July 4th at the Beach was inspired by two photos I took in Wells Beach, Maine—After the Swim and Dusk along the Shore, which I also made into a watercolor. I knew I wanted to combine elements of both without including the ocean itself. The first decision I make is whether the collage will be vertical or horizontal as this decision determines the overall design. Although I never know what the finished image will look like, I generally have some ideas that influence my initial search. In this case, I knew I wanted houses, a flag, and some towels. The images of the houses came from three different sources—a relocation guide, a calendar, and a catalog of outdoor housing products (fences, lamp posts, mailboxes, etc.) Other sources of images came from other calendars, a travel brochure, an illustrated daily meditation calendar, and a gardening magazine. (I also use other kinds of magazines and origami papers.) I can spend quite awhile searching for images with the right colors and textures.
After I have located these, I decide whether to cut them out or tear them. I tend to favor torn images, but I wanted clean lines for the houses, flag, and towels in this collage, so I used scissors more than usual. Although some pieces of the puzzle have fixed places, such as sky, others require a lot of moving around until I find a pleasing and dynamic composition. This part often takes the longest, as I also have to consider how the pieces will be layered or overlapped. Once something is glued down it can’t be changed (although I can cover up something I don’t like.) I might tweak the shape of a particular piece at this point. I then glue down (with a glue stick) each piece in order. When the basic composition is in place, I might even wait overnight, examine it again and add final touches that pull the image together. Finally, when I know the glue has dried, I brush a matte medium over the entire image to even out reflections and to seal all the pieces.