Pieces Making the Whole: Collaging Through COVID and Beyond

The Peace of Nature, collage of author and leavesOctober, 2021–My god, so much has happened since my last blog post last year. Momentarily blown apart by the pandemic isolation, I lost my sense of self. Now the pieces of me have started to reassemble. But not like before. I am, in fact, a different person now.

COVID isolation for a year + my father’s passing away while we were all in isolation + skin cancer + PTSD from all of that = a changed person.

What got me through the awfulness of the nearly 2 years of change was art. Specifically, writing a memoir (more on that in another post), and discovering, creating, and facilitating collage in a hospital.

It was through one of Jodi Paloni’s workshops that I was introduced to and began to create collages. It was then that I recognized how powerful collages were in helping me express myself without words. Collages brought forth feelings that had been obscured over time and no longer had words to them. And collaging became a wonderful catalyst for and a bridge to writing.

Collage at Work In the Hospital
I work as an Artist In Residence at a cancer institute. When I started, it was as a knitting teacher. But more often than not, patients weren’t receptive to my offer to teach them knitting.

Once I had been unleashed on collage, I realized that the freedom and lack of obstacles to collage-making made collage a perfect activity for patients in a hospital setting.

Collage-making is indeed accessible to all, and popular because one needn’t know how to draw or paint to make a collage. You just do like you did in kindergarten: ripping up paper and glueing it down. And collages don’t have to “look like” anything. They are just fun and quick to make. Plus, there is often glitter involved.

Patient’s collage.

What delights me the most about collaging in the hospital is how often patients are surprised to find within the random papers and words they glue down, that a story is emerging. Maybe they find a  memory of when their child was young. Or feelings about a first husband. Or feelings about their family living far away. When their collages are complete, and the collage makers tell me about their creations, so much is recounted, re-lived and shared–so much more than just what you see on the paper.

I provide a “lap easel” for patients to use while in their recliners as they get chemo infusions. I give them a “collage kit” in a cellophane bag which they usually open up quickly and spread out on the lap easel to contemplate what they have. Each kit contains a blank piece of mixed media paper (usually postcard sized), a cardboard “glue board”, randomly chosen words and images from newspapers and magazines, torn maps, old photos, interesting mulberry papers, tissue paper, and printed papers, plus a Scotch-brand, liquid “glue pen.”

In case patients want to do something different than what was in their kit, I always bring along a huge collection of alternate words, papers, and images for patients to go to town on if they are not satisfied with their initial kit selection.  I also have markers, crayons, colored pencils, scissors, sharpies, fabric paint and GLITTER for their use.


And, finally, I found I needed to address the issue of staff not having the time to make a collage while on duty.
My solution was to interview working staff about their mood, their concerns and hopes, and then to create what I call “collaborative collages.”
The nurses and techs feel “seen and heard” when I show them the final collage and talk to them about why I chose the materials I chose to capture their moods.

Making My Own Collages–Digitally and IRL
Repeated circles in the design of a collageBack when I first started making my own collages,  I predetermined what I wanted a collage to be, rather than letting one just grow out of how I felt. I focused on the 5 Universal Symbols of Angeles Arrien. Each of the 5 shapes would dominate the collage, and the torn images and words would be used in service to the shape.

I eventually did create collages for all 5 shapes, but the making of and the final collages were not liberating in the way they had been in Jodi’s workshop. They felt tight, over-wrought and unsatisfying.

Top: the circle-shaped collage. Lower down: the equidistant cross-shaped collage.

Much has transpired since I feed myself from the pre-determination of collages. Now, I do collages based on a mood or on a shape or color that catches my eye and, subsequently, my imagination. I’ve moved into the use of more varied paper stocks, paints, stencils and rubber stamps. And bought a color printer so I can also use my own photos.

And of course, I began making photo collages in the camera. I’ve found various apps and filters to turn boring selfies into more interesting images that better express something I’m thinking about or feeling.

And, finally, I’ve started doing collages of the books fellow writers are working on. The collage below was made as an interpretation of Amy Jane Lynch’s historical fiction novel of two families in the Civil War South.

Collaging will be one of my tools for “meaning making” for as long as my search continues (ie: forever.)



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