Derek Gores

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On Collaging

Materials Used

I use liquitex gloss medium for my glue, but elmers or mod podge or other things work too. I varnish when all done with a golden UV gloss varnish.

My One Rule

When I teach this, I have one rule – you can’t use pictures of the actual object when making that object – so for example, no hair to make hair. no eyes to make eyes, etc. Makes you think of other more wild solutions. You have to see beyond the actual literal texture, or words, on the magazine page to see them as tones. Don’t just let the students look for the flat value… have them squint and look from far away.

My Biggest Secret

Here’s my biggest secret: looking for pieces of paper that can do 2 things at once… maybe a piece with a dark area and a light can create 2 parts of the picture. When you do this, it starts to create an ambiguity, a double reading of the space in the picture… that I think is what people enjoy most in mine.

Rip or Cut?

I mostly rip, not much cutting. I like the ripping because it is faster and it keeps me from being too precise. Plus the images in the pieces have enough clean edges that I prefer the ripped edges to add something else to the result. I use magazines, maps, schematics, cd jackets, handwritten notes and digital textures.

How to Make "Edges"

I try to make all the ‘edges’ in the piece out of a line or transition within the piece of paper I find, rather than by putting two pieces of paper edge to edge. This is what creates the spatial ambiguity that is fun to look at. I squint a lot.

Favorite Size

My favorite size is 48″ x 48″. I do love squares. I’ve done lots at 24″ x 24″, and the shoes and drinks series I do at 12″ x 12″ usually.

How I Start

I start with a photoshoot which is essential to getting in touch with the subject, the actual physical space and mood… I do play with photoshop to try out color directions and moods etc. I can also use photoshop or illustrator to create digital textures in a particular color. Song lyrics for example I use alot and can make them any color or shape I wish and then print on photo paper. You bet I use technology.

Regarding the Wrinkles

They are Going to Happen
The wrinkles are going to happen no matter the glue… I just don’t worry about them and enjoy that they are there. ‘Fragility’ and all that. But, if you really wanted to, you could experiment with pre-moistening the paper, for example with a little spray mister before you glue each piece. That would make the paper expand a bit before you place it on the canvas. That would be far too slow for my sensibilities.

On Mixed Media

The Tools I Use

For the mixed media pieces, the tools I use most of all are charcoal and water. I pour a bunch of water on my paper, or canvas, and additionally play with dipping the charcoal into a cup of water before drawing with it. This makes for a barely-controlled drawing tool, and that is the point. I was very tight as a younger artist, and learned that by making the process faster and larger than I could control, I would let go of that worry. Interestingly, after a while the mind speeds up and you do gain a heightened sense of control of the picture. I also usually draw with both hands at the same time, for the same reasons.

How Paper Reacts

For some reason, I haven’t really every kept track of how different papers react, so I recommend trying all kinds. Some will fall apart, some won’t. Some will repel, some will absorb. But all that can be useful. Some of the pieces you see on my website are actually several layers of tattered newsprint. The art only exists in the photo… the paper was too tattered to last. Ah but the fun…

Flat or Vertical?

When drawing with the charcoal, I work flat some of the time, or vertically some times. I let drips be part of it. You can also play with drawing more dry, and then using a spray bottle to wet parts of the drawing and then dragging into it with your wet fingers. (the sense of touch is a huge part of the appeal to me.)

Yes, it's Messy

The charcoal leaves your hands dirty for a few days, but … worth it I think.


Later, add color to your exercises by using soft pastels. But I highly recommend getting the most out of simple black charcoal for quite a while first.

How I Make My Marks

I use my fingers, some brushes, scraps of rag and cardboard, the back end of paint tubes, – whatever it takes to get an interesting array of marks to help me explore the picture. It can be useful to play abstractly, as well as in pursuit of a real image from life.

Tell Your Story

I like telling students: We can all agree that it takes a verbal vocabulary of maybe 15,000 words to hold a good conversation or tell a compelling story. Well, it takes just as many ways of touching the canvas, making a mark… your visual vocabulary… to make a compelling painting or drawing.

Some General Recommendations

Start By Drawing

I started with lots of drawing, including from real life and things made up from my head. I explored painting (both realism and then abstraction which really made a difference), sculpture, studied a little architecture, followed my interests in nature, being outside, a bit of history, cultures, lots of listening to the inspirations behind a wide range of music… all that stuff added up to my knowledge. Sure it takes lots of time and study, trying hard things, and trying fast things. I was a very tight artist when younger, and learned to loosen up while studying abstraction and more raw figurative art. Those things are very useful when I want to make a tighter image too. They help me give the art real form and presence, in a way that I could not have achieved before.

Did I Mention Drawing?
Draw tons. From life and not.
In Addition to Drawing
Paint tons.
Referring to Photos
Don’t be a slave to photo reference. Learn to use it if you want, and not. But if you do, be in charge of it instead of vice versa.
Try a series. same subject, same viewpoint. the familiarity will take you new places in each one. See Monet’s cathedral series. note the attention to the changing light thru the day.
Turn Within
Self portraits are great because you have a free model in the mirror.
Diverse Styles

Remember there are infinite art styles out there. Many young people want their art to look like photographs. I say, the world already has photographers, and while there is lots of worthwhile stuff to learn in mastering the touch and control necessary to render a picture like a photograph, not all hands or interests lean that way. Encourage your students to find their own visual language, to explore the marks their hands naturally make and to create things the world has never seen.

Be Passionate
I found that along with the results of lots of work and time and study, people became interested in my work as soon as I started making what I really wanted to make. People respond to passion. They can smell a fake. Much better than second guessing what people will buy.
How I achieved my success? Well, years of work, personal artistic exploration… being a student of art history and other history… tying in my very personal interests and things I intuitively know the most about. Tons of drawing and painting and searching and trying assorted mediums… and then definitely I know that people started paying attention as soon as I started making the images I wanted to make.

As for ‘Marketing’

Personalize Your Marketing
Marketing, which is simply the flip side or concurrent with all that continuous exploration I just mentioned BEFORE the art: The tireless talking about my art, seeking people/businesses/partners near and far, brick and mortar and online, the individuals and those with media megaphones with whom I can talk about my work and daydream and scheme up the next fun art to be made. That’s a decent answer. Truly, even the ‘Marketing’ can and must be personalized to your own, well, personality. I see it as part of the art, part of the creativity, part of thinking that the inside of the audience’s head is the actual art gallery.. . . Start there.
Robert Genn
I highly recommend Robert Genn’s twice weekly letters. Look that up and tell your students. Tons of good stuff to think about… most common theme is individual hard work and exploration.

Inspiration & More

What inspired you to work with magazine collage instead of more ‘traditional’ materials?
My first was a school assignment. I didn’t think much of it at the time. But I now realize that it was a step to take me away from controlling everything in the art. I was very tight and controlled as a young teenage artist with pencil or pen. Later I was introduced to challenges like working with blunt tools, and water, and with both hands at once.. and then collage. All are ways to add what seems like randomness and imprecision, … but you eventually gain a heightened sense of influence on all these and it makes the art better than what I could have planned.
How long does a large-scale collage take you to complete?
I have made some very large, like 30′ x 15′ for example. Those can take over a month. My favorite and most common size is 4′ x 4′. A complicated, full color image is usually about 2 weeks. However I often work on several at once, so that as I find scraps, I can intuitively place it in whichever artwork I wish.
How old were you when you first felt you were an artist? What first inspired you? When and how did you get your art noticed?
I have always drawn… I drew Star Wars characters as a kid, then made up my own. Drawing was my thing, something passionate that others could see too. I just kept at it and fortunately my parents helped me to pursue it in school, and before you know it I get paid to follow my passion!
Do you always see yourself working with collage, or do you plan to try something new?
I also still love wet charcoal, and digital design (I do lots of concert design for tshirts, etc., bands like Van Halen, Madonna, even One Direction I do simple creative things each day, often with my kids. Playing with tape, leaves, words.
Why are most of your images of women? Where did the idea of shoe images come from? What have you got planned next? (Landscapes, animals?)

I do like lots of subjects, but most compelling to me is the human being… to try and honor or capture that essence of being alive… to see thought and memory in the eyes of the subject. I try to make art of what is mysterious to me, as a way of exploring. Since I am a man, I know some about being a man. Women however, I know less about and so there is much to study. Also, I am particularly interested in a strong woman. Not one who requires a man, or waits around to be rescued. This is a subject I follow in society and in other art forms. And some of it is purely aesthetic- contrasting a feminine curve with linear elements of machined design as found in my magazine scraps.

As for the shoes… I enjoy fashion and style and design– the manners in which a person can frame themselves and enjoy projecting personality to the world. The shoe collages began as a way for me to make smaller pieces of art (usually 12″ x 12″) that belong in the same story, or art show, as my fashiony/figure pieces.

I’m unhappy with how my collage is going. What advice would you give me to help ensure my collage is effective?

1) most important is to relax and let your collage be its own thing. I’ve found that usually when people are least satisfied with their collage, it is usually when it is trying to hard to be tight and exactly like their reference photo. I like to say that the world already has photographers, and for us not to worry if the collage strays from your photo reference. In the end, it has to live on its own. I am most satisfied when they become almost abstract… and our eyes (and the viewers’) have to work to put the image back together in the brain.

2) try more variety of textures. I almost never use just flat areas of color. Try wild textures, text, images, etc. I usually have one rule: don’t use pictures of the object to make the object. For ex., no hair to make hair, etc. If you go with that, it gets more loose and exciting.

Which of your images is most meaningful/ most important to you?
The one called ‘Bedazzled’ was a breakthrough, where I felt I really caught the life in there… and the abstract shapes disappearing into the darkness tied in many of my interests and influences. ‘All Summer Long’ was one where the color and technique took hold. I love the white spaces in this one. More recently, the ‘Full Volume’ series means a bunch, where I can experiment with exciting abstract spaces within the framework of a familiar figure.
Who are some of your influences in art?
My Dad especially- drawing streams and staircases together as a kid. And long adventures in the car. As for other artists: Goya’s drawings, Gustav Klimt’s pattern and play with flattened space. Egon Schiele’s writhing linework was massive for me. George Inness’ atmosphere and mystery in his very late paintings. Rube Goldberg’s absurd invention sketches. Max Ernst’s surreal collages. Closer to now, I enjoy Hush, Brad Holland, Cliffton Chandler, Shawn Kenney, Christopher Maslow, Jeff Filipski, Scott Conary, Audrey Kawasaki, Robert Moody. And even outside of visual art, I like anybody who documents an expanded definition of beautiful- especially Brian Eno, Eddie Van Halen, Neil Young, Waterboys, David Gilmour, Bruce Springsteen.
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