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BookSmithStudio.com | Nikki Smith Book & Visual Artist

Handmade books and various art explorations

Posts Tagged ‘trees’

Only as high as I reach can I GROW…

January 9th, 2010 by Nikki Smith

I lost a (silly) bet with my husband and he challenged me to create a piece of artwork with a poem as his reward.  What a thoughtful way to reward me, too!  Below is the poem (by Karen Ravn) and the four collages I created, one for each sentiment in the poem:

Only as high as I reach can I GROW

Only as high

as I reach


Only as far

as I seek

Can I GO

Only as far as I seek can I GO
Only as deep as I look can I SEE

Only as deep

as I look


Only as much

as I dream

Can I BE

Only as much as I dream can I BE
Gold leaf tree detail

I chose this poem to inspire my husband.  We both continually strive to improve ourselves and to stretch our horizons.  We challenge each other to grow and to think and to do and to learn.  This poem and the artwork I’ve created around it reflect that creative spirit of curiosity, growth and boundless potential that I see every day in the two loves of my life.

The tree is a common element among all four collages to tie them together visually.  The first panel (GROW) has a silver-leafed matboard tree on top of an altered photo of the sky with a seagull.  The second panel (GO) uses copper leaf and an old map with the legend/poem raised as well.  The third panel (SEE) has the tree cut-out and is mounted above a mirror (for self-reflection).  The photo is a macro shot that I took of dew drops on a spiderweb in the grass.  The final panel (BE) is a mixed gold leaf tree on a beautiful photo of the heavens.  All four collages measure 6 x 8″ each.

The process:

After deciding on the poem and spending many nights thinking about it and jotting down ideas for techniques and subject matter for each of the stanzas, I finally had an idea that I wanted to try.  First, let me list a few of the varied ideas that I set aside.  I may use these on a future project someday.

  • Idea 1: Collaged backgrounds of vintage illustrations from old books or manuals, all tinted to the same color – perhaps dyed with coffee or tea for a sepia tone.  For example, for “high” the images could be astronomical instruments, diagrams of the movements of the heavens, blueprints for airplanes, etc.  For “far” it would be maps or modes of transportation.  For “deep” it could be drawings to do with the sea, the human eye, or microscopic cells/germs.  For “dream” it would be mind-maps and brain diagrams.
  • Idea 2: Simple color scheme of black, white and green.  Zentangles for the tree elements, varying the color positions.
  • Idea 3: Fabric over the matboard and beneath the photo, showing though a cut-out tree shape in the photo for a raised, fabric-covered tree.
  • Idea 4: Impressed and painted copper foil; embossed mirror; swirls or designs worked into the leaf…
  • And a dozen other ideas, no two alike.

My first step was to locate/create imagery that spoke to me for each of the panels.  I found some vintage illustrations that I liked, but not enough.  I eventually chose photography for the backgrounds rather than illustrations.  I poured through my own photos, my collection of old books and creative commons photos on the web.  I found and altered the perfect images and then added the text for each part of the poem.

I then cut the tree out of the SEE photo, as well as out of a plain piece of card stock.  I used the back side of this template to trace the tree segments onto mat board, three copies of each piece.  As I went, I numbered both the template and each piece so that I could later reassemble them.  I painstakingly cut the shapes with an exacto knife, learning that I had to always go counter-clockwise around each shape (I’m a lefty) to keep the angles right.  I had to re-cut several shapes as I learned what worked and what didn’t, especially on the itty-bitty ones.  I spent so many hours on this step that I lost feeling in the tip of one finger tip for several weeks after!

Once the pieces were ready, I added metal leaf to them.  Not as easy as it sounds!  The first time I didn’t use enough spray adhesive and had to spend days filling in the gaps on the edges.  I was wiser on the last tree, which was a relative breeze to do.  When complete, I sealed the leaf.

Finally, I mounted the SEE photo face-down as a template on a block of wood with a piece of paper to protect the front of the photo.  I applied Terrifically Tacky Tape (which is wonderful, I might add) to the backs of the tree pieces.  I then laid down one or two pieces at a time in the template, sticky side up.  I taped each of the three collages (with invisible gift wrap tape) temporarily to a piece of matboard to keep the pages stiff.  Then I lined up the top of the page with the top of the template and pressed it face-down on top.  This adhered the tree to the collage, bit-by-bit.  It was so exciting to see the pieces finally coming together after all of the time I had invested in this project!

The last step will be to double-mat and frame the collages.  I haven’t yet decided whether to do so four-across in a row, or 2 x 2 in a grid…Hmmm…  I can’t wait to see it on the wall!  =)

Detail: Only as far as I seek can I goWith this project, I’ve also challenged myself to present my art more, well, artistically.  In the past, I’ve usually taken a face-on photo of the artwork showing the whole piece, and maybe edited out the distracting background and adjusted the brightness.  However, I’ve been paying more attention to the images that catch my eye in magazines and on the web and I’ve noticed that the shots I like best are rarely so static.  They draw the eye, show an unusual angle, focus on detail, show depth and texture and even leave something to the imagination by how the shot is framed and cropped.  The art seems more touchable and real in these photos.

I hope that I have captured the essence of the artwork and the soul of the poem for you, and maybe inspired you to reach a bit higher, step out on your journey, reflect and grow and most of all, dream bigger dreams.

Photo Collage Portrait – Beta

May 25th, 2009 by Nikki Smith

Photo Collage, Beta

After a long abscence from art, I’m finally making the time to create once more.  Recently I stumbled across the mixed media illustrations of Annette Mangseth and she inspired me to create this portrait of my niece Beta.  While I love the whimsical and captivating style of Annette’s work, I wanted to make this portrait more personal and give it my own sense of style.  I knew that it needed to incorporate music in some way, to represent Beta’s talents and interests.  I began with a nice childhood photograph of my niece and a head full of ideas.  Then the fun began!

Step 1: Find a great photo

Steps in the making of a portrait collage:

My husband Joseph was a great help on this project, providing the musical score and several variations of Beta’s photo using PhotoShop filters as a starting point for the portrait as well as valuable feedback throughout the process.

Variations with Photoshop Filters

I chose a watercolor filter effect on the face for it’s soft colors and simplicity.  Then, I masked out the background of the photo and created a shape for Beta’s new wind-blown hair to replace her up-do on the photo.  This area would later be collaged to compliment the portrait.

photocollage_beta_step3At first, I envisioned collaging white musical notes on black for her hair, like so:


I loved this concept, but it didn’t feel complete.  After moving things around to incorporate a new musical score a “happy accident” occurred.  Instead of covering her hair, the music overlaid her face.  Lovely!

photocollage_beta_step5My next step was to clean-up the rough outline of the hair, smoothing curves and adding a few extra locks on her forehead.  Then I erased her original bangs from the photo.

Next I experimented with several ideas for collage elements to represent her hair.  I was drawn to photos of nature, both my own and ones from my extensive collection of free images.

A thick black outline around her hair and figure helped to define the image.

I had two favorite elements for the hair (trees on a crisp winter day, and a whirlpool galaxy) and just couldn’t choose.  I decided to use both, playing on her name “Beta.”  I flipped one image right-to-left and positioned the girls with their hair overlapping.

photocollage_beta_step6The final step was choosing a background for the collage.  I made a small-scale copy of my collaged Beta’s to experiment with and swapped in dozens of potential backgrounds, from textured papers, fabrics and “found textures” to solid colors and nature scenes.  My favorite was a simple image of clouds and blue sky.  I then switched back to work at full-scale.  I aligned the clouds with Beta’s eyes to draw the viewer’s eyes and as a final touch I added a few stars in the sky.

I am looking forward to creating more custom collage portraits in the near future.  Stay tuned!