by Mary Jane Butters
Sorting through years of family photos can be an unforgiving task -- or it can be a pleasant and freeing activity during which your creativity is unleashed.

If you've fallen behind in organizing your snapshots and find yourself feeling guilty or dismayed about how much work it will take to get caught up, then consider creating collages. It's an easy way to deal with those paper memories.

An elaborate scrapbook or well-labeled photo album isn't the only way to deal with Mount Fuji. Displaying favorite photos in a framed collage allows you to begin enjoying all your Kodak moments, right now. If you forgot to label the backs of your photos with the date or location, don't be too hard on yourself. You still have beautiful images to remind you of good friends, family and remarkable landscapes.

First, look around the house for potential collage-hanging locations, and while you're at it, check out old picture frames or framed pieces of art (behind glass) that might house your collage. Before you start, it's helpful to know if you're creating something for yourself or a gift for a friend, parent or child.

As you walk through your home looking for locations or frames, try looking at everything on your walls as if you are a first-time visitor to your home. What do you see? What sort of impression do you receive when you enter each room? Do your rooms reflect something about your nature? Do you like the colors and feel of each room? How about the amount of clutter or open space? Does it match how you see yourself? If not, why? Is there a decoration that baffles you and you find yourself wondering why you ever put it there in the first place? Perhaps you know exactly why you put it there, but it has outlived its welcome. If you already have photos displayed in your house, do you enjoy looking at them?

Once you know if you're creating a collage for yourself or a friend, it's time to begin, If it's for a friend, select a frame that fits her home and is a reasonable size. If it's for yourself, let your imagination fly. Picture frames are great, but if there's room, consider using old framed glass windowpanes. If you have a wall that begs for a window -- but it's unlikely you'll ever break through the wall to let daylight in -- then perhaps a farmhouse window frame, filled with your favorite photos, will accent the wall perfectly. Building recyclers are a good place to start looking for old windows. Or talk to a friend who you know has been remodeling an older home. They may have replaced the single-pane windows with something more energy-efficient. As far as the wooden frame goes, it's not necessary to do much more than clean the wood with a firm brush and, if you want a weathered look, smooth it with sandpaper. (If you're uncertain about the origin of the window, be wary of lead paint exposure. You don't want old paint to flake off, where a toddler or pet could ingest toxic flecks of paint.)

Once you're ready to start sorting through photos, set yourself up with a good work area. A card table is great, but so is the kitchen table -- lined with some large pieces of cardboard so you can quickly clear the table for family meals.

Have some extra boxes on hand. As you look for collage photos, now is the time to sort your other photos. If you have children, you might want to start a photo box for each child. When they grow up, all their photos will be in one place, ready for them when the time is right. As you look through your photos, try to sort quickly. Make piles of possible photos to use for each collage you want to make. You'll be surprised how many of your snapshots look like award-winning material. Look for photos that capture the essence of each collage and make it your center photo.

If you're making a collage for a child, remember to include some pictures with their siblings, parents or best friends. If you're making a collage for yourself, anything goes! Create theme collages. Favorite vacations, embarrassing moments, and infectious smiles will inspire and entertain visitors to your home. You'll be able to share your life, without needing to push a photo album on some unsuspecting friend! Wall collages allow them to discover the photos on their own and take in what they want.

Publication date: 03/20/03

North Idaho State Fair @ Kootenai County Fairgrounds

Aug. 19-28
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