Satu Kettunen’s Techniques for Balancing Tone in Complex Collages

Satu Kettunen’s multi-faceted illustrations come from a toolkit that houses varying image-making techniques in abundance.

From pencils and watercolour to collage and digital processes, Satu’s work is about delicately balancing rich compositions with a multitude of moving parts.

With the use of so many different materials inhabiting the same space, Satu knows the importance of them all working together and has developed specific ways of layering and addressing the fluctuating tones.

She takes us through some interesting insights into the ways she constructs her work, including the particularly different ways of handling shadows and the aesthetics of tracing in Photoshop or cutting paper by hand.

“Mostly, I do editorial illustration and children’s picture books. The combination is nice because picture book projects allow concentration on one thing for a longer time and, on the other hand, editorial assignments give me short breaks to work on something completely different.”

“A digital collage, or mixed technique, is probably the best description of my technique. I work with different patterns, brushstrokes, patches and paper cuttings I have made, and combine them in Photoshop. I also draw with pen mouse.”

“When I am doing something on a tighter schedule, a short illustration work or something for a newspaper, I emphasise pencils, watercolors and marker pens, since it is easier to work and rework with them. Besides, simpler colors work better in a newspaper.”

“In a picture book illustration, however, I like to play more with nuances. Using paper collages, I can construct multi-level illustrations. The technique is basically the same, but in addition to creating surfaces with a pen or a brush, I edit the paper cuttings I have photographed.”

“I have a box full of collage cuttings I can dive into or I may cut new forms for composing a picture. I like the hand-made feeling that comes from the shadows of overlapping paper layers. By scanning the cuttings, I would lose it.”

“Instead, I photograph the cuttings on a white paper in a specific way so that the light always comes from a certain direction and the narrow shadow is cast on the other side.” 

“Then, I bring the photos to my computer, place them on a right-sized ’paper’, detach the shadow of the photo from the paper cutting and attach it back in as a transparent layer.”

“This way, I can combine them into a real-looking paper collage in a way that allows the paper cuttings from different sources to keep their essence, and I can still modify, multiply, scale or re-colour them as I like.”

“I can also combine layers of fine pencil drawings or a splash of watercolour on top of a collage cutting from a glossy papered fashion magazine. That would never work on real paper collage.”

“I think, originally, the technique came out of the fear of blank paper. It’s easier to start with ready shapes and let the picture conjure up that way. The technique is sometimes slow but it gives me freedom.”

All images © Satu Kettunen

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