Matthew: I'm a self-taught collage artist who has been fascinated by every sort of paper-related item for as long as I can remember. I started making collages several years ago because I longed to be a landscape painter but discovered I had absolutely no talent for it, however I could put together very nice looking pseudo-landscape scenes from little bits of paper. I live with my partner and several cats in Central Florida, outside of the tourist area in what some have described as “the middle of nowhere”. For several years, I was the president of our local art group, and have also taught collage and weaving classes locally.
Etsy Paper: When did you open your shop on Etsy?
Matthew: I opened my own Etsy shop in September of 2011, after having been a non-selling member of Etsy for quite a bit longer.
Etsy Paper: Tell us about your shop.
Matthew: In my shop I sell collages (both originals and reproductions in various formats), and a somewhat random assortment of other paper-related items including a variety of vintage paper, old greeting cards, playing cards, envelopes and stamps, that make very good supplies for other people's projects. My original collages are almost all postcard size, and I have recently been very excited about getting a wonderful new scanner that lets me digitize the originals with such good resolution that they can be printed as large as 16x20. Lately I have also been listing a few excess items from my own collections, such as Diana-era royal magazines and Absolut Vodka ads. I also always have one listing going for handwoven triangular shawls, which I make as a custom order.
Matthew: The thing that inspires me most is interesting or unusual color combinations. A lot of my collage paper comes from old recycled magazines, which my neighbors bring me in copious quantity. I generally lay several of them out in a row and turn the pages of each one randomly as they lay side-by-side until I see colors that look pleasing together. The colors themselves are more important than the object or person that the magazine photo is of. In fact, I will often cut the background away from the primary part of the image, and only use the background in my collages. Once I find a group of colors and patterns I like, I tend to go off on binges of making as many collages as possible of a particular set of paper until it's all used up. Another place I visit fairly regularly for inspiration is a wonderful website I discovered years ago called colourlovers.com that is all about creating palettes of colors and then using them to color pre-made patterns, which can also become ideas for future collages.
Matthew: My work space is as simple and compact as it could be: I make my postcard size collages on a clipboard on my lap, generally while in front of the television set, with the old magazines arrayed in front of me on the coffee table and the floor. Sometimes I will set myself a challenge, such as that the collage has to be finished in a specific amount of time, or can only contain the paper I can reach from my seat without standing up. I generally start out by ripping the paper into the shapes I want, but also I have a small Fiskars paper trimmer for straight cuts and a very tiny craft scissors for detailed cutting. I have a few paper punches for tiny shapes and corners, but my larger pieces are always cut by hand – I never use a die-cutter. I prefer a Zig glue pen for the shiny magazine paper, and Elmer's gel glue (the green stuff) applied with a small paintbrush for other types. The backings of my collages are generally cut from food packaging boxes (cereal, pasta, etc) that are shiny on the outside and flat grey on the inside – I find that the paper sticks really well to the shiny side. I really like the fact that I can fit all of my supplies and equipment into one canvas tote bag and take them with me easily if I'm on the road.
Etsy Paper: Do you remember the first item you made, and if so, do you still have it?
Matthew: I'm sure I must have made collages as a child in school or summer camp, but I don't have any of those anymore. My current collage project, which I started at the beginning of 2010, was inspired by the artists who commit to doing one piece per day – one painting, one collage, etc. – so naturally, in addition to the actual collages, there has to be a website. Mine is here: thematerialwhirl.wordpress.com, and while I confess that I haven't even come close to one per day, the fact that each collage is “immortalized” on my blog means that I never forget them, even if the original has been sold or given away. Having digital versions of the entire set also means that no design is ever final – sometimes even when I no longer have the original, I will go back and tweak the digital version if I get a new idea. For example, two of the very first collages I made in this project were a matched pair that said “Happy” on one and “New Year” on the other. I no longer have the actual collages, but later I put the two together digitally with a seasonal message underneath, to create a New Year's greeting card that I list in my shop at the appropriate time of year.
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Matthew: There are two things that I often do on my collages. The first is that I like to “frame” them by cutting out pictures of frames from old art magazines and gluing pieces of them onto the collage. Generally not an entire frame, but maybe one side, or just a couple of the corners – just a suggestion of framing. Sometimes when people see one of these from across the room, they think it's actually framed, and only when they get up close do they realize that the frame itself is also more paper. The other thing is a sunburst paper punch that I found a few years ago. I liked the idea that some artists have a “trademark” that can always be found in their work, so I've started to always put at least one sunburst on each of my more recent collages whenever the design lends itself to that.
Etsy Paper: How many different selling venues do you use?
Matthew: Etsy is my primary selling venue for selling my actual physical items. I also have listed a number of my collages on Fine Art America, which is a print-on-demand site. (You upload the digital image, and the customer can order that image in any number of different formats and sizes.) But with both of those sites, and probably every other one too, you are competing against so many other sellers for the attention of the customer that it's essential to promote yourself additionally, both in person and on social media.
Etsy Paper: Do you have a favorite quote to share?
Matthew: Years ago, when I was attempting to become a writer, someone told me this quote, which has been attributed to many people, but primarily to Oscar Wilde: “There are three rules for writing a great novel. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.” I printed that quote out on my computer and had it hanging on my wall for a long time, and I realize now that it is also true of art and any other that people try. There are lots of people who claim to have the secret to being a top Etsy seller, but the fact is that if there really were three rules that we could all discover, we would all be top Etsy sellers. I just keep making my little collages and putting them out there and hoping that people will find pleasure and interest in them.
What a great shop! Matthew and MaterialWhirlCollage are undoubtedly unique.
Until next time,