365 Days of Art: Ten Things I Learned from the 2015 Collage-A-Day Project


El Fin. Brandon Long. 12/31/16. Collage. 4×6″

Last year, I embarked on a fabulous journey of daily art-making.  At the beginning of 2015, I decided to make one collage a day for the entire year.  It wasn’t always easy, but was not as challenging as I imagined it might be. The ten greatest lessons I learned on this journey can be found in the list below.  I’m trying to keep these art making insights as universal as possible so that you can apply them to painting, photography, writing, sculpture – all sorts of things other than collage.

Do it for yourself-

I knew going into this project that this was mainly for me and my development as an artist.  It was like going to the gym, but instead of building muscles, I was building “compositional instinct” – knowing where to put the right pieces, color relationships, design skills, blog posting research, and all sorts of other things that might not have changed the world, but tightened and toned my abilities.  I guess you could say I now have totally ripped collage “abs.”

Don’t judge, just make-

Perhaps the best thing about making 365 works of art is that you can loosen your judgment a little.  When you have that many pieces of work, not all of them can be absolutely incredible.  So relax your inner critic and just let it flow.

Don’t wait for inspiration-

Honestly, there were some nights when I could have cared less about the project.  I quickly found a few pieces that worked together, ripped them out, glued them down and called it a night.  Some of those “lazy” pieces came out every bit as good as the ones that were more meticulously crafted.

Take it with you-

I gave myself a bit of leeway in the project with the “one a day” concept – I could miss a day and catch up or I could build a collage a day early if I had extra time.  Although this was a nice card to play on occasion, I didn’t end up bending the rules often.  I took magazines, scissors, and a glue stick with me on at least three vacations. Even though I was on vacation, the “one a day” project was not.

Don’t plan ahead-

If I started a collage with a particular image in mind for a focal point– a cool picture of a shark for example, it would never seem to work out.  I simply could not find other images to juxtapose with the focal point to make it work.  The pressure of trying to “make it work” would always backfire and I couldn’t be satisfied.  If I abandoned my initial plan, the composition would usually come together rather quickly in a surprising way.  I could fight with my initial idea for about half an hour; or I could give up and make a different (and perhaps even better) work of art in about five minutes. In my experience, it pays to be open minded about the unexpected twists and turns that an improvisational medium like collage might take. 

Circles are awesome

If you ever find yourself stuck when trying to compose an abstract work of art, just throw a few circles (or partial circles) into the mix.   They seem to have a way of uniting disparate elements of a composition.  If you make the circles fall off the edge of the piece, it gives the illusion that the composition continues beyond the edge of the frame and that we are only seeing part of a much bigger picture.  I can’t tell you how many times circles got me out of a bind.

Don’t covet-

Spending night after night in the perfect fantasy world of magazines can certainly cause some frustration with the real world.  Most of the magazines I used were related to interior decorating and trendy style.  Perfect minimalist architecture, cozy fireplaces, and barefoot people reading (READING!!!) on their white couches as sunlight pours through the scene certainly filled me with envy.   As a full time employee and parent of two wonderful young children, I ask you – WHO has time (and peace) to READ in the middle of the day?!?!

Don’t take it personally-

One of the things that I was most curious about when starting this project was the big question: “What would happen if I made a new work every day and posted every single one of them online?”  The answer:  Not much.  I posted the work online on the blog site wordpress.com as well as my “Brandon Long, Artist” page on facebook and didn’t see much action.  My wordpress blog, consisting of scans of the collages and a title/caption only gathered 1,634 views over the course of the entire year.  My facebook page had a few loyal followers (thanks Nick Lacy, Jo King, Mary Beth Touchstone (my boss), and my mom).  I could get frustrated about it, but I have to refer to the first thing I wrote in the list – this exercise was for me.   Anyone else that came along for the ride might’ve enjoyed it too, but I don’t hold it against anyone that might not be interested in something as trivial as me gluing down little pieces of paper.  Could I have put more effort into marketing my progress?  Of course!  Would it have made any difference?  I’m not sure.  I didn’t go Kardashian and break the internet, but that wasn’t the point.

Don’t forget to document-

A “one a day” project is a journey and it will be over far sooner than you might initially believe.  At first 365 days seems rather daunting, but then you find yourself sailing by “landmarks” like day 50, 100, and 200. Just like training for a marathon (which I know nothing about other than for anecdotal analogies) the first few miles are the most challenging, but eventually you gain the determination and endurance to fulfill your goal. I scanned each of my collages during the project and posted them online.  Not only to allow others to cheer me on, but also to have a reference for later. I consider each of these collages to be a study, and the results are an entire volume of work that I can look back to for inspiration for other art works.  I could probably spend the next several years mining detail studies and creating abstract paintings based on the works created during this project.  Another great reason for me to document this project is that I am not entirely sure of the archival quality of the materials I’ve used.  I’m not sure how long the paper and glues will last before they fall apart, fade, or disintegrate altogether.

Don’t forget to live –

This project took a lot of time, energy, and effort.  Most of the collages were done after the kids were in bed- art usually began sometime after 9:00pm.  I most often sat on the floor with a pile of magazines and a glue stick – Netflix streaming in the background.  While it’s a time of day that not much else happens, it is a valuable time for my wife and me.  Since the completion of the project, I am definitely enjoying getting back that sliver of time that I had given up to make the project happen.  I am thankful that my wife, an artist herself, was patient with me throughout the experience.  While the project was challenging, engaging, and rewarding, I’m not in any hurry to jump into a 365 project in 2016.  If you want to see the work from my 2015 project, visit www.collageaday2015.wordpress.com or find my “Brandon Long, Artist” page on facebook.

The works (mostly in digital format) will also be featured in the upcoming exhibition – Juxtapose: Collage and Assemblage at the Community Arts Center in Danville, KY from February 8-April 2, 2016.

Have you ever done a 365 day art project? What did you learn?  I’d love to hear from you!  Brandonlong@communityartscenter.net


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