a mini-tutorial for gel transfers

September 27th, 2016

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”
― Isaac Asimov

A growing number of people will now agree that most emerging social networks are not what they’re cracked up to be. For an artist who spends a lot of time in solitary activities, it can be a beneficial connection to a larger body of peers. I concur with Cal Newport that it can also be a habit-forming distraction that pulls one into a more shallow mode than the deep concentration necessary to produce exceptional creative work. There are times, however, when a Facebook interaction is so good that I have to marvel at the way people can quickly exchange valuable information across continents. Case in point: a recent back-and-forth between Peter Dowker (Lac-Brome, Quebec) and Matthew Rose (Paris, France) about image transfers for collage assembly. When Susanna Lakner (Stuttgart, Germany) and Melinda Tidwell (Santa Fe, New Mexico) jumped in, it developed into one of the best step-by-step descriptions of gel-medium transfer that I have seen. Here is my summary of Dowker’s technique—

“First of all, stay away from the hard stuff, like the toxic chemical cleaner trichlorethylene. Instead, use a gel-medium method to achieve an effective transfer. Apply a healthy coat of liquid acrylic medium to the image side of an ingredient and adhere it face down. GLOSS medium sticks better than matte. Rub with a brayer, or burnish gently with a soup spoon, and let it dry. Using a bit of water, gently rub off the paper backing with your finger or a piece of cloth. Don’t use too much water and slowly move over the surface, removing a bit at a time. Use oil varnish or vegetable oil to bring up the image. A minute amount of paper will always remain behind, giving it a cloudy appearance when dry. The oil varnish or vegetable oil will make that disappear and enhance the transparency. I formerly used matte oil-based varnish, which works okay. The vegetable oil idea comes from Allan Beally. There will be hardly any build up at all — probably less than any of the collaged pieces next to it. When making a transfer onto vintage papers, I find it’s better to seal them first before you begin — 1 or 2 coats of matte gel medium — the water involved to rub off the back of the transfer can destroy the substrate. Keep in mind that different papers react in different ways. Sealing is only necessary if the base is fragile. Be patient after gluing down the transfer. Letting it TOTALLY dry before rubbing off the paper is essential. If you’re not patient and start rubbing too soon, the image can start to break down. Wait a minimum of 2 hours (overnight is best) before removing the paper backing. If I know I’m going to be using a transfer from the outset, I start the piece on heavy card, to keep the substrate from becoming wrinkly in one spot from the water. The method works with original elements or copies. When I do use a laser print, it’s on thin, cheap office paper. Removing the paper backing can take ten minutes or more, because I go slow, not wanting to damage the image — not really that long at all. I’ve had the most luck since I began sealing the receiving surface with matte medium and waiting longer for it to dry. And the oil works wonders!”

My thanks to Mr. Dowker for allowing me to share this description here. Some of us have also used a variation that involves removing the paper backing independently, in a basin of water, before adding it to the collage surface. When doing that, one ends up working with a collage element that is essentially a veneer of acrylic medium, which introduces a size limitation and other aspects of craftsmanship. Peter calls this the “gel-skin method.” Although he has used it many times, a drawback for him is the need to build up 4 to 5 layers of medium — so it’s not too fragile for the rubbing stage — which makes for a thicker transfer. According to Peter, “not very appealing to the fussier ones among us.” The gel-skin method does allow for a right-reading image (if that’s important), otherwise the previous method will result in a flopped image (unless it can be photomechanically or digitally reversed prior to transfer). Each collage artist will refine an individual methodology, and, not surprisingly, new discoveries and “fortunate accidents” occasionally can result. As Peter reminds us, “Don’t be shy!”

Take a few minutes to savor a few of his extraordinary artworks below—
 

CUTTERS
collage with image transfer by P Dowker

ACORN
collage with image transfer by P Dowker

VAAVING
collage with image transfer by P Dowker

TOYS
collage with image transfer by P Dowker

Have a Seat!

September 23rd, 2016

The new exhibit, Have a Seat: Chairs by Kentucky Artisans, is up and running. Works by 33 artists are on display until February 25, 2017 in the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea. The meet-the-artists reception is this Sunday from 1:30 to 3 pm. If you are anywhere near the Bluegrass State, please join me there!

Click here for an album of all works in the show.
 

Have a Seat: Chairs by Kentucky Artisans ~ includes a repurposed vintage classroom chair by John Andrew Dixon of Danville, Kentucky

 

Pink Cat

September 16th, 2016

When fragments of everyday living are repurposed, and the literal characteristics of collage ingredients are transcended, we have probed toward the heart of creative spontaneity and offered a shared experience with a receptive observer.
 
Pink Cat ~ a collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Pink Cat
collage miniature by J A Dixon
4.25 x 4.25 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

A closer look . . .

September 9th, 2016

Here are a few detailed images of my repurposed chair, Good Morning, Mrs. Bradshaw. I knew from the outset that I would not be satisfied to achieve a “merely aesthetic” result, even though I am usually pleased if my collage artwork successfully does no more than that. I sought to visually communicate a symbolic tension that evoked my feelings as youngster, caught between the clarity of adult expectations and the fuzzy pleasure of indulging a literary genre that was generally frowned upon in the 1950s. I include the name of my first-grade teacher in the title. She was probably the first person outside my family who recognized and encouraged my creative interests.
 

The project took on a life of its own when I became convinced that it was
finally time to exploit some of my vintage typesetting specimens.

My concept rests on the visual contrast between “scholastic” and “vernacular”
imagery — what a ’50s schoolboy was supposed to read and what he was not.

My desire to preserve the circular “rivets” that held the wooden seat and back
slats to a metal structure presented challenges of collage artisanship.

A fun, rewarding part of the process was to capture the youthful energy of
reading comics and to avoid obvious narrative references at the same time.

Thank you for your interest and attention. Please let me know what you think of my work, this blogsite, or the medium of collage in general. Comment here or through TCM at Facebook. Stop back again!
 

Good Morning, Mrs. Bradshaw

September 2nd, 2016

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
— Mark Twain
 

My latest three-dimensional work, Good Morning, Mrs. Bradshaw, has been accepted for the new exhibition in the Kentucky Artisan Center at BereaHAVE A SEAT: Chairs by Kentucky Artisans. Gwen Heffner wears many hats at the Center, and she keeps coming up with strong ideas to showcase regional talent. She is not only an outstanding curator, but has become a significant catalyst for high-level artisanship in the Commonwealth. Her semi-annual calls for entry compel creative people across Kentucky to accept challenges they might not otherwise consider.

I chose the medium of collage to repurpose a child’s classroom chair that came into my possession as I debated with myself about whether this was a show I should enter. I was provoked to explore a time, not so long ago, when there was a well-understood line between what pupils should read and what they should not. Its vintage design took my imagination back to the earliest years of my public school education, with its sharp contrast between scholastic prescriptions and my personal interests.

“Dos and don’ts” have always been a part of the classroom, but times have changed. Nowadays, a youngster can find superhero stories and graphic novels in the school library. The goal was to capture what I remember as the tension that came with meeting an expectation of obedience to assignments, but always preferring to devote my attention to playful escapes. I decided to “resurface” the object with found material and mixed media — alphabetical specimens, printed text, game cards, book illustrations, calendar images, songbook fragments — plus colorful scrap from comic books and the Sunday funnies.
 

Good Morning, Mrs. Bradshaw
repurposed vintage classroom chair by J A Dixon
12 x 25 x 14 inches

Maximalism and Minimalism in Collage, part 6

August 26th, 2016

It would not be a mistake to put me in a category dedicated to “maximalism” in collage — the practice of adding more visual elements to achieve a balanced effect, in contrast to restricting a composition to a minimum of ingredients. Not that long ago I discovered the work of two maximalists when I happened upon an old blog post by fellow Kentucky collage artist Sharmon Davidson. I have never met the prolific Davidson, but it pleases me to find her concise survey of collage pioneers juxtaposed with examples of contemporary artists active in the medium. I have a high regard for collage artists who maintain a keen awareness of the history of mixed media. Her own work evokes for me the layerist tradition, and I especially like many of her miniatures. In addition to learning about Sharmon, her 2014 entry introduces me to Lance Letscher, a maximalist’s maximalist who also has been known to explore the spectrum’s opposite side with a minimalist approach. The widely exhibited Letscher is formerly a sculptor.
 

Sharmon Davidson
Her artwork emerges from the interplay of intention and intuition.

Lance Letcher
The spatial density of his designs exemplify a “maximalist” approach.

August 19th, 2016


 
It pleases me to announce that we shall open our studio and gallery to the public again during the first weekend of November. For more information, please visit our website or facebook page.
 
 
 
 
 
 

A book of knowledge, a life of imagination

August 12th, 2016

“The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
—Marcel Proust

Book of Knowledge endpapers, 1951
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Here are the illustrated endpapers and dust jacket from the 1951 edition of The Book of Knowledge set — my introduction to the concept of visual montage. These absurd juxtapositions compelled my first perceptual leap beyond the literal, and, to tell the truth, I don’t think that my innate creativity has been quite the same since. How far back can one trace these kinds of images? Did they precede collage and influence its development, or did they actually derive from the collage innovations of the early 1900s? At any rate, I was captivated by this particular painting and others like it. There is no doubt in my mind that a sweet obsession with the chaotic harmony of montage imagery began with childhood influences that came from unsung illustrators — such as the artist who came up with this extraordinary vision — long before I understood the visual mastery of a Fred Otnes, Bob Peak, or Paul Melia.

 

The Surreal Face, Part Two

August 5th, 2016

“If we adopt a surrealist viewpoint, art logically must be and naturally will tend to be surrealist, and thus be justifiable only in its ability to reveal the new, the ‘never seen,’ the parallel activity of thought and chance in consciousness.”
— Alan Gullette, 1979

You may recall, dear visitor, my June jaunt at this site into the staying power that “the surreal face” maintains in contemporary collage. I shall highlight a few more examples below. Old Mask II ~ John Stezaker ~ born 1949, Worcester, United KingdomWhen a distinct sub-genre of the medium intrigues me, as this one clearly does, I often attempt to “diagram its visual pedigree” through the history of modern art. This is not an easy task for a non-academic (nor one, perhaps, for a scholar). A “collage geneologist” can run the risk of getting sidetracked into Man Ray or René Magritte, only to question whether use of the word “surreal” is relevant at all. Does it make more sense to trace a connection from Picasso to Tatlin to Hausmann’s 1920 homage to the Russian Constructivist and thereby leap-frog André Breton’s “psychic automatism” entirely? As much as I love the history of collage, all that delineation is beyond the scope of your humble Collage Miniaturist. Pulcinella’s Secret ~ John Andrew DixonAskance ~ John Andrew DixonSuffice it to say that the gongs of Dada still reverberate. Ultimately, we are more concerned with a phenomenon that is alive and well among contemporary collage artists (and that long ago shed any musty trappings of Weimar Republic protest, Trotskyite dilettantism, or hostility toward religion). Even a cursory review of recent collage output exposes an enduring thread weaving its way through students, emerging professionals, veteran practitioners, and masters of the medium. Rather than muddy ourselves grubbing 20th-century roots, let us instead ask two important questions — What is the elusive essence of “the surreal face,” and why does its enduring appeal lack any sign of a downtrend?
 

Isabel Reitemeyer
Her consummate approach convinces me that less indeed can be more.

Robert Hugh Hunt
Fresh, intuitive, culturally aware. Robbo’s art springs from individuality.

Manu Duf
There is never a timid thing about his proficient approach to collage.

Eduardo Recife
The Brazilian illustrator sets a high standard for digital collage.

Erin Case
The Michigan-based artist is rapidly making her mark as a collage pro.

Claudia Pomowski
The versatile graphic artist is a “collage experimentalist.”

Jordana Mirski Fridman
This emerging designer/artist is “exploding” onto the medium.

Julia Lillard
The self-taught Oklahoma artist has nailed “the surreal face.”

Various and Sundry — Four Years and Counting . . .

July 29th, 2016

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
— Flannery O’Connor

It looks as though I’m stepping into my fifth year writing about collage at this blogsite, and I hope that you’ve been with me for part of that enjoyable ride.

When I look back at my wish list for Year Four, I realize, not with any surprise, that my appetite for creating collage artwork has eclipsed a sometimes equally strong desire to delve verbally into the many interesting aspects of the medium. I would like to think that I met a few of the writing goals I set for myself last summer, and, of course, my ambitions to add to that list here in this post will be dutifully curbed. At any rate, I think that the best thing to do is to break this entry into a few parts that cover various and sundry topics on my mind.

The Social Network of Collage Artists
• For at least a couple of years I have wanted to write more about the influence of social media. Nearly every day I see a collage artist defeat the potential of a sharing platform with overexposure. Some may disagree and say, “the more, the merrier.” That is not a point I care to debate, because there may be something else to highlight more important than whether or not the quality-vs-quantity consideration can fall to the wayside — the vital role of networking among artists. I am more convinced than ever that the cross-pollination and mutual support of online networks has been of significant benefit to those of us working in the medium. Crystal Neubauer has one of the more interesting blogsites by a collage artist. She touched on the topic of creative communities so well that I direct you to her short essay at ClothPaperScissors.com. Another collage artist I admire who has recently made an impression as a strong blogger is Melinda Tidwell. I like her process-oriented posts. Although more of a mixed-media artist rather than a conventional collage practitioner, the versatile Kathleen O‘Brien maintains a steady flow of what I consider “must-read” entries at her studio blogsite. Create your own list of frequent art-blog destinations and branch out to new sharing platforms (I just learned about some new artist blogs from Caterina Giglio and opened a new account at Instagram.). As the entire evolving array of networking sites weeds out the fads, imitators and clunky interfaces (finding it difficult to tolerate LinkedIn as a user), you will settle into a community of online cohorts who reinforce your daily challenges as a creative person. When you come to know that someone else is on “the same wavelength,” reach out and make contact as an authentic being behind the profile. There are rewards to be discovered!

Cheap Collage Tricks
• Collage artist Allan Bealy seems to be everywhere, but, trust me, he is no gadfly. He recently raised a topic that struck a nerve with many. There are a lot of cheap tricks appearing in the medium, and most of them are harmless, if unimaginative, but the temptation to exploit visual ingredients readily available in our culture to “objectify women” is perhaps the most repugnant. Those of us who believe we are above that sort of thing need to think more deeply about how and why we use nudes in a collage. This suggests another potential self-assignment for my coming year — a “DON’T DO THIS” post illustrating the most prevalent cheap tricks in collage. (Not that there’s anything wrong with replacing a man’s head with a vulture to carry the banner of Dada during the art movement’s centennial year.) To be honest, I have nothing against a cliche, if it “works.” Isn’t that the reason something becomes a cliche in the first place? I say go for the cheap trick if you can score in the highest percentile (anyone who thinks that’s an easy thing to is wrong). I hope to post a follow-up look at the endurance of the surreal face in collage, so stay tuned. But let’s get back to Allan’s remonstrance. The woman as sex object can be traced back to long before the rise of Madison Avenue and Larry Flynt. Don’t bite the lure, folks. Everything one needs to dabble in this unworthy stunt abounds. Nevertheless, I long have been fascinated with the exemplars of erotic minimalism and their work in contemporary collage — those who transcend the cheap tricks to achieve a fine-art impression. Add another one to my wish list for Year Five of The Collage Miniaturist.

Priorities Get the Last Word
• My wife, Dana, and I managed to get two tickets to The Seer (a new documentary portrait of Kentuckian Wendell Berry) before the Lexington screening sold out last night. It is a significant film that will become more widely available into next year, and it has my highest recommendation. Does it have anything to do with collage? Nothing at all, except for everything under the sun. If you haven’t discovered the poet, novelist, essayist, and farmer-philosopher, I have accomplished one meaningful thing with this site by inviting your interest. It was fitting that I got out of the studio and spent time at our farm. It was very hot work up on the shed roof, but pleasant to be away from all the noise (traffic, sirens, and incessant political jousting). Connecting with our rural place offered an opportunity, as it always does, to put priorities back into alignment. There is a place in the documentary when Laura Dunn (the filmmaker in voice-over) explains to Berry her motivation and how she looks “to places where there is still a remnant of togetherness, or unity, or community, of connection to the land, and I study those, because I don’t come from a place — I come from divorce …”
      “We all come from divorce!” her subject interrupts. “This is an age of divorce. Things that belong together have been taken apart. And you can’t put it all back together again. What you can do, is the only thing that you can do. You take two things that ought to be together and you put them together. Two things! Not all things.” It is his metaphor for the creative life, and a tremendously healing admonition to those of us with a tendency to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the world’s chaotic disintegration. Collage artists put things together to make something new, and often we are the ones who have taken apart discarded things to do it, but there is always a much larger phenomenon at work — one of discord vs harmony, wastefulness vs thrift, cynicism vs affection. When I return to the studio from a natural place that has responded to my care, I am in a better condition to ask myself, “To which side of the big equation are you making your contribution as an artist?”
 

Crystal Neubauer
Her blogging often touches on the complexity of a creative life.

Melinda Tidwell
Perhaps you will admire her solid abstractions as much as I do.

Kathleen O’Brien
Her art always nudges one toward a deeper sense of balance and wholeness.

Robert Hugh Hunt
Stay tuned for a continuation of my review of “the surreal face.”

Bene Rohlmann
Look ahead to my first discussion of erotic minimalism in collage.

John’s Haus of Cards ~ three series

July 22nd, 2016

“When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.”
— Mark Twain

My card-making activity stretches back before intact memories. How early? Press me too hard and you might hear me claim that I started before learning to write my name.

Currently, my crafted greetings tend to fall into one of three categories:

Series Alpha combines scrap letters, often with traditional hand lettering arts.

Series Omega features my conventional collage technique, applied directly to the folded card.

Series Pi attaches an ultra-miniature dimensional collage to the card, like a little square-cut slice of “Pizza Pi.”
 

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Pi, collection of E E Smith

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Omega, collection of G Zeitz

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Pi, collection of J D A Wood

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Alpha, collection of T Strock

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Omega, collection of R W Breidenbach

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Pi, collection of W W Bates