Monday, January 10, 2011

Real or Fake?

Courtesy Wikipedia (paper shredder)
 People are quite surprised when they discover that I have no problem cutting up old books and magazines to use in my artwork.  To them, I am decimating a part of our history!  How dare I deface a perfectly good book for my own use!  And those Life magazines - what if it's the last of its issue?  And certainly those old documents must be worth quite a bit of money!

I used to think this way too.  I've been collecting ephemera since I was 14 years old and up until about 5 years ago would never have dreamt of cutting up my collection!  I worked long and hard scouring antiq---

Oh, right!  There's a little thing called the Interweb now.  And what's this?  Those ink labels that I paid dearly for in that antique store in 1982 are 5 for a buck on Ebay?  Soup can labels that I was certain were lost forever are plentiful everywhere I look?  Old stock certificates can be had for mere pennies?

Once you begin looking for ephemera in earnest you'll find that you can get pretty much anything your heart desires, and usually quite cheap.  Now, I'm a pretty hardcore collector; if you're looking for one label for one project, it may not be worth the money to you.  But when you just plain adore old stuff you'd be amazed at how easy it is to get anything.

Still, people say to me, "Why don't you scan your collection and then just print out what you need?  That way you can use it in your artwork AND keep your collection!".  Nope.  Anyone who uses the real stuff in their artwork knows that there is a look and feel to the real deal (hey, that rhymes!) that is totally lacking in a copy, especially in an inkjet copy.    

I use copies too!  :D

Please realize that I'm not trying to be snobby.  I don't put down people who use copies in their work, and there are times when I've found copyright-free images online that have worked beautifully for me.  I also do make transparencies a lot, especially with old photographs, simply because the images are better suited for transparencies sometimes.  But for me the true essence of an "ephemeraologist" is using the real scraps of our everyday lives, whether it's new junk mail or a 120 year-old business letter, gathering dust in a warehouse, just waiting for a new lease on life.

I like to think that I'm reincarnating these pieces and that their second life will be lived in a more artful way; that maybe their mundane existence wrapping a sardine can will be rewarded by spending the next 50 years (or more, hopefully!) slathered in ink and paste and possibly framed for all to see.  Isn't that more exciting than spending your life in a drawer?

Here are some pieces I've done using nothing but the real deal:


  1. You're right! The real stuff just looks and feels right. My sister bought a collection of Victorian ephemera and used some of it in ATCs. When people suggested that she scan the stuff and use ink jet look alikes she disagreed. She bought it for use in her art and was happy to use it that way. The stuff came out great. And now she gets to keep looking for more stuff to use in her art!

  2. Mel - I'm with you - have you met Mary Green over at Green Paper - she started me on Vintage Gluebooks using (as much as possible) original Ephemera...there is no comparison...

  3. Thank you for commenting, ladies! :D I just think there's no comparison with the "real deal". :D I'm going to check that blog out, Jewels! :D

  4. I agree - the real thing is best! and you're right - we are preserving it, or as you put it, reincarnating it!