Collections project – Part I: briefing and initial research

For our Development of Practice module we’ve got to do a project about ‘collections’ – working from a collection to create a final outcome to be exhibited at the end of the module, exciting!

I spent a couple of weeks thinking about what I collect, and considered quite a few different things, from Lush Cosmetics products to gift bags/wrapping paper, cardboard boxes to glasses (I’m not a hoarder, honest!) but decided that my collection of envelopes and thank you/business cards from artists/craftspeople, most of which are illustrated in some way, would be an interesting place to start.


I photocopied them in black and white to see what they looked like and so I could collage with them, and I think they look better when you can see the tonal differences between stamp and envelope, for example, but I do think some of them pop more in colour. I also shrunk them down slightly and I think they look like a more coherent collection now.

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I separated out different parts of my collections and collated them into sections, “stamps and barcodes” and “addresses/hand-writing”. These might be my favourite RVJ pages ever, I love all the tonal differences and shapes and it’s really interesting to break down what is quite a bulky collection into simplified mini-collections, to see all the differences between each envelope and imagine its journey through the postal system.

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Next I looked at how artists use collections, specifically book artists and surface pattern designers.

Artists’ books are generally made from the artist’s collection of found materials, eg. papers with different colours, textures, interesting graphics and sometimes materials like cardboard to use as the end boards and decorative materials like ribbons or twine or tags or stickers. The artist would have to have or start some sort of collection of found materials and a collection of ideas for the book’s layout/subject matter/ general aesthetic to get started.

I picked up Print & Pattern 2 in the library and noticed how quite a few of the designs in there were inspired by collections – Debbie Powell’s teacup design was inspired by her personal collection of teacups and Carolina Melis’s birds and flowers design was inspired by her collection of folk art ephemera – though this is a more sort of direct inspiration from a physical collection, rather than using a collection to produce the work itself as with artists’ books.

I then looked at specific artists and how they use collections, starting with one of my favourite illustrators/designers ever, Alan Fletcher. Looking through his book, Picturing and Poeting, I found a series of typographical illustrations that he described as a ‘collection of thoughts on thinking’. He used his collection of thoughts as a way to create a new collection of illustrations, each one its own collection of words, letters, lines, ink splodges etc. Picturing and Poeting could in itself be seen as a curated collection – a collection of Fletcher’s work. In this sense, I suppose all books could be defined as collections of ideas or stories or images.

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Next I found another book called The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems, which was a collection of images of unfolded envelopes that had been used by the poet Emily Dickinson to make notes as she was writing. She used the envelopes as a way to visualise a collection of thoughts/ideas, creating a new collection of physical objects in the process, which were then scanned and published as an accessible curated collection (a book) – just like Fletcher did.

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I’m feeling really excited about where I could go with this and I’ll keep you updated with further progress.
Thanks for reading,




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