Iron - Abstract Sketch Inspired by Billboards

Iron, mixed media on cardboard, 6 x 8 inches, 2007 by Sarah Atlee. Iron, mixed media on cardboard, 6 x 8 inches, 2007 by Sarah Atlee. Some rights reserved.

I made this collage sketch in preparation for the Signs portion of the Normal, OK exhibit in 2008. See more of these collages in this Flickr set.

Pulling out the albums

Revisiting my older works is a great way for me to take a look at the journey I've taken over the years. I'd like to share some works from the archives here that might not be featured in the Images section of this site. Watch for these in the coming weeks.

Illustration Friday: Blur

Whatcher Yennough, Patron Saint of First Impressions, acrylic and collage on found plywood, 2009 by Sarah Atlee. Click image to view source.
Whatcher Yennough, Patron Saint of First Impressions, acrylic and collage on found plywood, 2009. (Detail view.) Click image to view source.

He's, I don't know, maybe medium-sized, you know, average height, with short brown hair. I think he wears glasses. Eyes? Maybe bluish-brownish. Kinda dark, but, you know, not like dark dark. He was kinda funny-lookin'.

Whatcher is available at aka gallery in Oklahoma City. Detail views here and here.

Carrie Ann Baade Interview at Hi Fructose

Wedding Portrait of Madam Himmelblau, oil on panel, 2005 by Carrie Ann Baade
Wedding Portrait of Madam Himmelblau, oil on panel, 2005 by Carrie Ann Baade. Click image to view source. This painting is from the Secret Lives of Portraits series.

via Right Some Good.

The Hi Fructose blog is featuring an exclusing interview with contemporary pop baroque painter Carrie Ann Baade. Reading Baade's description of her working process, I found that she uses collage as a sketching method, just like I do! Quote:

The spark of the muse that could be called intuition is present when I make the collage for my work. I begin this process by covering the first floor of my house in photos and ripped out pages from books. After the floor is covered I walk around looking for images that fell on top of each other in an interesting manner…this is similar to reading tealeaves. Often I will have a question in mind while diving into the piles of picture images, such as, “What can I say about the horrors of dating in Tallahassee.” This process reminds me of reading tarot cards and getting an answer through the cards that can sometimes be uncannily accurate. Looking for the divine spark to speak to me through these images, I collect and adhere together with cellophane tape to paint later. I know something is really working if I involuntarily laugh aloud at the juxtaposition.

I feel the same intuitive connectivity when I'm making collage sketches. Sometimes the best compositions happen by accident, because I left two scraps in the same pile. I look over and realize, with a little rush of adrenaline, "Of course those go together!"

Ostrich, collage sketch, 2007 by Sarah Atlee
Ostrich, collage sketch, 2007 by Sarah Atlee. Click image to view source.

I like how Baade allows the collage aesthetic to show through in her finished paintings, without her images appearing slapped-together. She does an excellent job of creating integrated compostitions from a variety of sources. The world is a vast grab-bag of information, and our job as artists is to interpret, reinterpret, and dis-cover meaning through our medium. Although Baade has been told that "paint was an inadequate media to display the complexity of [her] ideas," her intricate creations overflow with narrative and emotion. You can explore more of Carrie Ann Baade's work here.

As I was reading this interview on the Hi Fructose blog, I felt an eerie similarity between Baade's collage process and my own. This feeling was redoubled when I saw the previous blog post about the release of Isabel Samaras' new monograph by Chronicle books. The gent on the cover bears an uncanny resemblance to this guy here. The similarity is a coincidence.

This post is part of NaBloPoMo for July 2009.

Reference Photo and Collage Sources on Flickr

Smorgasbord by Flickr user CharlesFred. Click image to visit on Flickr.

Smorgasbord by Flickr user CharlesFred. Click image to visit on Flickr.

Say it with me, illustrators: "Photo references are good. Use them." Using references is not copying, it is not cheating. Image references are tools. What's an easy way to make sure you're not trodding on another artist's toes? Search within the Creative Commons.

What is Creative Commons? The Creative Commons license is a legal way for creators to easily share their content with the public. It is not a negation of copyright. There are different kinds of licenses depending on the type of content (music, images, literature, software, and so on) and how the creator wishes to share this material. I release my work under a Creative Commons license (there's a link over in the left column of this page) because I believe that information and influence should (and do) flow freely among creators. The license does not prevent me from earning income from my art. I still own what I make. Creative Commons makes it easier for me to share it with others. You can read more about Creative Commons here.

Even with the Creative Commons license, copyright and usage is a slippery slope. When in doubt, contact the creator, ask permission, and give them credit.

The Flickr Creative Commons search is a fantastic tool for finding photo references for drawing, painting, illustration, or the medium of your choice. You need a Flickr account to use it - it's easy to sign up. Click on the word "Search" in the upper right-hand corner, then click on "Advanced Search." Enter your search terms and parameters, then scroll down to the bottom of the search form, where you will find the Creative Commons box. Click "Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content." And go. You can also browse by license.

UPDATE: Here's a tip from optimization expert Tim Ferriss. Do a Creative Commons search on Flickr, then sort the results by "Most Interesting." You'll get the best images first.

The Flickr Commons (sounds the same, but isn't) is another bountiful image resource. Here are some goodies I found there.

My collaborative sketchbook pal Karo recently posted her favorite Flickr groups for gathering collage material. They are Collage Images, Vintage Illustration, and Mid-Century Illustrated. These groups collect and display images that are old enough to be public domain, or with no known copyright restrictions. Some of the images in the Collage pool are contemporary creations whose owners have provided them for use by others. The ownership of certain original ephemera objects (which are scanned and uploaded to Flickr) are sometimes in question, but this community of artists (usually) acts responsibly in investigating and attributing the sources of these images. Here is a discussion thread on that topic.

These are just a few of the tools artists can use to build their photo reference library. (Beware, your collection will grow when you're not looking. Mine takes up a full filing cabinet.)

Related: Figurative Collage set on Flickr Great anatomical reference site Winston Smith, collage artist Lawrence Lessig, copyright reform guru

Figurative Collage Set on Flickr

Sketch for How May I?, mixed media collage on paper, 2009 by Sarah Atlee Sketch for How May I?, mixed media collage on paper. Click image to view on Flickr.

For about ten years now I have collected pictures to use as ideas for new pictures.* I often start a painting by gathering a small pile of image sources, either intuitively, because they seem to go together, or for a specific purpose. I used to create a pencil-and-paper sketch of these various sources, attempting to synthesize them visually before starting the painting. I would also scan them, resize them, struggle through PhotoShop layers to get them to fit together just right. At some point I thought, "what I really want is this head on that body," and went: rip, slap, tape, done. I realized that the collage is visual shorthand for my pictorial plan. It didn't have to make sense compositionally; the collage is a convenient way for me to gather a group of visual sources onto a single page. Plus, the faster I make the collage, the more unexpected and interesting visual moments show up in the result.

I've scanned a bunch of these collages and uploaded them to this Flickr set. Enjoy.

*Old-school illustrators call this a swipe file. Though it was years before I learned that what I was doing was a traditional practice; before then I thought I was (gasp) stealing and that it was (gasp) wrong. Thank you, illustration.