How to Make Scrap-Paper Mosaicscomments (7) September 8th, 2008
It happens to us all at one time or another: Perhaps you're sitting in an armchair, lost in thought, when your eyes happen to come to rest upon the geometric pattern in the carpet. You blink and, voila, you see a face. You're so surprised by this visual anomaly that you blink again to try to bring it into better focus, only to watch it quickly dissolve back into geometric shapes, carpet pile, and shadows. Such hallucinations—really, more like momentary snapshots—seem especially to occur to me when my mind is either utterly relaxed and wandering (as when watching clouds drift by) or when it's mildly occupied with some modestly taxing activity (as when I'm running over my calendar in my head). I've seen everything from the face of Elvis emerging from the flaky surface of a croissant, to the face of Margaret Thatcher in a handful of shaving cream (the latter being a somewhat unnerving thing to see when one is standing naked in a shower, I might add).
All of this got me thinking about what makes a face? Where exactly, in the arrangement of shapes, does a likeness actually reside? A close examination of my carpet suggested that shape and shade were the two factors that were needed to suggest a face, but even those two components allowed for a great deal of vagueness.
This got me wondering if it might be possible to create a similar effect with paper and so, I set to work trying to create portraits of my friends. I used scrap paper from my recycle bin and unsolicited magazines from my mailbox as my raw materials. As you'll see, I shied away from direct transcription (i.e., the size of the eyes is a bit exaggerated and I tried not to use too many flesh tones for faces) and I intentionally chose unusual colors; colors you wouldn't expect to see in someone's face. The results, two of which are shown below, are surprisingly successful at capturing both the physical and emotional likeness of the people they represent.
While the pictures are clearly portraits, upon closer inspection, their features dissolve and disappear; a forehead becomes a modern color-field triptych, a neck scarf morphs into a bouquet of flames. Making them required taking the long view, putting some distance between my actions and my expectations, and a willingness to try something unfamiliar. If that's not a prescription for nurturing creativity, I don't know what is.
While this isn't strictly a DIY craft project, I would encourage anyone in need of a little adult play time to give it a go. Once you start making these simple snapshots—SCRAPshots, actually!—you'll never want to stop. Best of all, this needn't be just a paper project. I can well imagine a whole gallery of portraits made of buttons, yarn, quilting scraps, colorful thread spools, beads...
Two things to remember:
1. Overall shapes go a long way toward making things recognizable. Don't worry too much about articulating each and every part of the face you're trying to capture, but do try to get things to about the right scale. Placement of features also matters; recognition of faces relies heavily on things being where we expect them to be.
2. The tonal values of your scraps matter more than their actual color. Use tonally light scraps where there should be highlights and tonally dark scraps where there should be shadows.
With these two guidelines in place, you can depend on the eyes—and minds—of your viewers to do most of the rest of the work for you. With a little patience, you can turn a chaotic collection of scraps into the picture of control and intent.