Monday, December 24, 2018

Artful celebration with digital collage

True confession:  I usually fall way short of my ambitious goal of sending hand-crafted holiday cards in a timely manner, and more often than not they turn out to be "Happy New Year" messages sent as the holidays are winding down.  In recent years, they have mostly been digital.  I like getting my hands into my paper, glue, and paint as much as the next mixed media artist, but I also enjoy the limitless possibilities of adding digital collage to my artist toolkit.

I use an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil stylus, and I have dozens of apps for image manipulation.   By taking photographs of my drawings, paintings, gel prints, art journal pages, I am able to change colors and sizes, play with opacity, texture, filters, and layering to recycle and reimagine my work over and over again.  For my holiday greetings this year, I'll be using this image that I created with three different StencilGirl® stencils, two free apps, and a photo of my daughter.  Using standard stenciling techniques on the gel plate and then photographing the results, I created digital stencils to use in my digital collage. 

To begin with, we have my lovely daughter, who was born in Ethiopia, and on the day I took this picture on a museum visit she was wearing a top with African-inspired motifs.  I started this project by searching out Ethiopian designs. 
Ethiopian design motifs in painting, textile, architecture and tattoo!

We're not a religious family, but I do love the Ethiopian cross, which typically has four equal legs.  You can find similar crosses in Celtic design, in the Maltese cross, and in religious iconography from many other cultures.  StencilGirl® doesn't yet have any Ethiopian crosses, so I improvised.  I used the Maltese Set S124 designed by Michelle Ward, the Ornamental Petals Mask M096 designed by Gwen Lafleur and the Boho Mandala Circle S609 also by Gwen Lafleur.  For all three stencils/masks, I needed to isolate the image.  After printing them I photographed them and then took them to a free iPad app called Background Eraser.  If you print with a high-contrast color on white paper, it's very easy to remove the white background by selecting and deleting all the white in the photograph. You end up with a PNG file (basically an image with a "clear" background) to use as your digital stencil design.  I also used the Background Eraser app to isolate my daughter from the original photo I took at the museum.  Once I had my digital collage elements ready to use I went to another free app, one of the most powerful art apps you can get: Procreate.  Procreate is where I began layering and resizing my elements, as well as turning one of my originally black prints to white.  I like that the lacy cross is a bit reminiscent of snowflakes, and the traditional green-red-white Christmas palette is also common to much Ethiopian art and craft.  The resulting digital collage is something I can use in lots of ways.  I can print it on my laser printer, collage it into my art journal and then add more paint, stenciling, and collage to it.  I can use another app to add text, I can insert it into a year-end "greetings from our family" letter to send by email.  I can change the colors, add texture layers, make it painterly, make it sketchy - you name it.
Once I started adding digital image manipulation on the iPad and digital collage to my toolkit, it really opened the door to exciting new possibilities - and perhaps best of all at the holidays, you can do it while sitting in front of the fire with your family.  They're probably on their electronic devices too!

Ornamental Petals Mask M096

Maltese Set S124

Boho Mandala Circle S609


  1. Beautiful daughter, and beautiful work! I too use Procreate, and love being able to get digitally creative. Thank you Jennifer for sharing your process!

  2. I’ve just begun using Procreate and am having a lot of fun with it. Love how you incorporate your hands on artwork and stencils into the process. Thanks for sharing. You daughter is just beautiful!


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