Vincent van Gogh’s Irises and how to collage

April 8, 2018


Vincent van Gogh’s famous 1889 Irises was painted in the iris garden at Saint-Paul de Mausole Asylum in Saint-Rémy, France. It’s a symphony of feelings about physical nature and luscious oil paint. It invites the viewer in as if to dinner.  


Courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program

The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Irises by Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

Look at the top left. There is a quiet commotion of orange and yellow marigolds backing up the main subject. Right below the marigolds, you see one white iris that stands out starkly, yet is just one of many. The balance of irises flows across the background and foreground.


Leaves lean into the center, set apart by smooth paint application. The leaves are a respite from the riot of iris blooms in thick, expressive paint. In the lower left corner is a solid yet flowing block of soil or ground that balances with the marigolds. Metaphorically, it shows that from which the bounty of nature arises.  

Color choices can reach beyond conditioned representation. Juxtaposition and layered depth of colors can create tension/movement or resonance/pause. Color is the emotive music underscoring any motif. 

~Penny Perry, Duluth artist

Collage has been a mainstay of modern art since Picasso’s 1912 Still Life with Chair Caning.

To collage, start by gathering materials—burlap, textured objects found in hardware stores like sandpaper or roofing tile, unidentifiable objects from an antique shop’s back corner, recycled paper products, maps, light wire, thread, or any relatively flat item that asks for attention.

Choose a working surface like Illustration board in 15"x 20'' size or larger, heavy weight with a vellum finish. Vellum is a brushed surface, so glues and adhesives bond better. Illustration board is archival.

Brown heavy cardboard is not archival, but there is just something simple and common about cardboard with its even ridges and practical nature.

Smooth wood is perfect for photos; rough wood is at one with burlap or industrial, textured items like steel grids and wire. If your wood surface is both smooth and rough, you’ve just been introduced to working with tone.

As you assemble, sense what your choices are saying.    

For adhesives, polymer medium gloss and soft gel gloss hit the ball out of the park. Brush the polymer on the working surface and on the item to be adhered. Let both dry. Then brush soft gel on the back of the collage item, press it in place and use a brayer if needed. Tombow Mono permanent adhesive comes in a dispenser and looks much like Scotch tape when dispensed onto your flat collage items, but it’s actually a strip of clear adhesive.

The best brushes for mediums and gels are inexpensive sponge brushes. Their smoothness keeps brush marks at bay, and they come in sizes 1" to 4" wide.

The secret to using a sponge brush: Dampen it with water first. The adhesives spread more smoothly, plus it makes this little workhorse of a brush last longer.

AJ Atwater teaches studio art classes for women of all skill levels.


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