Creativity Talks: Jodi Paloni, Collaging Art and Life

I was connected with Jodi Paloni when I was searching for editorial expertise on a memoir I was writing. “You’ll love working with Jodi,” said our connection. “She is into the natural world, and relationships, and loss like you are.”

The more I worked with and learned about Jodi, the more I did, indeed, love working with her. She is a poet, a writer of a lauded book of fiction, a coach and a yoga practitioner. And, I discovered, a terrific collage artist.

I wanted to know how she came to making collages. Was the experience of writing similar to the experience of making a collage? Did she see a difference in the kinds of stories she writes and the kinds of stories her collages tell? And so much more…

TH: Seeing your July Collage-a-Day images on Facebook was how I became aware that you did collage. They looked both so sophisticated and so spontaneous, layered with meaning. How/why did you decide to start doing collage–as opposed to, say, throwing pots or painting? Was it hard to learn?

JP: I first began making collages as a teenager, or maybe I was younger, cutting images and words from magazines and pasting them on random pieces of cardboard. Sometimes I used feathers or scraps of fabric and string. The seemingly haphazard assemblages were meaning-making for me. I was bent on exploring my angsty soul of that time, working through emotional stuff, collaging my heart out, as it were.

In recent years, I came across projects called “vision boards.” With a vision board, collagists combine images and words as a way to energetically “call in” some gift to their lives, such as love, or a new house, or a baby. There’s usually a theme or a focus to the page. It’s almost like a prayer in word and image.

For a time in my thirties and forties, I adapted my original random cut and paste practice into a more intention-setting ritual. I did it with my kids at home as a way of setting New Year’s resolutions.

Now I am much freer with the scissors or I use no scissors at all and have no plan for what a creation might mean or how it might serve me. The beauty of ripping paper and slapping on glue is visceral and intuitive, like an improvisational dance. There’s no expectation around any particular result. I simply need to get out of my head. This approach is a form of active mediation for me, which is helpful since I’m just not organized internally to sit.

Another early collage activity I still enjoy is making tissue paper collage. Ripped tissue pieces become the paint. We made a lot of collage in the primary room where I taught in my thirties and forties, watering down white school glue to create colorful abstracts or using tissue to color in drawings kids made with black Sharpies. Kids love it. They’re so free as they create. I studied their freedom. What a blessing!

I also love making my own paper from wheat paste paintings mimicking the famous kid’s book author and illustrator, Eric Carle  I experience a sense of great satisfaction in creating a collage where most or all the pieces come from my own original work. We used to make wheat paste papers in my classroom, too. Everything you need to make unique colorful textured paper can be found in your kitchen.

But the real beauty of collage, for me, is that it can be an incredibly simple and spontaneous act. I don’t really need anything special in the way of materials. I use things I’ve saved, like interesting-looking junk mail, pages from magazines, scraps of wrapping paper, discarded tea boxes, postcards, and the like in a big basket on my dining room table. Collage materials can be gathered from everyday stuff. You can even buy white glue at a grocery store.

“Playing and making tissue paper collages may seem like creative activities
reserved for kindergarten students, however, it is these basic inventive
and imaginative actions that have the power
to shape lifelong changes in our body, mind and emotions.”
~ Marion Woodman

TH: You are a successful writer, editor, writing coach and teacher. Do you see similarities in the two? Meaning, do you feel that one art helps or complements the other in some way?

JP: Thanks for asking, as I love talking about this. Making art impacts the generative writing I do far more than my writing impacts my art.

I used to write only poetry, but after I began to build collages and assemblages, and learned printmaking at a process art-making school, I began hearing fictional or character voices in my head, as in literal narration, and I would rush home to write them down. The opening lines to a few stories in my collection came from some of those art classes. I jotted down notes on the back of someone’s scrap I found a bin. I’d used a Stabilo pastel or an oil stick to write it.

“Making collages helps to bypass the linear mind because the hands do all the thinking.
Creating collages from this mindful space allows the wisdom of the body to reveal insights
about ourselves and our world.”~ Marion Woodman

And, a lot of my stories involve characters who are artists, and all of my stories have characters asking themselves in what ways do they want to feel more expansive in their current life. The answer is often by engaging in something creative, some act or practice where they get to express themselves in new ways. I think the experience of where and how their art merges must differ for everyone.

Portland Protest Art, collage, Jodi PaloniI’m sure that listening to podcasts or music and books on Libro.fm does impact my work while I’m making art, too. Now that I think of it, I’d say, yes, for certain it does. I recently made a rage release set of papers, painting swathes of dark color and drawing angry hard lines as a way to process what was happening to #BlackLivesMatter protesters in Portland, Oregon. News is narrative; it’s story.

Story evokes feeling in me and feelings need to come out. Sometimes the event of making one art form to support the creation of another is unconscious. I believe that energetic dance is valuable, but an exchange of energy between two art forms, like anything else, might be deepened for some by creating intention. Don’t you think?

Ekphrasis is the word to describe an ancient Greek practice where poets wrote lyrics in response to some form of visual art. Now the term is used to describe any way one kind of art-making informs another.

I offer opportunities for folks to practice ekphrasis in the writing workshops that I teach. We might use photographs or postcards as a writing prompt to evoke a memory or scene we write down, or pull lines from our writing to inspire a collage that illustrates a sentiment or action, and then use the art and words that we made and shared as a prompt to inspire further writing, and so on.

TH: I noticed repeating images–symbols, maybe–in your collages. As well as a lot of raw edges, torn paper, a lot of different kinds of paper, and often words cut out of magazines. These are all tools in your toolbox, but could you talk a bit about how you decide to use these different materials in a collage? 

 JP: I have my supplies set up in various making stations in my house, much to my husband’s chagrin, though he is very generous about it. I have a spacious table in my upstairs studio with shelves stuffed with materials near at hand, but I have other places, too, a corner set aside in the woods cabin where I write, a clipboard for my lap in my living room chair by the wood stove.

I have a small plastic container I take on the road when I know I’ll be gone for a couple of days, and an oversized pencil case I’m known to stick in my beach bag. I never want to be too far away from materials. Ripping and gluing is my meditation. This means my choice of materials depends a lot upon where I am when the urge to create overcomes me.

A few weeks ago, I was listening to the radio, the broadcast of John Lewis’s memorial service. I was so overcome with feelings of despair I could hardly stand at the sink to finish the dishes.

He would not want that, I told myself. John Lewis would want me to take agency, to uplift myself and others in a conversation in some way. I stopped doing dishes and grabbed some scraps of embellishment paper from a basket on the table, all with a bright orange theme. I cut shapes that I imagined would create movement and flow, the feeling of joy. I stood and listened as the radio played his voice, him speaking his own words at his service.

I cut and arranged and then pasted pieces to pieces of cream rag I tore to make similarly sized canvases. I chose the rag paper as my substrate because I wanted the brightness of it to inform the composition as negative space, to help pop even more the “happy” colors. I felt so good after making those and I can bring back that same feeling whenever I look at them.

“The creation of an art collage from the soul is an inner journey that allows
your soul to speak to you.
Your soul’s voice can be heard through the images, feelings
and insights that surface…”~
Kathleen Carrillo

As far as repeated images, symbols, motifs, as well as, color choices or repeated marks, I refer to that as visual language, a concept I learned from the artist and art teacher, Connie Solera. In short, she urges us to try not to think so much about what we do as we do it, but after, we can choose to gaze at our work and see what we’ve done, what patterns might be discerned, what feelings might that evoke. We journal about what we see and learn more about ourselves in the seeing.

I feel that my writing has a unique visual language, too. There are objects and gestures and landscapes described that are repeated in every story, maybe not exactly, but varying versions of the same meaningful thing. The way characters look out windows. The way a stranger enters a scene. The way light is often pink, birds fly onto the page, and hands pick up objects and place them down.

TH: Tell us a bit about your process. Do you typically plan out ahead of time what you are going to make a collage about? Or is your process more organic, spontaneous?

 JP: I’d say it’s a combination. It seems more important for me to think about how I make time for creative work more than what I do once I’ve landed at one of my stations.

Sometimes I say, I’m going to write in the morning, tend to email and client work over an extended lunch, and paint for at least an hour before supper. Other times, I get an urge to drop what I’m doing because I just feel this need to make something. This is true for my writing practice, too.

The collage a day experiment during the month of July was my attempt to make sure I was visiting one of my creative spaces at least once a day during a hiatus I took from work that month. For the month of August, I gave myself permission to be more relaxed. I like to mix it up. September is devoted to Haiku. We’ll see if I can stop myself from making collages to go with that work.

But then again, why would I? That’s where planning and not planning to actually begin to work comes in. Once I’m there, then there’s the planning or not planning what I do.

In all honesty, rarely does anything go as I planned.

TH: In this time of the COVID 19 pandemic, I’m sure you’ve had more time to make more art as well as more time to think about it. Have you noticed anything about how your feelings that emerged during the creation of a collage might have changed due to the isolation?

JP: Yes, more time to create and to help others find more time and space to create, has been good for me during any tumultuous time. What the COVID 19 staying in place restriction has gifted me is more exposure to teachers and learning opportunities I might not have otherwise found or connected with on-line. That has been remarkable.

The artwork I made in the more wintery months of early isolation will always be works I look back on that evoke that time of sequester, of fear and opportunity found in unknown.

The July collage series seems more random, work that’s less relevant to the virus, more relative to the racial equity movement, as well as work that’s just plain old sentimental or perhaps regressive, trying to find a way back to a time before the darker truths of our culture came even more fully into the light, which I know is not possible, nor would I want it to be.

Suffice it to say, sometimes I work to uncover and release difficult emotions. Other times I am in need of soothing and I work to that goal. In some ways, my actions in creating haven’t so much changed, but the awareness of the underlying process has been highlighted more fully as I am more fully awakened.

For me, making or consuming some kind of art is one surefire way into the exploration of my humanity. Coupled with moments in nature, it’s what gets me through the day.

TH: What advice would you give someone who gets inspired to try their hand at collage–but might be intimidated because they “aren’t creative?” Are there any books or YouTube videos that might help someone get started?

JP: Community is key, finding one that is about non-judgment creativity. There are plenty out there, online and in person, and they are gaining momentum and power in the world of art and art-making. The days of “good art vs bad art” and la-dee-da art-making are over, as far as I am concerned.

My advice is just get started, right here and now. Do whatever pops into your head. Make an assemblage out of your heirloom tomatoes on the kitchen counter. Make a doodle on the back of bill envelope; color it in. Build a sculpture from rocks in the driveway. Rearrange your bookshelf by color.

“Collage is like a hall of mirrors. Every direction you look, you see something different and visually stimulating.”~ Nita Leland

And when you need inspiration on taking it further, here are a few resources off the top of my head:

Come work with me. I offer Adventures in Words and Image Workshops on Zoom. https://www.jodipaloni.com/workshops-and-salons

Or go where I do, to Connie Solera who leads a workshop called Painting the Feminine. It’s painting, not collage, but I think the idea is to use whatever materials you want to get at what she is going for, which is to urge people out of their heads and into the intuitive world that’s inside, more into the body that’s not the brain, if there’s such a thing.

I also surf the net quite a bit, Pinterest, YouTube and I also have subscriptions to Creativebug and Skillshare where I lean heavily on the offerings under the headings mixed media and paper arts.

My favorite book for pandemic inspiration right now is How to Be An Explorer of the World by Keri Smith, and my favorite book on collage is If You Can Cut, You Can Collage by Hollie Chastain. Books and websites and Facebook Groups are so great for feeling you are part of a greater community of creatives.


Jodi Paloni is the founder of Maine Coast Writers Workshops and Retreats where she leads classes on generative writing salons in the Gateless Writing Method and hybrid writing and visual art workshops, Adventures in Word and Image. She has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College, is a GISC certified creativity coach, is trained in the Gateless Writing Method and Sequencing: Making is Knowing out of the River Gallery School in Vermont.
She is the author of the story collection, They Could Live With Themselves published by Press 53, runner-up for the Press 53 Award for Short Fiction, an Independent Publishers Award Silver Medalist, and finalist in the 2017 Maine Book Award in Fiction.
Her work has been anthologized in North by Northeast (Littoral Press, 2019) and the Short Story America Anthology IV and appears in a number of publications including Art New England, Decor Maine, Carve Magazine, Contrary, Literary Mama, Green Mountains Review, and others.
She has been a literary arts fellow at Monson Arts and the Joseph Fiore Arts Center, a Peter Taylor Fellow at Kenyon Review Summer Workshop, and an AWP Writer to Writer mentor..
You can learn more about Jodi, her writing, and her classes by visiting www.jodipaloni.com or find her at https://www.facebook.com/MaineCoastWriters.

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