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Montage

The way that I make my pictures is by cutting up, with scissors, printed paper images from source materials; I then combine these elements, by arranging them on card, and finally, glue them into position, so as to form a completely new picture.

I do all my artwork by hand, and never use digital manipulation.

I need lots of tempting source materials for these printed images, such as leaflets, from historical houses or museums or art galleries; catalogues; sometimes newspapers or magazines; even books. These are all paper, or very occasionally, think card. I much prefer high print quality, and this makes a big difference to the sort of image which I can create.

When I begin a picture, I look out all sorts of images from my store of those which I have previously cut out, any which take my fancy! I never begin with a plan of how the picture will look. I have no idea how it will turn out myself!

These images I lay out on the table, and I then choose a colour of card. Normally, I work on A4 scale. In practice, I often cut up further the picture elements which I have already cut out. This means that I might use a hand or eye from an image of a figure, or I might use only the body with no head. Sometimes, I cut out a piece, simply depending on colour and shape, such as part of the backdrop from an old oil painting.

I am very careful not to use too much of one source, or at least, not too much of one piece of one source. This I regard as plagiarism, and my new picture must be substantially different from my source. However, I do sometimes cut several pieces from one picture, providing that I recut or rearrange them so considerably, in combination with other pieces, that the result is quite new.

The colours of the potential sources which I have on the table in front of me are important. I can see what colour goes with what, and perhaps introduce a sympathetic colour for element into my picture from another source. Sometimes, I am lucky, and the colour of the card which I have chosen, and my images work right away; sometimes, I have to choose a new piece of card for the backing.

The coloured card which I use is A4 size, with a slight texture. I liken it to a small canvas.

When it comes to assembling the images, or, indeed, parts of images, on the card, I place them on by hand and move them around carefully, sometimes using my fingers, and very often using a pair of tweezers. I can leave the images the right way up, or turn them around too. If my arrangement doesn’t work, then nothing is lost, except my time and energy! I can take off the images and start again. This is quite normal when I am making a new picture. Sometimes, a picture can begin to emerge, but not quite cohere, so I think of this as a sketch, and I try again.

I usually get a sense of when a picture is working, by how tightly and fluently the little printed pieces cohere into a new element on the card. The colour must signify too. I often but not always create a picture which has more than one discrete element, perhaps two, or three, or four components in total. I am never tempted to fill in the blank areas of card, perhaps with a backdrop. These empty areas around the picture components seem to be important.

In the end, if I am lucky, I will have created a little world in my picture on the card, with jewel-like elements, holding together in their composition.

However, this is only part of the process! I cannot leave my paper scraps sitting on top of the A4 card forever, as they will shift or flutter away sooner or later. To finish the picture, I need to glue the little pieces into position, on the card.

The picture in the photo at the top of this post has not yet been glued. If you look carefully, you can see that some of the little printed pieces lift slightly where they sit balanced on the card. This in fact means that once they have been glued, and flattened, they will never look precisely the same.

Before I begin to glue up, I photo my picture, and print out the photo, so that in the case of mishap, I can reconstruct what I made. I don’t know if early twentieth century montagists did this. To glue, I use a glue pen with glue which is repositionable; that way, I can shift the pieces slightly if necessary. The glue will still be tacky the next day. Before I start, I also cut out plain paper tabs from sheets of A4 paper, about two to five cm long and a half to one and a half thick. These are what I use to carry the glue. I invented this way of glueing myself quite early on. I do not know exactly how early montage artists did this part of the process.

Finally, I am ready to begin. This glueing stage is a trial of nerves, because I have in front of me a complete picture which I want to preserve, but which cannot be preserved unless I glue the pieces successfully. The little pieces on the card may lie one on top of another, creating layers which need to be recreated; even if not, their position on the card is important. Also important are all the little alignments of the tiny pieces. If you look at some of my pictures, you might be able to see this.

What I generally do is to choose a piece which looks like it might not move around too much. Then, I apply the glue pen to a paper tab, loading it with what I hope is just the right amount. I hold down the picture piece which is to be glued with either the sharp or the reverse end of my tweezers in one hand, and then gently slide the gluey tab under the picture piece with the other hand. If this works, and the piece stays where it is, then I press down where on the image I have glued, with my fingers or with the reverse end of the tweezers. If the piece moves around during this process, then I need to reposition it, with the help of my photo; if it moves out of position, and so do several other pieces, then I need to reposition the whole lot!

Once I get edges of glue under some of the images, I become more heartened. It is important to try to get enough glue under the paper pieces and not tack them down only, otherwise they will shift in the long run. So, sometimes, I just lift a piece off, glue it, and then position it. With layers of pieces, there is no alternative but to lift off the top pieces before glueing underneath.

The glue is colourless when dry, but you do have to be careful not to get excess glue on the card, as it will show slightly. Also, it is important not to damage one of the paper pieces, by glueing it too much or by pulling it off and repositioning it repeatedly. You can get away with a little repositioning. Ideally, I want my pictures to be very flat and smooth; I am not aiming for a textured effect at all.

Glueing sounds painstaking, and it is, but I find that I can glue up a whole picture in a day. Then I leave the picture aside to dry for a day or two, sign the back, and finally frame the card with the glued picture on it.