collage artist

︎ Edinburgh/UK
september 04, 2020

Could you please introduce yourself? Where did you grow up, and what were some of your first art experiences?

I was born and grew up in Edinburgh (Scotland) in a pretty rough part of the city. As a kid I was completely obsessed with football and in all honesty I showed next to no interest in art at all until I was about 14 or 15 when I became interested in graphic design where I took it upon myself to design one issue of the school newsletter. Even then my experience in anything creative was pretty limited to when I was at school.

A particular memory at secondary school was of me trying to paint – I think I was to design a record cover or something like that - but I just did not know what to do. The frustration was really overwhelming as I knew what I wanted to do and could visualise the end result but did not know where to begin.

It took me a very long time to overcome these frustrations. For so long I thought being artistic meant you had to draw or paint and I felt as if I had to know how to do something before I would even try.

Was collage a medium that spoke to you from the beginning? Or did you try any other art forms first?

I became interested in collage through my interest in photography. I had been working on a personal project called Glasgow in Bits (GIB) where I photographed graffiti, architectural details, just little odds and ends that caught my eye in and around Glasgow.

Anyway, I was working on an ebook for GIB and decided to create a collage for the cover… and that’s it, I’ve been hooked ever since. I still have the original collage for the cover. It’s awful!  And that was only a couple of years ago.

Do you have any formal art training, and if so, what did/does art school do for you artistically, if anything?

I have no formal training in art at all. In my younger days I worked as a graphic designer for a number of newspapers and print houses in Edinburgh. The problem was that I became interested in graphic design through my knowledge of computing and because of that I never saw what I did as being artistic or creative.

Pretty much all my learning has been accumulated through years of YouTube tutorials, reading art books, and just trying stuff out… It’s been a long process.

Would you like to talk a little about the process behind your collages? Do you work exclusively analogue?

I work exclusively in analogue. I just love the tactile nature of working in that way. 

Generally, I don’t plan out my work too much but when I do I usually I begin to think about possible ideas a week before I start. Sometimes I will make notes – single words or a phrases – other times I make some quick sketches or note down particular colours I want to work with. Occasionally, I may need to do some research and think about collecting images, text, whatever for the artwork.  

In contrast, there are definitely times I do no planning at all. For example, when I started working on the Paris Collage Collective weekly challenges I made a deliberate decision to never plan. I just print out the artwork for that week’s challenge and see what happens. So far, they have mostly turned out well.

I watched some of your Instagram live videos. You like to experiment if I’m not mistaken. Could you describe some of your favourite techniques that have resulted from those experiments?

That is what I love most about collage. It is such a great art form for experimentation and embracing new techniques because anything goes.

One of my favourite techniques is to use sand paper to roughen the surface of my collages. You can create some great results but it can be a bit time consuming. I also like to use knives, screwdrivers or chisels to hack bits of out my work. It’s a great way to add texture and bring life to your artwork.

When I am working with paint I often use a credit card or something similar to paint with. The card makes it really easy to spread really thin layers of almost translucent paint on the surface.

What materials and tools do you use, why, and how?

My materials are a pretty basic. I use various mixed media papers, anything around the 300gsm mark. I also like to work on canvas and wood panels.

As far as adhesives go I use either Mod Podge or Liquitex Matte Gel depending on the effect I am looking for. I also have loads of different brushes, acrylic paints, scalpel, steel ruler.

Other than that most of what I use I find at home, second shops, or discount stores.

You have a studio, meaning both space and the liberty to make a mess. Do you have any advice for people who have limited space and materials, and who work in their living space rather than a studio?

Studio is a bit of a push to be honest. It is more of a table that has been squeezed in to my very cramped garage! For a long time I worked at my kitchen table but it was virtually impossible to work without ruining something in the kitchen. I’m a pretty messy worker.

A dedicated space to work makes so much of a difference. I find it difficult to work for prolonged periods of time so being able to go to the garage and try out ideas or continue to work on something at any time is a real bonus. If there is any way your readers can  create a dedicated space they should definitely do it, it opens up so many opportunities. 

There are lots of places you can pick materials cheaply or for free. I always pick up free newspapers or magazines and check them out for ideas. Charity shops are great for old magazines and posters. You can even pick up art, cheap canvases that you can paint over and reuse for you own artwork.

The best piece of advice I can give is to use the creativity you already have when it comes to materials. Collage allows us to reuse resources in different ways. For example, I recently bought an anti-slip mat intended for use under a rug and used it as stencil that I painted over. There are so many things that can be re-used, so we need to keep our eyes open and consider how we can repurpose what we can.

Has your work has changed over the years, and if so how?

The biggest change in my work is that I definitely become more willing to experiment with new materials and techniques. I have definitely become more willing to look at ‘mistakes’ or ‘problems’ as possible new ways of working. I have also began to embrace new materials. For example recently I have begun to work with wood and cardboard in my work.

What are your working on currently? And what professional or artistic goals do you have as an artist?

I recently started a piece that uses photographs of old posters and adverts on the streets.  I love the look that comes when billposters build up over years creating these thick layers of music posters, adverts, graffiti, stickers, etc. It’s like a little time capsule. I really like the idea of something constantly changing and evolving, like you could walk past the same spot every day and it looking subtly different.

And last but not least, who are some of the artists, collage and in general, you admire?

At the moment I am pretty much obsessed with Henri Matisse.  I saw an exhibition of his last year in Sorrento (Italy) when I was on holiday and have been hooked ever since.  His cut-outs are just so beautiful.  I loved the freedom he expresses in his work ; the organic shapes and especially his use of colour.

I also love Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Jackson Pollock, Paul Nash, Mark Rothko, Keith Haring, Wassily Kandinsky, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, to name just a few… ask me again in a week or two and I’m sure this list will be totally different!

John Hutton ︎
Interview: Petra Zehner