viewer Mail Extravaganza episode to really get a feel for all the great art I had to work with!

Who doesn't love getting *real* mail?

A collage like this is fairly straightforward to create but it is important to be sure to use the correct materials to ensure the quality and longevity of the piece.  It is important to use a firm base such as foam core, stretched canvas or wood so that the collage does not get warped or wrinkled.  I chose foam core because it is inexpensive, light and easiest to secure to the wall.  I got a few giant pieces of foam core (taller than me!) from the art supply store and cut them to size.

The only downside to foam core is that it is quite porous and will absorb water and curl up at the edges.  In order to prevent this, I primed the foam core with two coats of white Gesso on each side, laid it flat and covered it with heavy objects such as books and rocks.  The Gesso seals the foam core so it is no longer porous and the heavy objects ensure it stays flat during this process.

It is also important to choose the appropriate medium with which to glue the pieces onto the collage.  Elmers or other craft glues work fine, but over time they can cause yellowing of images.  I chose to use archival acrylic gel medium because it contains no acids that might ruin the images over time.  It dries clear and can be mixed with water to use as a finishing glaze.

Acrylic Gel Medium for all your collaging needs!

I used a wide paint brush to paint the gel medium directly onto the paper rather than the foam core.  A thin coat is all that is needed to ensure the picture will stick.  I placed each picture on the foam core glue side down, and then used a rag to smooth it over and take away any excess glue.  Next, I sorted out the pieces of mail I wanted to use as the background for the collage.  I decided to first use the envelopes and letters to create a background of handwriting.

The first layer

I layered things on top of each other and in some cases cut letters or envelopes in half to take up blank space.  It was really cool to see all the different types of handwriting all right next to each other.  After I created a solid background layer, I cut out different parts of the viewer mail drawings and pictures to layer on top of the writing.  The effect was very cool!

Close-up!

Layers number 2 and 3

I put down a first layer to make sure there was even covering and then went in and layered in 3 and in some places 4 more drawings!  I tried to add some fun details like you see above where I put sunglasses on the unicorn.

The gel medium is generally good for brushing over a collage as a finisher, but there are a couple mediums (certain types of markers, etc.) that will bleed if they come into contact with the gel.  So many different types of markers, crayons, pens and pencils were used to create all the viewer mail that I did not want to risk it so I fixed the collage with a spray on, clear, matte shellac.  I sprayed 3 coats to make sure everything was nice and flat and secure and to give the collage a uniform finish.

It was pretty simple to install the collage, just a hammer and some nails in the corners of each board and we’re ready to sit back and enjoy!

Almost done!

The finished collage!

Close-up of that detail work

For the complete debut of the collage and some shots of the installation, check out Nice Peter’s newest Monday Show!

Thanks so much to all of you who created and sent view mail to Nice Peter – it’s you guys that made this amazing collage possible.  Hope you love it!