Book Review: Collage: Experiments, investigations and exploratory projects

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Collage Lab: Experiments, investigations, and exploratory projects by Bee Shay. 2010. Massachusetts: Quarry Books. ISBN 978-1-592-53565-1

If you are looking for a way into collage and not sure where to start, this is the book for you. In Collage Lab, Bee Shay offers the reader clear, concise, easy to follow lessons on everything from choosing substrates (e.g., what structures to put your collage materials on) to papers, paints and mediums. She touches on design, color theory and the importance of play:  everything a beginning collage artist needs to get going.

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Each of the 12 units of the book is divided into "labs" that explore further the main point of the unit. Unit 5, Surface Design, for example has labs focusing on carving personal images, using masks and stencils, stamping and mark making, making personal tools, and glazing. Each lab is divided into a list of materials, instructions, play and experiment (with pictures of her own or other collage artists' experiments and work), and food for thought (questions to help you think about the concept more deeply). The reader can start from Unit 1, Building the Foundation, and work methodically through the book or skip around with equal success.

Shay writes:

This book is about getting your hands moving and getting your head out of the way. By following a set of simple steps that are not restrictive, without ties to any particular outcome, you will teach yourself what works best for you, and what doesn't work for you at all. Most importantly, you will come away from this experience with the understanding that it's not about the product. It's about the dance. (p. 7)
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I've looked at a lot of collage books over the past few years and rarely is one put together so invitingly. Even though a lot of the labs contained information I'm familiar with, I found Shay's approach so nurturing, insightful and fun that I plan to spend some time playing around with some of the concepts here. I love the questions she provides with each lab and the constant theme running through the book of developing an awareness of one's own personal vocabulary, palette and art practice.
Shay writes: "Seeing, doing, learning is the key to keeping the knowledge and information that has been acquired along the way through experience and will build a useful and very personal reference guide for years to come." (p. 9)
With this book and Shay as a guide, the beginning collage artist need not feel one bit of intimidation about the collage process. Jump right in, get your hands sticky, learn a lot and, most of all, have fun.
If you read this book, please let me know what you think!

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