Due to its size, the first painting had to be shipped by freight in a custom-built wood crate weighing an insane 173 lbs. These three were small enough that they could be shipped USPS Parcel Post and arrived today, so I can finally share the finished result and a few details about the process.
I sourced and dyed over two hundred pieces of paper: maps, letters, envelopes, travel brochures, sports tickets and concert programs, sheet music, history books, newspapers, book covers, and on and on. Each piece was individually dyed with different hues and water to dye ratios in order to create an almost ombre blue-green-tan paper background across the three panels.
Most of the material I use comes from vintage markets, antique stores or garage sales. When an antique dealer or vintage seller finds an amazing desk or dresser, a lot of times it's full of worthless (to them) old paper that's been tossed away and forgotten for decades. You'll usually find that stack somewhere off to the side of a thrift or consignment store, and I've met a number of local antique dealers who save particular types of paper for me, usually weird old advertisements or envelopes or ripped up newspapers used as drawer liners (I'm totally that customer. Ugh.)
I stopped at every random library, antique dealer and sketchy looking thrift store I saw in between Minneapolis, Bemidji and Duluth and ended up with some very interesting material full of patina and wear.
So much old paper! So much dust! It was really fun to be my rental car on the ride home to Boston.
I spent several days researching Minnesota and included references to nearly every important bit of history, from old loggers' songs and iron ore mine signs to the Pillsbury and Gold Medal mills and the First Avenue stars of native Minnesotan singers. There are a ton of early 1900s invoices from local paper, farming and milling companies, and some funky vintage food ads from the 1950s. Some other favorite additions were Bob Dylan's handwritten lyrics to It Ain't Me, very old Minnesota Statehood Centennial stamps, Great Northern Railway train schedules, a handwritten 1925 Mayo clinic prescription and an original newspaper from the Minnesota Twins' World Series win.
Before starting the first 7'x3' painting, I scanned in all the material I had collected and created a digital concept sketch. Only after tweaking it maybe a dozen or so times did I actually start working with the materials on canvas, sticking to it rigidly and creating a painting that was nearly identical to the concept sketch. For this triptych, I basically said "Blues and greens! Paint splatters! Stars? Trust me!" and they did! I had full artistic freedom provided that I included the most important and iconic references.
One challenge in this project was to highlight the best parts of Minnesota's past and present with bold images and words in the foreground while including a ton of smaller references in the background without either overwhelming the other. With collage art, you can run the risk of including too many materials and jumbling them together in non distinct layers. To avoid this I separated my materials into piles: the unimportant, the slightly more important, the background, the mid ground, the visible foreground and the prominent top layer. This is a good way to approach collage in general, because it helps ensure you won't accidentally drown your best, most special materials under layers of paint or glue; they'll be off in a special pile that only gets used on top of a completed background, not in it.
If you think this is a little too intense of a philosophy regarding torn up bits of paper, you're totally right.
For this project I also had to do something a little bit new and out of my comfort zone, which was outsource some of my photography needs. Sometimes people are surprised that every photograph in every collage I've made was taken by me sometime over the last eight years. I don't just Google random photos and I don't buy my backgrounds in the scrapbooking aisle... it's important to me to use genuine, relevant photos from places I've actually been and things I've really experienced because I feel it has a strong effect on the energy of the final painting.
However… for the foreground of this project I needed two specific images I wasn't able to obtain on my own. The Gold Medal Flour sign and the stars on First Ave Theatre were easy to photograph upon arriving in Minneapolis, but despite stopping at a dozen lakes and braving several billion mosquitos I couldn't get a photo of the state bird, and it was shockingly hard to get Duluth native Bob Dylan to sit down with me for a personal photo shoot. Luckily I found a non-copyrighted photograph of Dylan and bought the rights to use another photographer's stock photo of loons. I won't make a habit of it, but it was necessary and totally worth it this time.
Does this mean I can be bought for travel?
Will work for road trips.
(P.S. For the artists reading this, here is a shot of the first painting's custom-built crate. Shipping a painting of this size was brand new to me, and even in Boston it was surprisingly hard to find a service that could deal with an item of this size and value in the time frame I needed it shipped. UPS, USPS, and FedEx Freight services all had limitations, and all three art galleries I called recommended art-shipping companies that had very slow schedules to limited locations. I ended up hiring Craters and Freighters, who built a solid upright crate around the painting and freighted it out to Minneapolis fully insured in five days at a total cost of $1,024. A little pricey, but in line with the value of the piece and right around the initial shipping cost I gave my client. They rule and I would recommend them.)