I really love collage, and in fact I’m drawn to all sorts of art forms that reassemble scraps of other things: quilts, mosaics, stained glass, and sculptural assemblage. I only took one collage class in high school (I went to an arts high school, the Educational Center for the Arts in New Haven–which, BTW, needs a better website), but it has stuck with me as a favorite medium.

However, it’s not easy to get the materials I have in mind here. I don’t have a big pile of things to cut up, and although I could probably get one by soliciting people’s old magazines on the local Yahoogroup, I’d then have to get rid of them again in a few months (no curbside recycling, or even any recycling center in town). I don’t have access to high-quality printers or copy machines. I haven’t even been able to find rubber cement. Plus, unlike when I was doing collage in high school, I’m very aware of copyright issues (tip of the keyboard to the creator of beautiful collages and digital collages, Alicia Buelow, for the link) and I don’t want to steal other people’s work to make my own. And on top of that, as much as I like the physical cut-and-paste of making traditional collage, there are other wonderful collage possibilities there that require darkroom or computer technologies. Here I am with the gift of time in which to explore them. So in addition to using painted papers and detritus (tape unraveled from cassettes, foil candy wrappers), I thought this was a good moment to learn to use an image editing program.

So I’ve downloaded GIMP, a “software libre” product from the Free Software Foundation. (My term. They prefer “free software” to “open source,” but the problem with the term “free software” is it implies the issue is “no cost,” when what they mean is “free as in speech.” The solution? Turn to a language in which there are two words for these two very different meanings of “free.” Spanish would use “gratis” for “free beer,” “libre” for “free speech.” Hence, “software libre,” which has the advantage of sounding like a cocktail.) It works like Adobe Photoshop, as far as I understand Photoshop; the price put Photoshop itself right out of my range. I looked it up when I first had the plan to learn digital collage, but the version I would want was $650, and that’s one of the cheaper ones. I’m not willing to pay that much for something I may or may not use much, and now that I know there are “software libre” alternatives, I’m not willing to pay it even if I end up using it a lot, unless GIMP proves to be inadequate to the task. So, Adobe, you’ve just driven another potential consumer into the arms of non-proprietary software. Proprietary software creators, be warned.

Some digital collages by contemporary artists