What Passes through Your Hands?

Every single item that goes through your hands could be fodder for creativity. 

If you are like me, a ton of paper likely passes through your hands every day. Some you probably don’t even pay attention to—it just goes right into the trash or the recycling. But every single item could be fodder for creativity. Keep an envelope or plastic bag with you so you have somewhere to store papers you encounter. Ignore nothing. You never know how the material might translate into a collage. It might get buried with another medium, but who cares? You’ll know it’s there and it will ground the memory of a particular day into your collage. Heather Matthew excels at this, using her daily finds at home and when abroad to create.

Collage © Heather Matthew.

Artist Statement: Heather Matthew

In 2010, I began an ongoing project to document my life through daily collages. These small collages use recycled papers and everyday materials such as train tickets, found text, postage stamps, and my own discarded prints and paintings. Some years I included stitching in the collages as an added challenge. Other years I created concertina books for each month, with one page for each day of the month. When I was traveling with only a backpack for three months, I used shipping tags as my substrates.

Creating daily artworks not only helps me document my life but also serves as a solid creative habit that I use to springboard my ideas into other works. When my studio was flooded in 2017, I collaged together mud-­stained and flood-­marked papers to tell a story of resilience and climate crisis. And I documented my travels through Europe in 2018 by creating 91 collaged postcards.

While some of my collages express my political beliefs, I also use collage to explore human connection. These actions express and propose a message of hope, that our small daily offerings can help heal the world.

Heather Matthew
Collage © Heather Matthew.


Try it yourself.

  1. Collect papers from your day, your week, or a particular trip. Your papers can include bags, receipts, tickets, ephemera, drawings from your children, or whatever else you want.
  2. Determine your substrate. Will you use something from the found papers or something else?
  3. From your collection of found papers create one or more collages that document the particular day, month, or experience.

Excerpted and adapted from Collage Your Life © Melanie Mowinski.

Melanie Mowinski

About the Author

Melanie Mowinski is a professor of art at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and founder of PRESS: Letterpress as a Public Art Project. She has maintained a daily practice of collage and creating with paper for more than 10 years. Her artist books are part of special collections at the American Library at the Smithsonian, Haas Arts Library at Yale University, and the Tate Modern Museum of Art in London. She lives in Williamstown, MA. 

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