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Blog

How to Make Friends—Literally

Aug 16 2017

As my college graduation approached this past May, I realized something about the commencement ceremony. While it celebrates all things you—your hard-won GPA, your winding list of extracurriculars, that new foil-stamped degree—what gets lost is a celebration of the relationships that helped get you there. Where was the homage to friends and mentors who, honestly, probably shaped my success more than any test score or honor club?

I wanted to correct this discrepancy—to honor my friendships with the same sense of ceremony as a graduation. So, a few weeks before the big robes-and-tassels day, I created handmade portraits for each of them using my favorite art form: collage. Collage is more visceral than other traditional forms of art-making. Rather than relying on a pencil or paintbrush as an intermediary between hand and paper, it is 100 percent hands on. 

Each collage I made was roughly 4x4 inches and took about 45 minutes. 

My collage portrait process:

  1. Gather materials. Pull old magazines from the recycling bin. Grab any scraps of paper you've collected. (A friend who also loves collaging brought a vintage Playboy for me to use. As she said, “It’s great for finding skin tones, obviously.”)
  2. Comb through all the materials and rip out pieces until you have a few piles of various skin and hair tones and interesting textures. 
  3. Use a photo of your subject as a reference, draw a light sketch of their basic features onto paper.
  4. Trim your pieces to size, use your favorite glue, and assemble the collage on top of your sketch.

A collection of 4x4 portraits of friends and mentors.

In one instance, the portrait-making session blossomed into a full music-and-snacks event, where friends and I gathered to make collages of each other and exchange them. The party itself brought an unexpected moment of closure to our time in design school—to see everyone’s visual style, matured over four years together, coalesce in a scrappy portrait.

Allson Press Collage Portraits 4

Try having a collage art party. It's sober, take me back to kindergarten fun.

Giving—and receiving!—these portraits filled in a missing piece of what a graduation is supposed to feel like. And now, with college fresh behind me, I wondered how I could build the practice into a habit: How might I continue to use my favorite art form to show thanks to people who have been pivotal in my life?

A friend who also loves collaging brought a vintage Playboy for me to use. As she said, “It’s great for finding skin tones, obviously.” 

After graduation, I moved from North Carolina to California to return to work at IDEO, where I'd been an intern the year before. And, in celebration of mentors and friends at IDEO whose support helped make all of this possible, I collaged a few portraits of coworkers:

Allson Press Collage Portraits 2

Can you tell that I have a lot of exceptional female role models in my life?

I continue to search for more people and moments to memorialize in collage. It might be my new strategy for repurposing ticket stubs and brochures from travel adventures. Or a new, budget-friendly holiday gift tradition. Or a way for me to simply mark another year lived, making a self-portrait with materials collected over the past year. Collage has a poetic, “circle of life” quality to it, transforming human-made ephemera into a recycled treasure worthy of display.

How do you use art to show love in your life? Holler at me on Twitter.

  • Allison Press

    Interaction Designer, IDEO San Francisco
    A former theater kid turned interaction designer, Allison is on a mission to understand design as a form of public service, and to find the most heavenly biscuits her North Carolina home has to offer.

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