Alexandra Sheldon

3 Steps Collage/Making a Soup/Tones

Alexandra SheldonComment

Dear Marsha,

Okay, so last night was our third class. Because everything is such a giant struggle right now with all the snow we only had four people. Last week (class#2) I had everyone paint (using acrylic paint watered down to the consistency of heavy cream) atmospheric grounds: painting creams and soft greens and browns (all colors, though subdued, like clouds, air, sky) on plain white sketch paper - doing that printing thing a little of folding the paper over on itself to make little veils of colors. We also did a small amount of transfers from magazines but subtly with the aim of making an atmospheric ground, a beautiful broth. I am making many comparisons to the metaphor of a big soup: you have the broth (atmospheric, light, color ground).  Next you add the stuff: peas, carrots, celery, pasta, beans: imagery, geometric shapes, structure, grids, abstract or not (doesn't matter - I treat abstraction and image-oriented material the same way). The last step is seasoning; salt and pepper, herbs perhaps: drips and splatters, painted dots, finishing touches.

Of course it can be absurd to assign to art-making a formula but we teachers do it all the time. Because it's so helpful to have some limitations. So I tell people to veer off if they get the urge. I notice that certain people love steps. Step 1.  Step 2.  Step 3. This week end I am doing a workshop called "3 Steps Collage" as a matter of fact.

Last night I talked at length about TONES. Way back in art school I used to have to do these black and white still life drawings where everything had to be different gradations of tone. The darkest black and the lightest white with all the shades of grey in between. And I'm not referring to that dreadful book. This exercise was really valuable because I learned that colors also have levels of tones. The art school exercise was done in black and white and grey to simplify the entire concept of tone. When we graduated to tonal studies in color we were reminded to imagine putting on special glasses that would render all color in black and white.  If a collage looks a little dead notice if all the colors have a similiar tone. Look at your piece and see if it has a variety of deep darks and bright lights, notice if it is atonal (this might not be dictionary correct but I'm thinking of 'atonal' as tones all similar and therefore creating a kind of sameness, flatness, deadness). From my days and years actually as a landscape and still life painter I remember well my searching for the darkest darks and lightest lights in my compositions. While making your collages see if they need more variety of tone. As with everything concerning art: there are no rules. You may want a pastel, soft piece, with no deep darks or bright lights. But lately I am noticing that there is often a sameness in people's colors and I think tone is the problem.

See you next week,
Alexandra