Carin Berger is a graphic designer who uses ephemera in unique an interesting ways. In the following interview, we talk about her collage work, design aesthetics, her publishing endeavors, and, of course, her love of old paper.
ephemera: How did you become interested in using ephemera in your work?
CB: I am a graphic designer and have always had a deep love of all kinds of type and paper. The first collages that I made were for my first children's book, Not so True Stories and Unreasonable Rhymes, (Chronicle Books, 2004). I had originally planned to make paintings to illustrate my manuscript, but then a friend gave me a box she had found in an old barn. In it were 50 years worth of letters, receipts, and old photos. It was an absolute treasure trove- the contents mapped an entire life. I set the letters aside feeling those were too precious to cut up, but I found great inspiration in the rest. I combined these materials with bits and pieces from old clothing catalogs and magazines and found the contrast rich and satisfying.
ephemera: Oh, that's remarkable. It's what we preach here--the repurposing, upcycling, etc., of old paper. What challenges or obstacles do you encounter as an artist that uses ephemera, especially in your collage work? How do you overcome these challenges?
CB: There are a few challenges when working in collage: First, there can be issues with reproducing the artwork. There can be problems with shadows, and when working with materials that have already been printed, you can run into technical issues, like moires. There are also archival issues. Because the materials are non-archival, the final art is [perhaps appropriately] ephemeral. Lastly, and this is a tough one, sometimes it is painful to cut up these lovely old objects. I try to think of it as giving them a new life, but part of me hates doing anything to them. A perfect example of this is a set of old letters that I found at a flea market. They were scruffy and had great handwriting on them and were the perfect shade of blue for the piece that I was working on. Of course, I had to read them first, and as I read them I realized they were letters a soldier had written to his girlfriend before heading off to World War II. How could I chop those up? OK. I confess. I did. But I scanned them first, just so they were preserved.
ephemera: That's an amazing example. What inspires you to create such wonderful items using ephemera?
CB: I get great joy out of working with materials that I find beautiful. I love that they carry stories with them and that that adds a layer of secret history to my work.
CB: That's kind of like asking me who my favorite child is. Thank goodness, I only have one! Each book has been a special and unique exploration. I got great pleasure out of illustrating Jack Prelutsky's Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant, (Greenwillow Books, 2006), because it gave me an opportunity to introduce engravings from my vast archive of old dictionaries and army/navy catalogues into my illustrations. I loved working on All Mixed Up, (Chronicle Books, 2004), because the characters were simple and the ephemera got to play a starring role [I used it both in the artwork and as backgrounds to the text]. The Little Yellow Leaf, (Greenwillow Books, 2006), combined the collaged ephemera with a bit of stenciled paint which was a new way of working for me. The sun illustration in that book, which I pictured so clearly in my mind, was particularly satisfying to realize. And my newest book, Ok Go!, (Greenwillow Books, 2008) is a celebration of recycling and reusing materials, so working with the ephemera felt especially appropriate.
ephemera: You have an impressive body of work. What resources do you recommend to someone interested in using ephemera in their art?
CB: Well, I find resources everywhere I turn. Not just in flea markets, garage sales, and antiquarian bookstores, but I also use the receipts I find in my pockets, and scraps that I find drifting down the street. Beautiful ephemera is everywhere.
ephemera: Thank you, Carin.
You can find Carin on the Web at the following links: