Saturday, October 17, 2020

Every House has a Story, a Collage Tutorial


House on a Hill
16" x 12"
collage on panel


On visits to my hometown in Arkansas I'd often drive east on Highway 10 passed a lovely old unpainted house on the rise just back from the road near Blue Mountain, and I'd wonder about the people who lived there. I made up stories about it, though they were just flights of fantasy. There was something about that house that really appealed to me. Sometimes there were flowers in the front yard but I never saw a person, no signs that a child lived there.  

One day I slowed the car, rolled down the window, and shot a photo.

Who lives there? How do they make a living? They must be old because there's no trike, no red wagon in sight, just the lonely house beside the busy highway. Year after year the same.

Then one day I drove there to take some good photos and maybe knock on their front door...


No more house. bulldozed and discarded.  I'm so glad I still have one photo.  
(This is the first layer of the collage, indicating the empty home place.)

So now, here, I've made up my own story and placed the house on a hill, added a barn and a farmer who's thinking: There's weather coming, just look at that stormy sky! I better get the cows in and get up to the house before it comes a gully washer.

The farmer is heading to the house where his supper waits on a red checked tablecloth... leftover fried chicken and mashed potato cakes, with some juicy ripe tomatoes out of Mama's garden and chunks of sweet onions.  Maybe pecan pie and ice cream and a night of untroubled sleep. 


Smooth a thin layer of gesso over the panel. While the gesso dried I printed some photos onto tissue paper and began selecting sections to build the farmyard idea. I augmented the house photo with a photo of a barn of the same vintage, and a photo of my father, also the same vintage. I printed several copies of the photos so I'd have extra bits of tree foliage to piece together.


Make a carrier sheet by folding down the top 1/2" of a sheet of computer paper. Slip a piece of tissue, cut to size (8.5 x 11"), under the folded edge. Place in your printer, fold first. The fold protects the leading edge of the tissue from bunching up in the printer rollers.  There are other methods; look on YouTube.  Warning: expect a few printer jams before you master the process. Your printer manual will tell you how to retrieve the jammed paper.


I used Liquitex Gloss Medium and Varnish to adhere vintage book pages to the support and then glazed over the papers with gesso juice (1 part gesso to 1 part water) to soften the text and add a bit of mystery, and let that dry thoroughly.  Then I added more tea-dyed papers on top. 

I'm sorry... I got so excited about the work that I forgot to take more process photos!

And finally, I got to THE IMAGES

I decided on a landscape format because of the general look of the background and the stormy sky at the top. I played around with the placement of the images before settling on the final composition.


You need to put the glue on the substrate, not on the tissue, but in order to prevent the tissue from wrinkling it needs to be moist. I have a spray bottle that sends out a fine mist that works well with fragile tissue. 

Put the glue on the substrate, lightly spray the tissue, count to 10, and lay the tissue in place, putting one edge down and carefully rolling the rest in place.  I keep a rubber bowl scraper at hand and use it to flatten out the tissue.

I know I typed that fast and made it sound easier than it is. Working with tissue in this way takes lots of practice and patience... and a willingness to scrape it all off and start over if need be.

So there you have it, a House on a Hill, with a story to go along with it.

Please leave any questions about my process in the comment section below. If you have a question I'm sure others will want the answer, too.

Best regards,



  1. What a fascinating process and a great story. I've printed photos onto tissue paper using a similar method (I lightly glue-stick the tissue to 8x5 x 11 paper and it seems to feed through my printer just fine without jamming, but your method sounds good). You've inspired me to look through my old photos for a falling down barn type structure that I took a picture of back in 2000 before it was torn down. (It's an actual 35MM print). Now that we have all kinds of scanning/photoshop abilities, I might scan my old barn photo in and make it b&W. I, too, was intrigued by the story of the old dilapidated structure (and I also was happy I snapped a picture before the place was torn down). Artists are smart to carry a camera (now the phone for most of us) and capture these moments before they are gone! Thanks for your post.

  2. I love reading about your process and the story you constructed around the image. I took a photo of a barn outside my hometown and painted it with watercolor. I showed it to my brother who went back to look at the barn and it had been totally renovated like new and was painted red. I feel sad every time I drive by the barn because there was so much beauty in things patinaed by wear and tear of old age.


I appreciate comments and questions.

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