Q & A: How Did You Pick Your Creative Medium?

The Colorful Parrot
The Colorful Parrot collage by Megan Coyle

When I was a kid, my parents often signed me up for classes at a local art gallery, and just about every year, I took an art class in school. Over the years, I experimented with a variety of mediums – from ceramics to bookbinding, and from painting to charcoal drawing. I was always making something and enjoyed taking classes that introduced me to different techniques and mediums.

In high school, I started exploring the collage medium more. Previously, I had only ever made collages that were more stereotypical – filled with cutout words, phrases, and entire images that created more of a “vision board” look. But in high school, I started exploring mixed media along with magazine cutouts:

Running Water by collage artist Megan Coyle

I was drawn to how spontaneous the medium felt – how I never knew what fragments of images I’d find when paging through a magazine. However, I still felt a need to draw or make some sort of physical mark on the page since I was so accustomed to making art that way. Later on, I focused on making collages with magazine cutouts that I drew on top of with oil pastel:

Orange Girl by collage artist Megan Coyle

Once I reached college, I started to focus primarily on how I could make works of art entirely from magazine cutouts. I was drawn to the challenge of finding all the right colors and textures for a given composition:

Bren by collage artist Megan Coyle

Ultimately, I picked collage as my creative medium because, of all the mediums I explored, collage was my favorite. It made sense to focus entirely on collage and really explore that medium since it was something I enjoyed so thoroughly.

And now, I have only made collages for the past several years. Perhaps I will revisit some other mediums at some point, but for now, I enjoy challenging myself by tackling different compositions with collages made entirely from magazine cutouts.

Q&A: How Do You Frame Your Collages?

Dog framed collage made from upcycled magazines by Megan Coyle
Dog framed collage made from upcycled magazines by Megan Coyle

When I frame my collages, I like to use a UV-protective frame and acid-free mat board. Using acid-free materials for framing helps prevent discoloration of the original artwork from other materials that are overlapping the art from framing, such as mat boards or backing materials. UV-protective frames also help protect the original artwork from sunlight, which can cause fading and discoloration. In general, I recommend hanging artwork that’s on paper or made from paper out of direct sunlight whenever possible (to further protect the art).

I generally work in standard sizes for my artwork, which makes it easier for clients to frame the artwork themselves. The artwork in my online store is sold unframed (although I can frame pieces on request), and since most of my original artwork fits standard frames, it makes it easier for customers to order their own frames online. The trick to finding the right frame, is looking for frames that use acid-free mats and are UV-protective. I’ve previously used Nielsen Bainbridge frames, although you can also find other UV-protective options as well.

Q&A: What Inspired You To Write And Illustrate A Children’s Book?

Duck & Fish by collage artist Megan Coyle

Back in 2011, I wrote and illustrated my first children’s book, Duck & Fish. When I was in college, I studied painting and creative writing, and had taken a hiatus from creative writing once I graduated from college. However, I was inspired to pick up writing again for this project after a number of people said that they’d love to see me write and illustrate a children’s book. So I suppose you could say I was inspired to write and illustrate a children’s book after enough people had asked me if I had ever thought about doing just that. I also liked the idea of merging together my two interests in art and writing into a project – thus, I decided to give it a try and tackle my first book.

I remember the project was pretty time-consuming since I put all my other collage work on hold as I began work on about 30 collage illustrations. It took me several months that year to complete all the illustrations after I had storyboarded out how I wanted things to look and had already completed the first draft of the text. I had a couple of friends proof-read my work and provide feedback. And as I finalized the illustrations, I worked on finalizing the copy.

When the text and artwork were complete, I photographed my collages, and decided on using Blurb for self-publishing my work. I didn’t want to wait on finding a publisher since I was eager to have my book readily available. However, after several years passed, I realized Blurb wasn’t very accessible to others who were interested in buying my book. In fact, the cost of printing a book was so high, that I could barely mark up the price at all to make a profit (I was making about $1 per book that sold when they were costing around $30 to print). Recently, I worked on reformatting my book to have it available on Amazon and Apple Books at a much more affordable price, and since it’s now on two popular platforms, it’s a lot easier to find.

Will I make another children’s book in the future? At this point, I like the idea of making another one, although I keep remembering how time-consuming the Duck & Fish book was to illustrate, so at the moment, I don’t think I’m ready to dive into another one just yet. I might actually explore writing a book about the creative process in the not so distant future.

Q&A: What Materials Do You Use For Your Collages?

Tree Baby (Firefox) collage by Megan Coyle
Tree Baby (Firefox) collage by Megan Coyle

I get asked this quite often, so I figured I’d share a list of all the materials that go into my collages, as well as links to those materials (to make things easier for anyone interested in making their own “painting with paper” collages). Here’s everything I use for my artwork:

1. Magazines

My collages are made entirely from magazine cutouts. Oftentimes, I recycle old magazines that friends and family members have given me, by turning them into new works of art. In the past, sometimes I’d subscribe to magazines so I’d have more materials to work with. One of my favorite magazines to use is Vogue, (or any fashion magazine) because they have so many ads and pages filled with various colors and patterns. I also really enjoy using National Geographic, especially when it comes to working on landscape pieces.

2. Glue

I like to work on my works in progress with a glue stick, because the glue is more temporary. This gives me more flexibility to peel up layers and move them around if I’m not crazy about the placement of the magazine cutouts. Once I’m finished with a collage, I’ll later varnish it to seal in the placement. My go-to glue stick is Elmer’s All Purpose Glue Sticks – they give me the right amount of flexibility and they’re acid-free (which is important when you’re working with delicate materials like paper).

3. Scissors

Some collage artists prefer using X-Acto knives because of the precision they get, however, I prefer using a good old pair of scissors (partially because I’m too clumsy to work with X-Acto knives). I currently have a couple of pairs of Scotch Multi-Purpose Scissors. Even though these scissors aren’t super small, I like working with them even when I’m cutting really tiny bits of paper.

4. Surface

Instead of working on canvas or Masonite board, I enjoy working on watercolor paper when I’m cutting and pasting magazine strips. I like using watercolor paper because it’s heavy enough to be more durable than other papers, and at the same time, it still gives me the flexibility to cut out portions of a collage if I’m not crazy about the direction that an entire composition is moving in. I can cut out the parts that do work and layer them on a fresh watercolor paper surface. My go-to paper is Strathmore.

5. Varnish

I always varnish a completed collage, and sometimes I’ll varnish a work in progress if the magazine cutouts are small enough in detailed areas (so those pieces won’t accidentally fall off). I like to use Liquitex’s Matte Varnish, but if you prefer to have a glossy surface to your collages, they also have a high gloss varnish that you can use. I like Liquitex’s varnish since it’s easy enough to layer, and it’s UV-protective.

If you want to frame your collages, I’d recommend using UV-protective glass and acid-free mats. Whenever possible, you want to work with materials that are acid-free and provide UV-protection to help protect the paper from discoloration over time.

Talks: Evolution of an Artist’s Website

Evolution of an Artist's Website
Evolution of an Artist's Website

A couple of years ago I gave a talk at a Meetup for coders and artists. During the day I work as a software engineer, while I work on my art in my free time, so I was excited to speak at an event that involved the merging of my two interests.

Over the years, as I’ve learned more about technology and marketing, I’ve made adjustments to my artist website. Take a look at my talk to learn more:

Q&A: Where Do You Get Your Inspiration From?

Koala by collage artist Megan Coyle
Koala by collage artist Megan Coyle

I get a lot of my inspiration from everyday life. My portraits are inspired by people I know or familiar figures, while my landscape/cityscape collages are usually based on the sights I see when traveling around a new city or exploring a place that I’m familiar with. My still life pieces are influenced by common, everyday objects, while my animal portraits are usually inspired by my visits to the zoo or whenever I encounter wildlife on my travels.

Aside from finding inspiration from the world around me, I also like to get inspired by seeing what other artists are making. I draw inspiration from art museum/gallery exhibits, as well as by connecting with fellow artists online. Seeing what other creatives are making is a great way to tap into your own creativity.

Other times the materials I work with prove to be very inspiring. Sometimes when I’m paging through a magazine, I’ll find a pattern or fragment within a photograph that sparks interest in using a specific color palette or tackling a specific subject. Usually when I’m working on a work in progress, I find paging through magazines to be especially inspiring, since I never know what colors and patterns I’ll find. There’s always an element of surprise that makes the entire process exciting.

Q&A: What Do You Love About Your Medium?

Watchful Lion by collage artist Megan Coyle

I’m often asked why I’m drawn to making collages entirely from magazine cutouts. Why not paint my own paper or use different types of paper? Why not make paintings instead? There are so many different mediums out there, and I do enjoy experimenting with different materials. However, for my main body of work, I like making art from repurposing magazine strips.

Here are a few reasons why I’m drawn to this medium time and time again:

1. Flexibility

I really enjoy working on a work in progress with an acid-free glue stick, so that I have the flexibility to peel off previous layers if I’m not crazy about the way certain sections of a piece are turning out. And that’s the type of flexibility that I don’t have when I paint with acrylic or oil paint.

2. So many colorful options

I prefer using fashion magazines because they usually have a lot of colorful ads and patterns. Often times I’ll find interesting or unusual patterns and textures that I wouldn’t have been able to think of on my own.

3. It’s a creative challenge

One of the struggles of working with colors from magazine pages is that my color palette is limited to what I can find. However, I enjoy the challenge of searching for ways to incorporate the colors I find within a given composition. It forces me to hone the way I view images and think about how I can repurpose them to construct entirely new images.

4. It’s always a surprise

I never really know how one of my collages will turn out and I really enjoy that about the process. Sometimes I’ll find colors and patterns and work really well together. Other times it’s more of a struggle, and I’ll work on adding layers only to peel them back up and start over again. I like how I never really know how things will turn out, and whenever the layers flow together nicely, it’s such a satisfying and rewarding feeling. I enjoy the art of figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

5. The possibilities

One of the things I really enjoy about my process is manipulating paper in such a way that it mimics a painting. I like creating the illusion that my work is made from one medium when it’s actually made from something entirely different. I enjoy the possibilities involved with manipulating paper. At the moment I enjoy mimicking the brushstrokes in a painting, but who knows what’s next? Perhaps I’ll start mimicking drawn lines in sketches.

Q&A: When Did You First Realize You Are An Artist?

Art always had a big role in my life when I was growing up. It was just something that I did and I didn’t think twice about it. I took art classes at local art galleries and took an art class every year at school. I don’t think I actively thought that I was an artist or thought about becoming an artist until I was in high school.

High school was when I started becoming more serious about art. I was mentored by a local artist at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Virginia, and had a couple of my first-ever group exhibits. I found myself spending hours of my free time painting at an easel and experimenting with mixed media. But again, I don’t ever think I thought “I’m an artist” or “I’m going to become an artist.” At that point in time I was wrapped up with becoming a writer, which is what I initially went to college for.

At Elon University I studied creative writing, but quickly realized that I felt lost without having some sort of visual art outlet. I picked up painting as a second major. After graduating from college, I finally realized I was an artist. I had this drive to make new work and exhibit my art. And I realized how important art had been in my life all along.

It’s funny how something can be in your life for so long, and it can take you a while to realize how much it truly means to you. I’m glad that what I once thought of as a hobby or creative outlet, is something I now know I need in my life. I’m glad that I eventually found my way to calling myself an artist. And these days I’m continuing to hone my craft and share my technique with others.

What Tools I use for my Artwork

The Curious Penguin by collage artist Megan Coyle

When you see one of my collages in-person, it’s difficult to tell what they’re made of. I think when it comes to art in general, it’s hard to imagine how a work of art was completed from start to finish. I like to post time lapse videos of my process every now and then, but I also thought I’d share more information about the tools I use to make my artwork:

1. Magazines

These are the main ingredient of my art. I like using fashion magazines since they’re full of patterns and bright colors. I also like using magazines like National Geographic when I work on landscapes.

2. Scissors

These are my tool of choice when I cut paper for my collages. I don’t ever use things like X-Acto knives, although I’ve heard of some collage artists who enjoy using them for cutting intricate pieces of paper.

3. Watercolor paper

I like using this as my support or the material I make my collages on. It’s lightweight enough that I can cut out pieces of a collage I’m working on – if it isn’t quite working out – and glue them down on another sheet of watercolor paper. It’s also durable enough that it can last for years.

4. Acid-free glue stickes

This is my adhesive of choice. I like using glue sticks when I’m working on a work in progress, since the glue isn’t completely permanent, and I can pull up previous pieces to undo any details that aren’t quite working.

5. Graphite pencils and erasers

Every collage I make begins as a sketch. It helps me map out my compositions so I can get a sense of how well a given idea will work. And erasers are necessary for when I need to redo parts of a sketch.

6. UV-protective varnish

When one of my pieces is finished, I’ll varnish it with a UV-protective varnish. Varnish helps seal the magazine strips in place, and gives them a more permanent adhesive than the glue sticks I use when the artwork isn’t quite complete. It also helps protect the paper from sunlight over time.

7. Archival frames

Whenever I frame my artwork, I like to use UV-protective glass and acid-free mats to help protect my artwork over time.  

Q & A: How Long Have You Been Making Collages?

Figure by collage artist Megan Coyle

I’ve been making collages ever since I was a kid. My first collage was made back when I was in middle school. Then for a few years, I continued to experiment with the medium. I had a tendency of working in a number of mediums and collage was simply another area I explored.

Writer's Block by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Writer’s Block” Mixed media on paper. 22″x14″
Buy Now

By the time I was a senior in high school, I started exploring the process of cutting magazine strips while focusing on color and texture. Before then, my collages looked a lot more like what you think of when you think of traditional collage – where it’s obvious that the work of art was made from fragments of photographs.

Orange Girl by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Orange Girl” Collage and oil pastel on paper. 18″x12.5″
Buy Now

My last year in high school was when I started painting with paper, where I manipulated paper in such a way that it mimicked the brushstrokes of a painting. I also had a habit of incorporating oil pastel with my collages, until a peer asked me why I was covering up all my hard work by drawing on top of it. When I realized I didn’t have a good answer for her, I decided I should focus on making collages entirely from paper.

Ali by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Ali” Collage on paper. 18″x24″
Buy Now

My senior thesis exhibition was my first cohesive body of work that was made entirely from paper. And since then, I’ve continued to hone and explore my craft. I have no idea how my art will evolve in the next ten years, and to me, that’s pretty exciting. I’m looking forward to my future artistic adventures.