First few basic questions, who are you, what are you doing, where are you coming from?
My name is Katie McCann. I am English but since 2000 I have been living in California. I am a full-time artist and I have been working in collage for the last 15 years. I have exhibited my work across the USA and in Europe and I have designed book and album covers and public art for the City of Berkeley, where I currently live. My work was also featured in the books Collage by Women (2019) and Collage Care (2021).
How did you start to do collages?
I had been painting for a few years and then after taking a collage class, I began to explore mixed media, adding magazine cuttings and photographs to my paintings. Gradually I progressed to just using paper and my work became much smaller and more detailed. Somehow the paper led me down a different path with my art. I also realized that scissors were a much more powerful tool for me than the paintbrush. Cutting became an obsession and I began collecting old books, prints, and photographs. From there I also began to use book covers and pages as my canvas, so the book became even more central to my work.
You use a lot of natural elements, plants, animals, and humans in your works, and then you build your works to be almost like flower ornaments – what’re your favorite things in yours works? And which elements in your works reflect you the most?
My mantra with my collage art is to always change an image, for example, the wing of a bird becomes a butterfly wing, a zebra head ends up on a rabbit’s body, a diamond becomes a fisheye and a shell becomes an ear. This is how I approach all of my collages and is a reflection of how I see the world or at least the world in my imagination. Anthropomorphic creatures roam this magical universe and all the natural elements that I use to contribute to this strange world sometimes in the form of densely layered patterns or as an environment for the creatures.
Your works are kind of complex and you use a lot of elements (number wise), how long do you have to try different variations until you’re done? What kind of process is it to create your works?
I begin a piece by collecting images. Depending on the theme, I will look for a face and from there I begin the layering process if it is one of my patterned collages. I cut out single leaves, branches, and flowers from different books and prints and then I begin to create the living wallpaper which forms the background for many of my pieces.
If I am making a creature, I will usually look for one element that will spark something. It could be a face, a sea sponge, an aquatic insect, anything that I feel will form the core of the creature. Once the composition is in place, I will add the details – tiny paper cuts that add to the fragility of the creature. Sometimes I use archival foam core to lift the image off the page giving it depth and a 3D effect.
For my series 100 days of Paper Hair Color (2020) I created a different color-themed collage each day. Because this process was much more driven by color I had to change the way I collected the images, so instead of focusing on one central element, I had to look at the composition more as a whole. I found that it was a really good discipline and my work is still very much influenced by colors.
What’s the best part of the collaging process in general?
Cutting is my favorite part of the collage process. The more detailed and difficult the image is the better for me! I love challenging myself to cut the most delicate things – roots, jellyfish tentacles, tendrils, spiders. It is a mediative process.
And then, what’s the hardest part?
Gluing is the hardest part of the collage process. Often the glue changes the composition – what had dimension becomes flat and sometimes elements land in the wrong spot. I learned a while ago to photograph my work with my phone before it is glued down so that I have a guide to follow whilst I glue.
How long does it take to make a collage, and do you work on several at a time?
If I work on one collage in one sitting, it could take me about three hours depending on the size of the piece. Most of the time I tend to work in a series so I often have 3-4 collages on the go at one time. This keeps the creative process fresher and I feel more focused.
The more complex collages take much longer simply because there is so much cutting involved and I need so many pieces. It can take me hours just to find the right color leaves and flowers or the right size bird or beetle.
While you’re working on new artwork, when do you know it’s ready?
This is a conundrum I deal with all the time especially on my layered pieces. When is it too much? Or not enough? Again, I will use my phone to photograph the work. This helps me see it in a different perspective and I can then figure out if it needs any more details.
How easy or hard is it to finish your works, do you ever get burnt out on a piece, and what do you do to keep working and being productive?
I am better when I am under pressure – that is why I like daily challenges where I produce a collage every day. It keeps me from being too critical of my work and too focused on the details. I find it easy to start a piece since I love the collecting and cutting part of the process. I also enjoy the research into a collage theme and creating the composition.
Finishing can be hard but I try to keep a day in the week where I just glue, varnish, and re-organize my flat files and boxes. This freshens my mind and pushes me to complete any projects. When I am in the middle of a series of works it can get chaotic in my studio with tiny pieces of paper and boxes overflowing with ephemera everywhere and this can slow me down so I have to tidy up every so often in order to finish my collages and clear my head!
If you should describe your art with one word, what would it be?