Book Review: Working in Collage

Working in Collage title page

Working in Collage by John Portchmouth. A Studio Book. Illustrations by the author. 1973. New York: The Viking Press. ISBN 9-780-670-78289-5

Working in Collage, a studio book written by John Portchmouth and published in 1973, is worth reading if only for its opening paragraph:

Strange rumours have been overheard in the streets and houses. No one knows where they started, but neighbours are whispering that a secret formula has been found and that mysterious experiments are being carried out. In shaded rooms, over a slowly smouldering fire, someone is trying to work a spell by changing common metals from the earth into a crucible of pure, liquid gold. At this moment, perhaps, the dark substances are about to melt, and the clearing smoke will reveal a small, still pool, glinting and gleaming in the dim light. But, while alchemists are locked up with their dream, similar miracles may be unfolding elsewhere, no less surprising and much easier to manage. With a simple magic, objects from the every day world can be changed into unexpected and exciting shapes by arranging them together in different ways and fixing them so that they stay in place on a firm support. This is what happens in making a collage. All that is needed in the way of magic are a few tools and a little imagination. (p. 7)
 Left: Winter Migration by John Portchmouth in  Working in Collage.

Left: Winter Migration by John Portchmouth in Working in Collage.

Portchmouth, clearly, is enthusiastic about collage and in Working in Collage shows readers how simple it is to collect every day objects and "transform" ferns into waterfalls or seeds into migrating birds. Portchmouth encourages readers to look at objects in new and imaginative ways; really get to know the color, shape and texture of these objects and be in touch with the (emotional) associations these objects may have.

 Left: Mountaineers by John Portchmouth in  Working in Collage.

Left: Mountaineers by John Portchmouth in Working in Collage.

Most of the book is designed to help beginning collagists collect the appropriate tools, substrates, adhesives, brushes, and every day objects to begin their projects. Some of the information is outdated (I would, for example, stay away from the aesbestos boards he suggests using), but the basic collage techniques remain the same. Portchmouth provides lists upon lists of materials collagists could collect and how these may be used: from bark and cake doilies, memorabilia and floor coverings, to nails, shavings, and string. He also provides a list of additional resource books on collage which I may use as book review topics at some point.

 Left: Aim to Shatter by John Portchmouth; Right: Open-cast mining landscape by John Portchmouth in Working in Collage.

Left: Aim to Shatter by John Portchmouth; Right: Open-cast mining landscape by John Portchmouth in Working in Collage.

I found Working in Collage a nice break from the capital "A" art books I have been reading. Portchmouth leaves the philosophical discussions about whether collage is really art to someone else. His definition of collage, where simple, every day objects have a rightful place in the creative process, is a pragmatic and straightforward one. He urges readers to go out, collect objects of interest, and then arrange them in surprising and imaginative ways. The only other caveats are to make sure the adhesives and supports used are strong enough so the project does not fall apart and to have fun. If you need some help knowing what tools to gather or objects to collect at a glance, this book may be a good place to start.

I do not know if it is still in print, but I borrowed a copy of Working in Collage from my local library.

Have you read this book? Please let me know what you think.

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Cheers!--Janyce