Collaging for Reflection, Growth, and Flow with Artist Zoie Harmon

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There are many things we do without thinking, and these are often the things that say the most about us. Reflecting on these zone-out rituals can reveal a great deal about how we take care of ourselves, how we value our time and how our brains process all that life presents us. For me, this ritual is collaging in my journal.

I have been collaging since I was about twelve years old, but it was not until I sat down to write this sentence that I realized just how true that is. I collage in many formats (on large or small watercolor paper, in notebooks the size of textbooks, etc), but for the past ten years I have mostly dumped my collages into my journal, right alongside confessions of crushes, to-do lists and manic scribblings of low self-esteem. When I first started collaging I called my collages “maps to who I want to become.” There may have been a time when the triteness of that sentence made me cringe, but now more than ever I believe it is genuinely true and wow how cute was I to say that? It is still true of my private collages to this day.

When I journal, my mind shifts into a new place. Knowing that my journal is only for myself allows me to write and create without thinking. Much of what I journal is almost unconscious, ultimately revealing my subconscious. After some time has passed I look back on certain passages and collages and realize truths about myself that I had been expressing without knowing it. My journals have become the canon of my spirituality, and understanding myself is an essential aspect of my spiritual practice.

As part of this essay I was forced to sit down and reflect on how and why I choose collage as a medium and why it goes along with the journaling process for me. As I did, I learned so much about myself and my art that I had a small identity crisis/growth spurt. For me, collaging is a rhythmic and thoughtless process while I'm making it, which is why I enjoy it so much. But reflecting on my journals as if they were a body of work made me realize just how much thought does in fact go into every scissor slice and sticker choice. Here are a few thoughts on my process:

RIHANNA

Rihanna is wildly important to me. She is a regenerative image. She reminds me to bring quality to every thing I do but also not to give a fuck. I collect images of her constantly and use them as I go, whenever I need a boost of power. Sometimes I even seek out and print certain images of her when she does something particularly stellar and deserving of tribute (think Met Gala, Cropover, the iconic  “mystery man pool makeout” moment). All of the women in my journals are saints to me and I depict them as such. They almost always have some kind of wings, halo, foundation or tower grounding and exalting them in the image.

 

PADME AMIDALA

Queen Amidala, the forgotten martyr of the Star Wars prequels, is an obsession of mine held over from childhood. A mother, a warrior, and a senator? Come on! This character was completely wasted on the movies she originated in. I dream of another narrative for her and I place her in my collages to give her a new life and a chance at the respect she deserves. She was so extra!

 

BUSY BACKGROUNDS

Working small makes busy backgrounds work. A busy background often doesn’t read as busy with a clean image in the front. To me it’s energy and desire; I’m usually in an indulgent mood if I’m going ham with stickers. (image on the right was a tribute the time I bought the exact earrings I saw in a magazine and felt like a wealthy socialite).

STACKS

Got a bunch of images that go together but you’re not sure how to layer them? Try stacking! This makes my icon or my idea into a tower.

 

 

 

COLLAGE OVER UGLINESS

Sometimes a page gets ugly, lame, flat. Or it has text on it that I don’t want to give power to any more. Just turn that lameness into a busy background layer! The journal above is from years ago, but the two layers are a about a year apart themselves. Behind Riri are toxic dieting notes. Plastering Rihanna over this old habit was an act of release.

 

BIG WORDS

It’s really fun to do big block letters and then color them in. I’ve noticed I do this when I’m really upset. The examples I've included are a each about a year apart.

OBSESSION

I love to do a whole spread for one idea, often when I’m lusting after something but I’m too broke to just go and get it. A two page spread on vitamin C serums (left) or black lipstick (right) holds me over until I can get my hands on the real thing.

 

DAILY NOTES

I experimented with a kind of daily recording but eventually moved away from it. I no longer do any tracking of my eating because it makes me become very hard on myself. I’m finding other ways of checking in with my health and my goals. The appearance of a corset alongside one of these says quite a lot about what I was doing to myself at the time.

 

JEWELS AND FLOWERS

Jewels and flowers, depending on how you use them, can either pop, recede or both. I use these elements in many collages, to me flowers are the beauty and mystery of the feminine and jewels are the power of luxury.

 

LISTS

From grocery lists on half-ripped post-its to dramatic plans of action for becoming who I was born to be, I love lists with all of my heart. I have a chaotic mind at times and listing things out is such a luxe delight. I need to see my brain with bullet points in order to keep from getting so overwhelmed I do nothing.


A few hours after scanning my journal at the UPS store and making notes for this essay, my art has changed already. Many of the techniques I just described were things I’d never given names to until now. Having reflected on the things I’ve been doing unknowingly, I can now move more efficiently through my work. This is especially exciting as I’ve decided this is the year I become a full-time artist. Not only is journaling key to my self-reflection, but this essay on my journaling has now become part of my process as well. Reflecting on yourself and giving the automatic habits in your life a name can be tremendously rewarding.

And if you do pick collage as your medium: Have fun! Spend big bucks on one really good pair of scissors and always buy glue sticks in bulk. Also things rip literally all the time and there’s always a way to either fix it or embrace it.

– Zoie Harmon

Zoie Harmon is an artist living in LA. All images here are courtesy of her and you can follow her work on Instagram @zoieloves.