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Tell a Tale With Collage

Use what you’ve learned about narrative art to develop your own visual story

You've seen how artists like Faith Ringgold tell stories in their artwork. Now it’s your turn to develop a narrative of your own by using printed images and painted details.

Step 1: Prepare Your Composition

Create a sketch to develop your composition (left). Brush a thick layer of gel medium onto the images (right). 

How can you tell a story in a single image? Decide whether you want to tell a nonfiction story or to invent a fantasy. You might also incorporate real events from history. Begin by collecting images that will help you illustrate your story. Look in magazines and on the Internet. Later, you’ll transfer these images onto your canvas board. Make a few sketches to begin developing your composition. Think about how to present your story in a way that viewers will understand. You might arrange the images sequentially. Or try emphasizing one image to give it prominence. Once you’ve selected the images and finalized your composition, prepare the images to be transferred. Brush an even layer of gel medium over the front of your images and let them to dry. When they are dry, use scissors to trim the edges of each image. 

Tip: Add acrylic paint to the gel medium to tint your images.

Step 2: Transfer Your Images

Trim the edge of your images (left). Brush an even layer of gel medium onto your images (right).

Use a paintbrush to spread a thick layer of gel medium over the surface of one of your images. While it is still very wet, place the image facedown in the appropriate place on your canvas board. Gently push any excess gel medium and air bubbles to the edges of the paper. Wipe the gel medium from the edges with a damp paper towel or cloth. Repeat this process with each of the images and then allow your canvas board to dry overnight.

Once your canvas board is dry, use a damp sponge to wet each of the images. When the paper appears to be translucent, gently rub it away with a scouring pad or rough plastic sponge. As you remove the paper, the image should remain on your canvas board. Let the surface of the board dry. If there are any whitish areas remaining, wet the images again and try  to remove as much paper as possible.

Tip: Remove all the air bubbles to achieve a clear image transfer.

Step 3: Add Painted Details

Paint your canvas board to incorporate the transferred images (left). Remove the paper with a damp sponge. This will reveal the transferred image (right). 

Begin painting your canvas board. Incorporate details from your original design. Remember that you can paint directly on the transferred images as well as on the blank areas of the canvas board. This will help seamlessly incorporate the transferred images into your composition. Work in a style and use colors that support your narrative. For example, if your story is serious, you might want to work in a realistic style and use naturalistic colors. But if your story is funny, you could paint in a more playful way using bright colors. Use the background to create a unified composition. This will help viewers understand the narrative you’re presenting.

Tip: Add text to emphasize key moments in your narrative.

Prepared by Matthew Capezzuto, Ashcan Studio of Art. Little Neck, New York

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