The Smiling Koala

The Smiling Koala by collage artist Megan Coyle
“The Smiling Koala” Collage on paper. 5″x7″
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The other day, I wanted to get started on a new collage. I’ve been thinking that I really need to revisit still life, portraiture, or landscapes again since I’ve been focusing primarily on animals. But then I remembered how much fun it is to make animal collages, so I decided to tackle a koala collage again.

Working on this little guy wasn’t easy. I found myself realizing that koalas are pretty strange looking creatures – they look almost like mice with their rounded ears, and their noses are quite unique and unusual. I think I just haven’t really studied the features of a koala all that much, and realized that I was getting tripped up over the details in their quirky characteristics. Eventually I was able to layer the magazine strips in such a way that I was satisfied with the result. This piece is done…for now.

10 Ways to get Inspired

Inspiration is something that can find you at the most unexpected times, but it’s also something that you need to pursue. Inspiration won’t always come looking around for you. Often enough, admiring the work of others can help inspire your own ideas.

Here are a few things you can do to help increase your chances of getting inspired:

1. Go on an adventure

Getting a change of scenery can give you a new perspective on the world. This can be as simple as going on a local excursion or traveling to an entirely different city. When your surroundings are different, you notice the details more than you notice them in familiar places.

2. Read a book

Reading a book is like taking your mind on an adventure. You can lose yourself in someone else’s words, and find yourself walking away from the writing with a new spin on the world. That new spin, can generate new ideas.

3. Watch a critically acclaimed movie

Critically acclaimed movies can be works of art that make you think. By watching a more artistic film, you can get your own artistic ideas.

4. Go to a concert

Beautiful music, especially when played live, is a wonderful experience. The way your senses interact with the sounds and your surroundings, can trigger your own ideas.

5. Watch a documentary on a successful person

There’s no better motivation to stop sitting and start doing, than when you hear about the struggles and successes of a successful figure. If you find that you’re in a bit of a rut, it can help to hear about how other successful people have hit their own rough patches in life.

6. Write creatively

Writing can help you with brainstorming and the creative process.

7. Go for a walk or on a run

It can help to get away from whatever you’re working on, and start taking care of yourself more. And exercise can do precisely that.

8. Surprise someone

Doing something kind for someone else can help you look at life a little differently. So often we’re focused on ourselves, that when we shift that focus, it can change our outlook, which helps us creatively.

9. Go dancing

Similar to #7, dancing puts you in a different environment which can help you find inspiration. Sometimes having fun and getting outside of your head for a little bit, is all you need.

10. Just practice your craft

If you practice your craft even when you’re not feeling motivated or inspired, you can get a gust of inspiration simply by sitting down and making time for it.

How to “Paint with Paper”

Commuters is a collage by Megan Coyle

I call the collage technique I use, “painting with paper,” because I manipulate magazine strips in such a way that they mimic the brushstrokes in a painting. By focusing on color and texture, I cut magazine pages into various shapes that make up the shadows and highlights of different compositions.

If you’re interested in making your own “painting with paper” collage, here are the steps you can follow:

1) Gather your materials

You’ll need:

  • a stack of magazines
  • watercolor paper or some sort of material to make your collage on
  • pencil and eraser
  • scissors
  • acid-free glue stick (this makes it easier to make adjustments to your collage when it’s still a work in progress)
  • UV-protective varnish

Materials that Megan Coyle uses for her collages

2) Pick a composition

Figure out what you want to collage. I like to take photos when I travel, which I later use as reference images for my artwork. I typically like to use animals, still life, landscapes, and people as the subjects for my art.

3) Sketch our your composition

On the support you’re using, sketch out your composition so you have a plan for the direction of your collage. The detail of the sketch may depend on the composition – for example, it may be simpler for minimalist landscape compositions, or more detailed when capturing the likeness of someone for a portrait.

Sketch of Commuters by collage artist Megan Coyle

4) Select colors and patterns

Page through the stack of magazines and tear out pages that have colors and patterns you’d like to incorporate into your collage. Sometimes I like to sort the magazine pages by color to make it easier when it comes to piecing together the collage.

Materials that Megan Coyle uses for her collages

5) Cut and paste shapes from the magazine pages

Cut out different shapes from the magazine pages based on the different shapes of shadows and highlights that compose your composition. Paste them on top of your sketch. You may want to cut several shapes before you start pasting, or paste the shapes down as you go.

Work in Progress of Commuters by collage artist Megan Coyle

6) Keep piecing it together

Add as many layers as you need in order to have the collage looking the way you want it to look. What’s great about collage, is that you can easily peel back previous layers if they aren’t working for you. You can also add layers to different sections.

Commuters by collage artist Megan Coyle

7) Varnish your collage

Once your collage is complete, varnish it with a UV-protective varnish so all the magazine strips stay in place. This will also help protect the paper from sunlight. Paper is a delicate material, and you’ll want to take as many steps as possible to protect your artwork.

8) Frame your collage

I’d recommend framing your collage with UV-protective glass as well.

 

And there you have it – the steps for making your own “painting with paper” collage. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions or need some clarification on the process.

Still Life Collages from Pennsylvania

Student collage from Pennsylvania inspired by Megan Coyle's art

Lauren, a teacher at a high school in Pennsylvania, shared some of her students’ work with me. Her 9th grade students in an introductory art course created collages inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers and skulls, and my collage work and technique.

Student collage from Pennsylvania inspired by Megan Coyle's art

The students focused on color and separated their subjects and background by warm and cool colors.

Student collage from Pennsylvania inspired by Megan Coyle's art

It was wonderful getting a chance to look through their colorful compositions.

Student collage from Pennsylvania inspired by Megan Coyle's art

You can see that some of the students used more rectangular strips of paper for their compositions, which is similar to a lot of the shapes I use for backgrounds or more minimalist pieces I’ve made in the past.

Student collage from Pennsylvania inspired by Megan Coyle's art

Other students incorporated bits of texture and patterns in the magazine strips they used, as you can see above.

Student collage from Pennsylvania inspired by Megan Coyle's art

While others had more of a balance of solid colors and textures in the paper they used.

Student collage from Pennsylvania inspired by Megan Coyle's art

Yet again, I enjoyed seeing more student art. Keep up the great work!

How my Art Portfolio Site Evolved

Megan Coyle's website

I studied painting and creative writing when I was in college. As an art major, I had a project to make a portfolio website for my artwork. And that’s how I got started with web development – I taught myself HTML, CSS, and JavaScript so I could have a functioning portfolio site.

Megan Coyle's previous version of her website

The first version of my portfolio site looked pretty terrible, but I was so proud that I figured out how to make it all on my own. I also liked how building the website was an art of its own. Above you can see that I made the header and navigational links collaged images. I later learned that using images for navigation isn’t very user-friendly, so I converted the navigation to text.

Megan Coyle's previous version of her website

Aside from teaching myself to code, and continuing to read articles on the subject, I also started taking classes in graphic design. I was hungry to make my website better, but I also wanted to make it look better too. I ended up creating a logo for my site, which you can see above. I suppose I was pretty proud that I designed the logo all on my own, that initially it was rather large in the header.

Megan Coyle's previous version of her website

For the next version of my site, I realized I needed to shrink the logo down more, and I started featuring more images of my work on the homepage. Once I had a better handle on the basic look and feel, I started building it out more.

In 2010, I put together an educational section with online lesson plans, since I noticed that students and teachers were contacting me every year with questions about my work. I wanted to make it easier for others to learn about my process and technique.

Megan Coyle's previous version of her website

I continued to play around with the overall look and feel, as well as making improvements to the user experience, like making the website responsive.

Megan Coyle's website

Earlier this year, I worked on redesigning my site once more. I even added an online store for purchasing my work directly from the site, to make things easier for users. I also redesigned the logo so it wouldn’t emphasize my collage work as much, which would open my work up to other mediums.

My site has come a long way. I’m proud that I’ve taught myself a number of things while going through the process of building it – such as learning about coding, web design, user experience design, and content creation. I’m so thankful that it’s easy to share artwork online – and by having a web presence, I’m able to reach people I never thought I’d be able to reach before.

How to Develop a Creative Support Network

"One, Two, Three Giraffes" by collage artist Megan Coyle

Criticism and hard work come with the territory of being an artist. And in order to move past all that criticism, and make all that hard work not seem like work, it’s good to have a strong support network in place for yourself. A support network can help you achieve your creative goals by being a source of motivation and encouragement.

Here’s how you can build your own creative network:

1. Ask for Help

Reach out to local artists you admire for advice. Who knows, maybe you’ll build a few friendships out of those connections, and artistic friendships are powerful.

2. Surround Yourself With Your Champions

Spend more time around people who encourage you. Spend less time or avoid the naysayers. You want to surround yourself with people who lift you up and challenge you in good ways, while distancing yourself from those who discourage or put down your work.

3. Give Back to the Community

Volunteer your time as a creative – let that be by visiting schools or organizations to talk about your technique and process, or by offering career advice to aspiring artists. Giving more than you get is a great way to not only grow as an artist, but as a person.

4. Network

Get to know other artists and art enthusiasts in the community by attending local art openings and exhibits. You can also meet other artists or aspiring artists by taking art classes or attending creative meetups.

 

A strong network can serve as a great resource for helping you shape your art career. It can also encourage you when you’re feeling discouraged or overwhelmed. It’s always helpful to know that you’re not alone with the struggles and joys of living the creative life, and hearing other artists share stories about their experiences can help you feel relieved about the direction you’re headed with your work. And best of all, a network can inspire you – meeting wonderful people who do their own exciting work, can motivate you to challenge yourself in new ways.

Collages from Columbia, Maryland

Collages from students in Columbia, MD inspired by Megan Coyle's art

Kristin’s students from Columbia Academy in Columbia, Maryland made their own collages after studying my work. The students are 7th and 8th graders, and it was wonderful seeing their painting with paper works of art!

Collages from students in Columbia, MD inspired by Megan Coyle's art

Several of the students had a great way of incorporating text into their collages, like this owl collage.

Collages from students in Columbia, MD inspired by Megan Coyle's art

While others focused on using different textures along with a few solid colors.

Collages from students in Columbia, MD inspired by Megan Coyle's art

I liked how this particular piece made use of type along with the composition of a cardinal.

Collages from students in Columbia, MD inspired by Megan Coyle's art

Overall, I was really impressed with Kristin’s class. As always, it brightens my day when I have a chance to see student work inspired by my art.

Collages from students in Columbia, MD inspired by Megan Coyle's art

And to all the other student artists out there – keep up the great work! I am always impressed by what you are creating!

The Contemporary Unicorn

The Contemporary Unicorn by collage artist Megan Coyle
“The Contemporary Unicorn” Collage on paper. 5″x7″
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I’ve always thought rhinos were fascinating animals. They look like aliens in many ways, and for that reason, I thought I’d focus on their peculiar appearance when naming this piece. And sometimes you just want to have fun when titling your work!

I also wanted to play around with layers, so this collage has more obvious layers than my usual work. Typically my collages are pretty flat, while this one is raised in different sections. I think I’ll try to focus more on layers and texture for my next few pieces.

Mixed Media Duck Painting from College

Duck mixed media painting by Megan Coyle

This is one of the paintings I completed during my freshman year of college. I decided to make a slightly abstract piece, and started off with an acrylic painting, then drew on top of it with oil pastel. I was always drawn to using oil pastels back then. I think there’s just something about the way drawn markings look that I always enjoyed incorporating them into my artwork.

Hippo’s Day Out Available at Pawcasso Charity Art Auction

Hippo's Day Out by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Hippo’s Day Out.” Collage on paper. 18″x24″
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Saturday, November 4, 2017 6pm – 10pm
National Airport, Historic Terminal A

I’m excited to announce that I’ve donated my “Hippo’s Day Out” collage to an upcoming charity art auction called PawCasso. The event is taking place on November 4th, and raises money for Homeward Trails Animal Rescue. You can find out more about what’s up for auction, as well as get tickets to the event, by visiting their website.