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I enjoy making vintage junk journals. Every time I make one, I try to think of creative ways to embellish the pages. I don’t like to write or “journal” in my books, I prefer to add collages or do artwork to fill the pages. In turn they become tomes of paper treasures that I have fallen in love with.

Over the years I’ve been collecting paper ephemera that I use in my collages. When I go to antique malls or search online, I’m looking for papers that are typically from 1945 to the 1800s. I look for receipts, postcards, letters, legal documents, photos, trade cards and advertisements, calling cards, and currency.

Now that I’ve got a nice collection, I have a better selection to choose from when collaging pages in my vintage journals. Sometimes I scan pieces before I use them, other times I don’t. There have been a few times when I have found that there are a few pieces that I like to use again and again because they are so interesting to look at, and so versatile. It is these pieces that I have decided to make public and sell as collections through Etsy.

Thus far I have created two collections: the Theo Jessup Collection and the Lucile Holt Collection. Each one consists of 4 pages and each cost $4 to download.

Here’s my Etsy site, if you are interested in seeing them:  https://www.etsy.com/shop/mellowmiller

Additionally, I made a video on how I use them to give people ideas on how they might use them in their own projects:

The pieces in the Theo Jessup Collection were inspired from making journals using the digital download kit Gentlemen and Scholars from Ephemera’s Vintage Garden. I’ve made two journals with this kit and have been really happy with the results of adding my pieces to this amazing journal kit. Debbie-Anne Parent, the artist who creates many wonderful digital kits at Ephemera’s Vintage Garden, recently posted a video showing how she integrated my ephemera pieces in a journal she made with her Gentlemen and Scholars kit. It’s such a lovely book and am so pleased to have contributed a little bit to its charm.

Collage art has become a very important type of art that I work on. The more I do it, the more I love it.

When I started doing collages a few years ago I had no idea how to begin or what to do. Now that I have reached a stage where I am much more comfortable and confident in creating collage art,  I’d like to pass along some advice for anyone who is new to collaging, or looking for new inspiration to do collage art and glue books.

Based on feedback comments on my youtube videos, I see two types of groups interested in collage art. First are people who have valuable, family history pieces like photos, letters or documents, and want to display them in some kind of collection, like in a journal for example.

Second, are people who simply want to use up scraps, images they’ve torn from magazines, leftover project remnants, or whatever paper ephemera they have on hand to fill up a page. It’s this second group I will be focusing on in this post (I’ll get to the first group at another time).

One of the great things about doing art is the sense of accomplishment after a project is done. I feel that sense of accomplishment after I complete a collage, and it doesn’t matter how big or how little it is. A collage can be done on a canvas or a journal page. It can also be done on a postcard, index card, or a playing card. It can be great for people who feel like they don’t have a lot of time to devote to art but feel the need to do something creative.

Here are collages on index cards.

A low stress, exercise collage book, as a way to relax and have fun using up scraps is a great project to take up. It’s also a great place for you to experiment with your creativity and practice improving on how you put your collages together. You won’t always love what you create but practicing what you do will make you better.

So what kind of paper should you use for glue books and collaging?  

For me it’s good to have a mix of things like text, illustrations, images, color, black and white, paint, handwriting, etc, but  paper choice is arbitrary. As individuals we are drawn to things that interest us. The reason why you like something may or may not be important, and often it’s better not to think too deeply when considering what to save or not. For me, it’s a split-second decision to keep something or discard it. If I pause longer than a few seconds or come back for a second look, it’s worth keeping.  

If you are starting out fresh and need some ideas of where to look for paper ephemera and scraps, here are my notes:

Where should you make your collages?

You’ve got many choices here. I mentioned before, you can go as large as a canvas, or as small as an index card, or smaller. My friend Pamela has a Rolodex project with a collection of collages on hundreds of Rolodex cards.

If you want to create a book or journal, I recommend starting off with something simple. Craft stores or discount retailers like Target have basic 5 x 7″ journals in their bargain bins that you can get for a dollar. These are good because you are going to be tearing out pages to thin out the book. For every page, tear out 3. It seems like a lot of pages you are getting rid of, but your little book will have a big alligator mouth unless you take drastic measures.

If you’re starting a brand new collage project, it’s good to remind yourself of what your plans and goals will be. Here’s a forward I wrote to myself.

For a more in-depth look on creating a collage book, as well as my thoughts on how much is enough when it comes to scraps, please see the video I made.

The longer I experiment with collage art, the more fun it gets. It’s funny how little bits of paper can get me so excited and enthusiastic about the art of making a journal.

Previously I wrote about my trip to San Francisco in January to visit my friend and fellow correspondence-art artist Pamela, and how I fell in love with her collage book made with Reader’s Digest covers. I was very much inspired to make my own, and that’s what I’ve done here. Pamela got me started by giving me extra covers she had on hand, and then cutting down some file folders to make the pages. Once the pages were hole punched and everything assembled with rings, I was ready to go.

With this journal, the covers were no work at all. Reader’s Digest books, like this one from the 1970s, can be found in abundance at any thrift store. I didn’t like the rings at first, but now I can see that they are pretty useful in being able to move collages around. I’ve seen people use twine or other heavy fibers to bind hole-punched pages like in this journal. I might try that next time.

I didn’t have any themes in mind as I was creating, I simply wanted to use papers from authentic sources; no images from a craft paper pad or digital printouts. I used some vintage papers like from old books, but I also used things like postcards I have received in the mail over the past year, receipts from places I shopped, maps, forms, photographs, and postage stamps, of course. I also used washi tape and rubber stamps with ink.

More of the pages are here:

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Video is here:

Last Saturday I took a day-trip to San Francisco to meet my friend Pamela. Pamela is an amazing collage artist  — one of the most talented that I know. We’ve discovered that we share a similar style, or at least are drawn to similar types of images and illustrations.

We’ve been admiring each other’s work for several months now and knew that if we’d get together we’d have a lot to talk about, so when we made arrangements for me to come up to her studio I was so giddy, I couldn’t resist telling my kids, “Mommy’s got a play-date on Saturday!”

Her workspace is filled with so much inspiration and neat projects. Here’s some of the loveliness on her desk.

Pamela's desk

And her tower of index cards. I love all those tabs.

index card tower

One of her awesome projects to make a piece of art on a Rolodex card, every single day.

Rolodex card art

Other artists also contribute to her collection, including me (yay!). She’s been doing this for a couple of years so her collection is extensive. See her blog post for more amazing photos. All those cards represent a work of art. It’s astounding, really. It would take a pleasant period of time to go through them all. I’d love to do that some morning, along with a cup of tea.

Rolodex collection

Another of her interests is in correspondence art, and actually this is where our paths crossed. We share a love of all things postal, so of course I wanted to see art she makes, she collects, and some of the ephemera she has for creating more.

letters and glassine

postage stamp book

Here are some of the postcards she has received from all over the world.

mail call

Field Notes

Another project that is very unique is her work on altered passports. She takes an old passport and tells a story with photos and ephemera of where this person has traveled. It’s so creative! Read her description of how she comes up with the ideas on her blog. I want to create something with one of my old passports. I’m going to do some studying of these for a while first.

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She also has glue books that I found fascinating. The covers come from hardcover Reader’s Digest compilations.

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All in all, we had a wonderful time. I brought some of my journals to share so with all of our sharing we didn’t have that much time to create. That’s ok. We’re going to do it again someday 🙂

rubber stamps

bingo cards

gummed labels

 

red stencil and postcard

Red is my favorite color. Even from my earliest years, red was the first color out of the crayon box. I’ve wanted to make a little art journal with a red theme for some time now and decided the time was right after I found these index cards at a used book sale.

index cards

The cardstock is so dense and heavy — ideal for book covers. I took 4, cut off the tabs and then painted them in reds. After the paint was dry I used rubber stamps and black ink to cover the surfaces from corner to corner.

I used a little Tim Holtz grunge board over the spine. It didn’t need the extra reinforcement but I just liked how it looked, especially after I put the silver and gunmetal brads along the borders.

little red jj cover

I used a watch piece that I attached to the cover as the fixed portion of the fastener. I glued a few “jewels” on the piece to give it a little more sparkle. On the bottom portion of the watch piece is stamped, “U.S.A. PAT. MAY. 24. 1904” It also says “7 jewels” in fancy lettering. So neat!

watch jewels

On the inside I have some of tea-dyed pages but also added papers from several different sources. Mostly it’s recycled book pages, and art scrap pages. In all there are 3 signatures that I stitched in using the 5-point pamphlet stitch.

I wanted to include a lot more art in this journal. Sometimes I created the art myself with ink or paints, or collaging. Other times, if I found beautiful images of art or pictures from magazines that work with the page layouts, I used those types as art.

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I added small bits here and there from postage stamps, pieces of decoupaged napkin, vintage lace, ribbon, postcards, playing cards, rubber stamping, a few die-cuts, and washi tape.

It’s a very busy book, which is exactly what I wanted. I’m still adding to it and will be for a while.

 

kids junk journals

This Christmas I’m gifting a few of my nieces and nephews little junk journals. Inspiration from several talented craft artists gave me the idea to make the covers from candy boxes.

I have so much interesting paper of all different types that it took me just a few minutes to gather enough for several small books.

Each book has only two signatures. There are approximately 8 papers, including an envelope, folded in half that make up the signature, so there isn’t too many pages; I didn’t want to make the book overwhelming.

I used papers from comic books, old book pages, maps, graph paper, ledger paper, music lessons, coloring books — pretty much anything that was colorful or had an interesting design on it.

comic book page

I used lots of clothing tags I had been setting aside.

batman jj page

And I used plenty of food labels. I had been saving stickers I peeled off of fruits and vegetables. Those went in here too.

food labels

My kids wanted one immediately so we went to work on separately making junk journals for them. We used chocolate packaging.

junk journals from chocolate packaging

The simplest and fastest way to get the signatures in is to use the long-arm stapler. I love that thing! It has saved me so much time. Yes, it’s a little ugly, but honestly, who cares?!

staple spine

Inside I let the kids pick whatever they wanted. My 7-year-old daughter was quite specific on what she wanted. She already has experience with making these books so knew what to do.

kids junk journal inside

My 4-year-old son did his own thing too.

Ts journal

Of course he went to town with the stickers. That was great too!

Ts journal with stickers

The kids seem to think that they are done. Now I need to get them used to the idea that there is lots of opportunity to keep on adding and embellishing. We’ll see if I can get them to add anything else.

 

I can honestly say that it has been tremendous fun working on pages and adding content to this vintage US postal stamp junk journal that I made. I brought it along with me to the San Jose Stamp Show a few weeks ago and sat down with a local stamp dealer who helped me locate some of the sets of stamps I was looking for. There is a whole culture of stamp collecting that I know very little about. With my little journal, I am learning a lot; more that I ever expected to.

I wrote about the journal a few posts ago. It looks like this.

cover us stamps jj

I took apart an old 1947 catalog from the H C Harris & Co and interspersed pages along with blank tea-dyed pages to make a new journal. Since I have blank pages that face catalog pages, I thought it would be fun to make collages with the stamps shown on the catalog page on to the facing page. Here’s an example:

Railroad time book collage

I was looking for these parcel post stamps issued in 1912-1913. I showed the stamp dealer my page, and he was able to locate them pretty easily. I purchased these 5 for about 35 cents a piece. I could have gotten all of them, but I didn’t want them all. I just wanted enough to make a nice collage.

Fo the background, I wanted something that conveyed “transportation”, so I went with an old California map and tore a page out of a railroad time book I have.

I found a couple a couple of these pamphlets at a local antique dealer a few months ago. They contain so much information about a single month of work.

Railroad time book 1910

Time book page 1903

record of work done

The pamphlets are fragile and falling apart so I decided to use some of the pages in some of my art pieces. I tore out a page for my parcel post stamps.

Parcel post collage

Parcel post collage 2

In addition to completing this page, I completed a page with stamps of national parks. I got all of these stamps for free. The folks at the San Jose Stamp Club are so generous!

National parks stamp collage

I used a survey map as a background on the left side.

survey map

survey map 2

On the facing page I had an old envelope with three national park stamps (by the way, an envelope is referred to as a “cover” in the world of philately), and an old, damaged postcard that I tore to use. I love how it’s so bug-eaten.

bug-eaten postcard

Since the catalog includes US and North America, I have pages with Canadian stamps too. Here’s one I did using a whole lot of repeats.

Canada goose

I have more to do, but I am happy to wait — to put it off for a time when I will happily sit down to it and make something interesting to look at.

additional stamps

 

envelope journal - cover

I’ve broken a personal record for the amount of time it took me to make a little journal: almost no time at all.

No sewing, no stitching, nothing complicated. It’s just envelopes, washi tape, and decorative embellishments.

envelope journal pages 1

img_8732

envelope journal pages 3

envelope journal pages 4

envelope journal pages 5

envelope journal pages 6
I’ve been admiring these little journals made from junk-mail envelopes for some time. Of course I’m not the first; not even the second. Shannon Green made a really elaborate one with lots of doodling and drawing. Hopefully I’ll fill this one up similarly!

Here’s my flip through:

How do you know when you’ve done enough to your art project, and it’s time to call it quits? How do you know when you’ve added enough color, embellishments, texture, when enough is enough?

I started putting together a collage in an altered book. I put down some vintage paper scraps, washi tape and slickers, and covered it over with gel paste. After that I used some distress inks to put some color on it and used brown paint around the outside for some contrast. I was ready to stop there.

phase 1

The rubber stamping was on the scraps that I tore up and glued on to the page. The letters were just random alphabet stickers I wanted to use up.

phase 1 close

The more I looked at it, the more I thought that it was missing something. I was thinking that it all looked a little too monochrome and needed something to stand out. I decided on using a stencil in bold black ink.

phase 2 - black stencil

I liked it but then thought I went a little too bold on the left. The black was too dark. And the one on the right, though lighter, just seemed to be floating on the page; it wasn’t grounded. Not good.

black stencil closer

So then I thought, what else could I add? How about lace? It definitely adds something.

phase 3 - lace

The stencil on the right doesn’t look like it’s floating anymore. And the lace balances the starkness of the stencil on the left.

lace corner

lace above

Okay, now I think it’s done.

 

cover us stamps jj

In addition to all the wonderful postage stamps I got from the SJ Stamp Club, I also got a few old stamp catalogs that I’ve been thinking about what to do with. As I started going through the US stamps in my collection, I had the idea that I could make some collage art using the stamps. When I was looking at the individual pages of the stamp catalog I realized I had several of the stamps on hand and that’s where the idea of the journal came from.

img_8452

The catalog is from 1947. It’s a bit fragile so when I took out the staples that held the pages together, I realized I’d have to reinforce the creases on the pages with washi tape.

washi tape crease

I made the cover of the journal using the original pamphlet covers that I glued on to cardboard and then covered with tissue paper. I used tea dye distress ink over the top and then covered it with a coat of varnish.

The journal pages are a mix of catalog pages and blank tea-dyed paper. I’ve started making collages on blank pages where there is a facing catalog page.

stamp collage 1

stamp collage 2

stamp collage 3

I also added some pockets for unused vintage envelopes.

pocket page

I’ve got a lot of stamps that I still plan to collage. It’s a nice task to look forward to.

additional stamps

And here’s the youtube video: