Abstract Collage: Creating Compositions with Tissue Paper | Jane Davies | Skillshare

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Abstract Collage: Creating Compositions with Tissue Paper

teacher avatar Jane Davies, Artist

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Class Project


    • 3.



    • 4.

      Painting Tissue Paper


    • 5.

      Adding Yellow


    • 6.



    • 7.



    • 8.



    • 9.

      Bonus Techniques


    • 10.

      Cropping & Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Composition is perhaps the most elusive aspect of abstract painting. Since there is no specific object depicted in an abstract piece, composition — the way the elements work together on the canvas or page — takes a central role.

In this class I want to demystify some of the main components of abstract composition, making it accessible to anyone. Whether you are a representational painter or illustrator, or new to visual art, these concepts are essential to making strong work. The simplicity of the technique and format give you a way to play with the concepts in a direct and non-intimidating way, even if you have never painted.

This class is appropriate for beginners as well as experienced painters/artists. If you have painting experience, the techniques will be easy, but you will learn to see abstract composition in a new way.

Materials you will need:

  • Acrylic paint - professional quality, but not large quantity
  • Brushes
  • Tissue paper
  • Palette paper or freezer paper
  • Acrylic matte medium
  • Bristol or other heavy smooth paper; and a separate palette
  • Scissors

Meet Your Teacher

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Jane Davies


Level: All Levels

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1. Introduction: Hi, I'm Jane Davies and I'm an abstract painter, a teacher, and a writer. And I'm teaching this class on composition, which seems to be a more elusive aspect of painting. Composition is simply the sum total of the visual elements in a painting. So I think of it as the total visual content. So it's not the emotional content, it's not the expression, it's not what the painting depicts. It's the shapes, lines, colors, and how they're placed on the canvas or the page with respect to each other. In abstract painting, composition takes a more central role than perhaps it does in representational painting only because it's not depicting a specific object or scene. It is however important to the strength of any painting or illustration, whether it's abstract or representational. I'm excited to teach this class because I think I can demystify a few aspects of composition which will make you more sensitive to it and be able to articulate your ideas a little more clearly. Whether you're an experienced painter or new to visual art, you'll be able to tackle this class. The techniques I introduce are accessible to all and you'll be able to really focus on composition. So let's get started. 2. Class Project: The project for this class is a composition or a series of compositions done in tissue paper collage. I hope you enjoy it. I designed this project to limit the compositional variables, so that we can focus on just three main aspects. One is value that is light to dark, very light, very dark everything in between. We don't have a lot of colors to play with we're just using earth tones, so limiting the color means we can focus on value. Another aspect we're going to be focused on is scale, and that means the size of your elements relative to the substrate. We have teeny tiny, all the way up to huge and because all the shapes are similar, we can focus on scale. The third aspect that will be focused on is the arrangement of elements. You will be able to explore how you can cluster them, spread them out, and have them relate to the edge of the page in different ways. Another aspect of this project that makes it a good fit for learning composition is the material itself. Painted tissue paper is just gorgeous, you get this beautiful texture without a whole lot of technical expertise as a simple technique, it's really accessible and yet you get this gorgeous material. No matter how you put it together and you're going to make a beautiful piece. To get the most out of this class, I suggest you do at least three composition so that you can really explore the range of possibilities. 3. Supplies : In this video, I'm going to go over the supplies you'll need for this class. And you can also download the supply list with links to sources. For the paints in this class you'll need Nickel Azo gold. Payne's Grey. Bone Black, which is a transparent black. And optional is a yellow that's transparent. This Indian Yellow Hue's terrific. There's also a Nickel Azo Yellow that's also transparent, little different in color. And I recommend the GOLDEN Fluid Acrylics for these colors. They're really high pigment content, and we're going to be diluting them quite a bit, so that's important. You'll also be needing a palette for mixing the paints and I'm using a 9x12 disposable palate. Also, a palette for laying out your tissue paper. For this, I use a 12x16 palette. Any white tissue paper will do but I recommend this Blick tissue paper. It comes in 12x18 sheets, which is a really nice size to work with. Water. Brushes. I use these flat brushes, a three quarter inch and a half inch brush. A pad of 9x12 Bristol paper or something comparable. This is 270 GSM, which is Grams per Square Meter. So it's heavier than cardstock. It's about the weight of a watercolor paper, but it's got a very smooth surface. Matte medium, we use this for the adhesive and the top coat in collage. It comes in tubes, also, these gallon buckets, but several sizes in between as well. I recommend the Utrecht-brand because it works really well for collage. Scissors and two L-shaped pieces of matboard. So that we can kind of crop the image. A couple of optional supplies include this catalyst wedge or something like it. We use it as a squeegee and collage and it really makes it super smooth.You can also use a credit card or something like that. For a couple of bonus techniques, a toothbrush for spattering paint, and a micron pen or other fine tip felt pen for adding line work to your collage. For a really successful project, it's important to use high-quality paint with a lot of pigment. We dilute the paint quite a bit so that part is important. Also the paper that you use to collage on, the Bristol that I'm recommending, get something that's reasonably heavyweight and very smooth. If you use cheap drawing paper or lightweight copy paper or something like that, it'll wrinkle and it'll really wreck your project. So those are the supplies you'll need. And again, you can download the supply list and look at the links for sources. So once we have all your supplies together, we're ready to begin. We'll start by painting tissue paper. 4. Painting Tissue Paper: In this video, we're going to paint the tissue paper. I'll show you how to mix colors and mix the paint with water to create a really beautiful range of values, that's light to dark in a range of earth tones and muted colors. For this lesson, you'll need Payne's gray, bone black, and quinacridone nickel azo gold paint. You'll need a brush or two, your bucket of water, and both palettes in both sizes, and of course, your tissue paper. First, I'm going to pour the paints out on the palette. I have quinacridone gold, Payne's gray, and this bone black. Then I'm going to put a sheet of tissue paper out on this 12 by 16 palette. So It overhangs just a couple of inches, I'm just going to paint down to here, then I'll get some water onto my palette, the quinacridone gold. First, I'm going to go for the really light values, so barely any pain at all. Then to that, I'm going to add a little bit of the bone black. I'm just mixing these colors improvisationally, getting different combinations, or different ratios of the three. You can see that it gets a little more of a deeper, kind of a duller brown. This time I'm going to add water just to the bone black, see if I can get a really light gray. So you'll notice some of the texture beginning to develop in the tissue paper, and that's a characteristic of this technique. Now, I'm going to try a little quin gold with the Payne's gray. That gets almost a greenish color. Oh, let's see. Maybe not really green. Mixing more water in here, again, to get the really light values. It's easiest to get median values, I'd say this is darker than these. [inaudible] really pay attention to get the very light values. These will dry a little bit lighter than they look wet. So more paint, less water will create the darker values. More water, less paint will create the lighter values. Now, you need to mix enough water with the paint so that it flows nicely on the tissue paper. Now, I'm going to let this dry completely on this sheet of palette paper. I'm going to take it off the pad and put it aside to dry while I work on another one. I'm going to do another sheet. This time I'm going to start with the very dark values and go to some very light values. Let's see. Same colors here. I got the Payne's gray, add a little quin gold, little of the bone black. These aren't straight up. There's a little water, there's just enough water to allow the paint to flow really easily on the tissue paper. But those will dry to fairly dark values. I'll add a little more paint here. Here's a few more mid-value colors. This should give us a nice variety of color within this narrow range of earth tones, as well as the light to dark values. [MUSIC] There. Now it's time to take this off the pad and let it dry. I'm going to use up the paint on my palette by just making another sheet. You can make as many as you like. Just remember that the colors dry a little bit lighter than you see them on the paper as you're painting. The point is to get as broad a range of values as you possibly can with just these colors and water. Secondarily, go for a range of color like that, and that, and that, and all the different versions of them. Also, remember to let the tissue paper dry completely on the palette before removing it. Remember that we're making material for collage, so we're not trying to paint a picture here, we're just trying to get parts that we can cut out into ovals and circles that will be different values, light, medium, and dark; and in as wide a range of color as we can get from this limited number of paints. So don't fall in love with the image, don't agonize over it. If you've got light areas, medium areas, and some dark areas, and you can see a palette of earth tones, then you've done it right. Once your tissue paper is completely dry, you can take it off of the pallet paper, and this should be fairly easy. Still, be just a little careful because it is delicate material. See how little paint was left on the pallet paper. You can reuse the pallet paper. You might get a little bit of these specs of paint in your next sheet, but that might just add a little texture. Just to show you the difference, here's one that's still wet. If I try to peel the tissue paper up now, you'll see how much paint is left on the pallet, so that paint it's not going into the tissue paper, so it's just kind of wastage. [ MUSIC ] 5. Adding Yellow: I'm going to paint another sheet of tissue paper, but this time I'm going to add Indian yellow hue. And that's in addition to the Quinacridone gold, Bone black, and Payne's gray. Yellow does sort of an interesting thing when mixed with black. It kind of turns to green. So let me show you that. Here's the yellow, add a little bit of the bone black, deep yellow, see it starts to get greenish. That can add a little more to your variety of color. Now, if I mix that with the Payne's gray, it does really start to look green. They're kind of earthy olive green. Again, with this, we will focus on getting a range of values. Really light here. So I made the yellow optional. Just because I really like working with a minimum number of colors and seeing how much you can get, how much variety you can get just from the three. But if you have it on hand or you want to purchase another color, a yellow is great. Because you can get a really good variety of greens, between the Payne's gray and yellow, and also the black and yellow. Unlike many colors, if you mix yellow with black rather than getting deep yellow, you get kind of a greenish. This is the Indian yellow hue that I'm recommending. An alternative I've mentioned as nickel azo yellow. The important part of choosing your yellow here is that it'll be a transparent yellow. These two are really beautifully transparent. So I'm just going to do a little test here. Let's mix the Indian yellow hue, with a little bone black. I was getting kind of a greenish-brown. Okay. And then let's try the nickel azo yellow. That's more distinctively green. Definitely an olive green there. So either one of these yellows could add to your set of paints, and just broaden the palette you can achieve. And still stay within this kind of neutral, muted earth tone palette. [MUSIC] 6. Scale: In this video, we're going to talk about scale. That is size of the elements that you're putting in your tissue paper collage. For this part of the project, all you need are your painted tissue papers and your scissors. Basically we're just cutting out shapes. We're restricting this project to sort of oval, circle, round rock shapes. So you can have some straight edges, some points on them, but for the most part, they fall into this category of oval, circle or rock shape. What we're after here is not only a variety of sizes, but within each size, little bit of variety within that shape. The oval or circle and a wide variety of values. Here, that's kind of on the larger side of medium and it's a very light value. When we're considering scale it's with respect to the size of the substrate. so here we've got a light slightly larger than medium. We'll call that large. We'll call that medium in a slightly darker value. We'll call that small, that is tiny, that's definitely large. Then I like to make an extra large or huge size like that. So we've got huge, large, sort of medium large, medium, small and tiny. I'm going to leave these in front of me for reference while I cut pieces approximately these sizes and then get pieces in each of those sizes in a variety of values and also the variety that I can get within this color range. I find that if I don't really pay attention to getting a variety of size and a variety of value, I tend to make my shapes all fairly similar in size and mostly mid value. I'll just keep going until I have every size category in a variety of values. One thing that can be useful is to create more in the tiny and small categories then in the medium, large and huge categories, because generally you may use more of them in a composition. I think of sizes in terms of small, medium, large, tiny and huge. That just makes it so that I have a pretty good variety. It doesn't mean that all the small ones are the same size or all the large ones. 7. Composing: Remember, composition is the elements you're working with and their arrangement on the page or the canvas or whatever substrate you are using. So now that we've created the elements, we can begin to arrange them. The arrangement of elements on the page just means where are they and how close or far away are they from each other, and from the edges of the page. There's no one correct way to do it. There's just playing with it, exploring it and then noticing. So if these are the elements I'm playing with, I could cluster them all in the center. Stack them like this. I could have them all touching. That's one kind of arrangement. I could space them out and still have them kind of in a line. I could arrange them largest to smallest. I could toss them all kind of evenly around the page. I could sort of put them in a circle is what I'm thinking here. If I swapped this out for a smaller one, it might read more as kind of a circle. I could have some of the elements overlapping the edge, which means then I would cut that off. But it's still reads as an element of that shape and size. I could have a couple elements touching a few of them here and the rest spread out. So these are all different ways to arrange the elements on the page. There's no one right way to do it. You can see, you can play around. One pair of terms that might be useful is positive space and negative space. We think of the spot, the positive space as the elements themselves. The negative space in this case is the white area around them. So it's like figure ground relationships. This is the figure, this is the ground. I've got these elements arranged on the substrate, the nine by 12 sheet of Bristol. It doesn't look too exciting. That could be because all of the shapes are the same size. Another aspect of the shapes is that they're all very similar in value. There's a little bit of color variation, but they're all this pretty light value. So what if I swap out a darker value for one of the shapes? Then your icon goes there because one of these things is not like the others and it's this one. Another thing I could do is swap out pieces of different sizes, like this. Then we have real similar distances between many of them. Here it's a little closer, here it's a little further away. So what if we cluster a few of them? then let that one float out in space. So we can go for maximal variety here, and that's one way to make your piece a little more interesting. So variety, we're looking at scale and we're looking at value. Then in the arrangement, we're looking for different ways that the individual elements relate to each other. Are they touching or they overlapping? Doing this as you are playing around with these arrangements, how the whitespace is just as important as the elements themselves. So the positive space, the elements and the negative space are equally important. If you just fill up the whole space and have very little whitespace, that's a very different kind of expression. Okay, so here you can see the negative spaces are playing an equal role and that they form little shapes themselves. But if I completely obliterate the white, it begins to get visually confusing. So one consideration as you're exploring these various arrangements is how much whitespace? What shape do I want to give that breathing room? Do I want it all in one place? So that all the elements are clustered and all the breathing room is up here. Do I want it divided? So there's breathing room here and here, kind of equally. Do I want it divided unequally? Little breathing room here, a little bit here, most of it over here. So you can play around with that. Remember to consider the white space or negative space when you're composing and take photos of the various arrangements for reference. There are, as you can see, infinite possibilities for the arrangement of the elements. So don't search for the correct one. Remember, there's not a correct one. There's only what you respond to, what you don't, what you find interesting and what you find boring. Notice your response to the different arrangements and choose a few possibilities for collage. Consider the pieces that you choose for collage, it's just a few examples of infinite possibilities. Don't get too precious about them. But please feel free to post your audition pieces, the ones that are not glued down, just photos. In the next lesson, we'll be collaging the tissue paper down to the Bristol. You can follow one of your examples from a photo if you like. I recommend having one or two of your photos handy, but kind of improvising, making it up as you go along. 8. Collage: In this video, we're going to collage the shapes to the Bristol. It's a simple technique but we're going to go over every aspect of it. All you need for this is your shapes. I've got some laid out here. I also have a whole bunch of others. Your acrylic matte medium. You can either have that poured out in a jar or in a tube. If you're using it from the tube, you'll want to squeeze that out on the palette or a paper plate. You'll need a brush and if you have this catalyst wedge, this is a great tool to use, otherwise, a credit card will be just as useful. It's helpful to have a couple of paper towels handy as well. So here's how you do it. I'm just going to put those aside for now and just as I recommended in the previous video, I'm going to just do this in an improvisational manner. So first the matte medium goes on the substrate and the piece, I know it's this. This is the size of the piece I'm putting down so I'm going to put the matte medium to reach beyond the edges of the collage piece, then I'll put the collage piece down, matte medium over that and then you can use your finger to squeeze out any air bubbles. But this is where this catalyst wedge or a credit card comes in handy. You can use it like a squeegee and what that does is, it gets out wrinkles or bubbles or anything under the tissue paper, but it also kind of takes up the excess matte medium and you can save that if you'd like, or wipe it with a paper towel. If there is any more excess here, you can just wipe that up with a paper towel too. So then the next piece, the matte medium goes down on the substrate. The next piece goes down and then matte medium over that. Take your time with the collage process. Sloppy collage really can ruin an otherwise beautiful piece, so slowdown. There comes a point where you can kind of agonize over where to put a piece. The first few are easy, and then it slows down. Should I put this here? Or should I put it here? That's the time to stop yourself and just make a decision. It could go here, it could go here. I could use a completely different piece. But if I want to use this piece and I'm wondering, does it go here? Does it go there? Does it go here? I give myself like three tries. Like once I've done one, two, three, then I just have to put it down. Get the dog here out of there. What I'm noticing here is, is it touching here? Touching here? Not touching here? Is it touching all three? Again, there's not a right answer, it just these are the things to notice. Is it dead center? Is it a different distance here than it is here? These are the things I'm noticing. I'll call that it. So just to review the process, the matte medium goes on the substrate, not on the back of the collage piece and then the matte medium goes on top of the collage piece and then you squeegee it out and mop up any excess and remember that you don't have to plan the whole thing out before beginning the collage. Allow yourself to play and improvise. I suggest you do several of these before going onto the bonus techniques and feel free to post your works in process. 9. Bonus Techniques: This first technique involves adding line work. I've got this really fine micron pen. I could add lines or I could create shapes with lines. I think what I'm going to do here is just add a few more of these same shapes, but making them with line. Another way to add line to your composition is to first cut a stencil on a piece of cheap drawing paper or copy paper. My favorite way to get that started. What I'm going to do is cut a stencil of a shape that's really similar to the shapes that are on our collages. You can also use a craft knife for that, but I just like this scissor technique. I'm going to take this composition and add a shape to it. I put the stencil on the piece and then I'm just going to draw a series of parallel lines that will read as a shape. Get the reading glasses out. I say these are parallel lines. They're a little bit wiggly. I'm doing that on purpose. You can get out a ruler and really make straight lines if you wanted but I really like this slightly organic look. See how that looks. It has the aspect of kind of a transparent shape because you can see the piece behind it. This next technique is spattering with a toothbrush. I'm going to use the bone black that we used to paint tissue paper, but it's a technique that also is great with white paint. I pour a little bit out on the palette. I want to mix just enough water with it so that it will spatter, so it's watery but not too diluted. It's another argument for getting really good high pigmented paint. I get the toothbrush fairly saturated here. I hold the toothbrush like this and rub my thumb left to right as I'm holding it perpendicular. Actually, the toothbrush parallel to the substrate. This gives you quite a bit of control over the amount of paint you're spattering. It doesn't take much to add quite a different element to the piece. I'm going to call that A. Although, you could use any color of pen or any color of paint, I recommend sticking with black or brown or with the paint. If you have white paint, you could try that. Leaving color out of the equation really allows you to focus on the quality of line and the contrast between the spattering, which is very airy and the solidity of your shapes. These techniques of adding line and adding a little spattering to your compositions can turn a fairly simple arrangement into something much more dynamic. 10. Cropping & Final Thoughts: So once you have a composition that you are pleased with or, even whether you aren't pleased with. You can use these L shaped pieces of mat board to crop it slightly or dramatically. That's like taking a rectangle that's just slightly smaller than the composition and just moving it around a bit so you can change the relationships you've setup. So if we look at the composition like this, then take a look at the bottom element here. What if we make that overlap even more with the edge? Or what if we close in this left side so that more of those elements are touching the edge or the top here. Instead of having that large element just hover away from the edge, we can make it touch the top edge or even overlap the top edge more. So this is just a fun tool to play with your composition. I recommend that you just play with this and take photos of your piece with different kinds of cropping. You can either do it rather dramatically like this, change the whole format. So just have fun with that. So with this tool and taking pictures, you could create a whole library of possible compositions for future inspiration. I hope the tools you gained here will give you confidence in your further explorations. Thanks again for joining me on skill share. I'll see you next time.