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how are collage poems made?

"how do you make your collage poems?"
this is not an uncommon question. on the one hand, it's simple: i cut out lines & rearrange them. it's as simple & difficult as that.

but if you want to know more about what goes into a final piece of art you can hold in your hand, keep reading 😘

first, i select source material. for me, this needs to be something i've read & with which i have a personal connection. (only under special circumstances will i cut from something outside these parameters, for example when i made a series of poems from a local newspaper for an art show celebrating the local art scene.) i write more for my patrons on patreon about each book i use as source material, why i chose it, what i like about it, etc. 

[some books in my cutting stack.]

then i go through it & collect lines. using an exacto knife, i slide a piece of cardboard between the pages and get to work. (i often do this in public places which can lead to funny conversations.) i don't hunt for something specific as i cut -- i'm just browsing for phrases that pop out at me, phrases that feel like they'd go well with something else later. i try not to overthink it, & to just settle into a bit of a flow. this step is great to do when i'm tired or not feeling particularly Creative. it's still productive (and is, in fact, a super necessary step) but doesn't require much effort or focus. 

 over time, i've collected a large number of lines from different source material. at first, i've had a number of ways to collect & store them, & i've iterated on my process over time. right now i use small tins, & they work excellently. i store lines by book, so that i can reference the source material in the finished pieces. (i'll have another post soon about the iteration of this storage system, because it actually took me quite a bit to get it where it is now.) 

 

[sitting at my cutting table with some tea and my exacto knife.]

another necessary part of the process is making backgrounds. my backgrounds are usually painted pieces of paper. i was using postal labels for a while, in street art tradition, but i'm moving more toward mounting them on nice watercolor paper, so it's easy for folks to hang them. or they go right onto the original prep sheets for the monthly zines that i send out to y'all! (someday maybe i'll do something with the zine layout originals, but for now they are just tucked away.) 

i'll spend an hour or two painting a pile of papers that i can set aside in preparation for future use. this is another good "i want to make something but don't really have the energy or spark for making poems right now" activity.

 

[paints and encyclopedia pages ready to go for a morning of background painting]

finally it's time to actually make the poems. i grab all my tins & start pulling lines out that strike me at the time. i lay them across my cutting mat, arranging and rearranging the phrases until the click just so. i'll take photos during this process, collecting works in progress to share. (this is where a lot of the photos for social media come from.)

[my setup to make collage poems on the floor of an AirBnb in philadelphia, summer of 2019]

 then when a poem finally feels right, i either set it aside to be glued later, or glue it onto a painted background right away! (often i take photos along the way while a poem is in progress, because it can be interesting to make other art with the fragments of poems, and i like to share these on social media.)

[like this poem, glued onto a painted postal label, and photographed in hawai'i in spring 2019]

there are lots of other details, but this is my general process. i'll share more about different areas of the process in future posts, including how i get from a physical collage poem to products like stickers, mugs, t-shirts, art prints, etc. are there are questions you have or parts you're curious about? surprised by? let me know!

with love,
riles

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