All of That Paper

Let’s talk paper.
Ephemera from our Europe trip last summer. 

Ephemera from our Europe trip last summer. 

Wooden basket of papers adjacent to the collage-making magic.

Wooden basket of papers adjacent to the collage-making magic.

Cigar box with small scraps of papers.

Cigar box with small scraps of papers.

All of those papers & fragments that you scatter, that you move aside, that you move from place to place? The stuff you don't opt to use? Papers that you ignore? What's your plan for all of that?

How do you divide or categorize all that paper?

I divide up my papers in a way that works for the way that I work. Everyone works differently, right? I don't have a gorgeous, magazine-cover worthy strategic organization system. That's not of interest to me, honestly. I just want the system to work so that I can actually make collages! And that's the point. For your art materials to be organized in such a way that you can actually make stuff. And have fun doing so. So it's divided into broad categories and then after that, into some smaller subsets. 

Disclaimer: Nothing is color-coded or alphabetized, and it isn't in any classical definition of "organized" but it definitely works for me!!! My paper journal fodder {resources for collage and other forms of art} are mostly stored in wooden baskets. I do not in any way micro-manage the paper that I keep for collage and journal work. So that is not the intention of this post. My categories were formed naturally, so that I could take a basket/box from my art shelves and use it to fish around for collage elements. Within a particular basket, there is no organization or neatness or tidiness. I like RANDOM and I like to be surprised at what I stumble upon. 

In general, I divide in several different categories. I'll add that I'm not including here journals-in-process or finished journals, just the papers used as inputs or substrates for my work. And something to remember? Try to have a place to put each of the major types of things that you use. 


Papers I've painted. I like to include painted papers in my journals, because I feel that it makes my pages more personal, more ME. So I use papers that I paint as experiments and explorations, and often papers that I paint specifically to be used as journal fodder, collage elements. For example, gelatin prints {and if you can make jell-o, you can make a gelatin printing plate} and pages covered with watercolor patterns.


Papers I've collected. This is the largest individual category. Collected papers include ephemera, papers received as gifts or in swaps, large magazine clippings, brochures, maps, paint chips, items collected during my travels.


Subsets for particular categories. This makes certain papers easier to find. Paint chips, postage stamps & maps have their own boxes. 


Teeny tiny stuff. Stored in cigar boxes because it would be lost otherwise. A mash-up of other categories because it includes all of the tiny scraps I've cut from other things, no matter what they are. I like the randomness of this selection. 


Text. Seriously, there's text on so many things, but if I find really groovy text I will set it aside in this container. When I print out quotes or lyrics, I put them in this basket.


Gigantic paper. Large sheets of cardboard, watercolor paper and sheets of Japanese paper. I keep them on top of a wide bookshelf but it's not the perfect solution. 


Magazines & catalogs. There are so many magazines in this world, folks. I like Architectural Digest, Flow, plus I pick up magazines when we travel. And of course, the Anthropologie catalog! Plus I just splurged on a subscription to Uppercase!!!


Everything else. If you are a collage artist you'll understand that everything cannot be categorized! I haven't mentioned things that are NOT technically paper. Or blank journals. Or...

What are my biggest paper storage challenges?

  1. Keeping two stashes. Because I work in two key areas of the house - downstairs at the dining table and upstairs in the guest/art room - I wind up keeping two stashes. The primary collection point is upstairs, comprised of a bunch of wooden baskets and cigar boxes. There's a satellite collection downstairs, kept in a large wooden basket.
  2. Those gigantic papers. 
  3. Magazines. I've got way too many, even after going through about 50 this summer and recycling what I didn't cut out.

5 tips for keeping paper under control?

1. Divide your stuff into as FEW categories as possible, but enough categories to allow you to actually get your creative work accomplished. I do not have patience or desire to categorize by color or topic or brand or anything that would drive me bonkers. I don't want to spend time organizing paper, just using it! Keep some sort of system, but keep it simple. 
2. Have a place {box or basket} for your broad classifications. In other words - when you get something new {a clothing tag, a map, a painted page torn from your journal...} it's absolutely simple to put it in the right place.
3. Go through your papers once each year, give or take. I usually do this in the summer when the kids are out of school, and it takes a few days. That way they do not get out of hand, and I know that when I reach into one of the boxes there will be good stuff that I'll actually want to use. I'm not an obsessively organized person, so this is good enough for my process.
4. Be selective about what you keep in the first place. The more you keep, the space it takes. The more work to keep it organized.
5.  Use your art time to create, not to organize, but do organize once in awhile! If your system is too fiddly or specific, you miss interesting interactions and happy accidents.

My best tip for keeping paper under control!!!

Make collages! Collages on index cards! Collages in your journal! Seriously! Don't just collect and organized and hoard all of those goodies. USE THEM! 

Your turn! Can you relate? Why do YOU have all of that paper? What are your biggest paper-related challenges? Do you find it difficult to part with the paper you collect? How often do you go through and pare down your paper stash?