Broken Pieces: An Interview with Collage Artist Jo Reimer

I never liked collage. There is something terribly destructive about it, and for a long time all I could see in it was brokenness. It made me uncomfortable and sad. My experience with collage as a child was to rip up beautiful magazine pictures in order to create something mediocre. I was not a fan.

One day I realized that art quilting, my first love in art forms, was basically collage. I remember being stunned. At first I argued with myself, I was not destroying things of beauty to create mediocrity, I was redeeming cast off pieces and giving them new life. Surely intent mattered, didn't it? I began to study the history, various artist styles and forms of this medium. I could see it's benefit in trauma healing and in spiritual direction. Slowly, I have grown to appreciate all forms of collage.

One of my favorite people is an intriguing collage artist. Jo Reimer agreed to be interviewed here. 

Michelle: I know you have used several different mediums for expression over your career, what is it that you like about collage?

Jo Reimer: You’re right that I’ve used different mediums for expression beginning with the threaded needle and fiber to create clothing and home goods as well as wall hangings. These items included lots of applique and the vast array of surface design techniques. I’ve explored most ways of painting and I draw a lot, now mostly urban sketching. About 20 years ago, while involved in art journaling and book arts, I began using collage on the pages. It grew beyond my pages. I took it larger, finally settling on collage as my primary medium.  Collage is simply gluing paper to a surface to build up a composition and tell a story. My work is different from that of most other collage artists in that I work with papers that I’ve painted and textured using techniques I learned way back when I was working in surface design on fabric.

Collage is simply gluing paper to a surface. . . to tell a story
— Jo Reimer

M: I love how your work has, in a sense, come full circle in terms of the texturing of fabric and now papers. Would you say you have a visual language? Colors, shapes or symbols that are unique to your work? 

JR: Yes, I do have a visual language which I realized only recently as I was skimming over the hundreds of images I’ve pinned to my collage and paintings boards on Pinterest. I use geometric shapes to build my works… mostly squares and rectangles, with thick and thin lines, and the occasional circle, spot or dot. Those right angles come naturally to me, probably related to my experiences with patchwork and pattern. Try as I might to go organic, I can’t go there.  And color! Everything is colorful although most recently I’ve been loving working with neutrals. They’re so elegant. It’s hard for color to be elegant and I like elegance, and order, and control.  It shows.

M: Are there particular topics that you tend to revisit often? Why do you think that is?

Hometown Girl  by Jo Reimer, 12 x 12 collage of painted papers and images on cradled panel.   JR: " The woman is my mother. 255 was my phone number when I was a child. The bridge is similar to one that terrified me when I was learning to drive because of the parallel boards on which one had to keep the wheels of the car. My dad loved to fish. After work he’d get one of us kids to go with him and row the boat while he fished. And the words, 'Jim had a nice birthday' refers to my brother. This piece is all about my family of origin."

Hometown Girl by Jo Reimer, 12 x 12 collage of painted papers and images on cradled panel.  JR: "The woman is my mother. 255 was my phone number when I was a child. The bridge is similar to one that terrified me when I was learning to drive because of the parallel boards on which one had to keep the wheels of the car. My dad loved to fish. After work he’d get one of us kids to go with him and row the boat while he fished. And the words, 'Jim had a nice birthday' refers to my brother. This piece is all about my family of origin."

JR: I visit and revisit the idea of home and family. To me it’s obvious why that is… it’s what I know and where my interests and love live.  From childhood I’ve drawn floorplans. As a six year old I played among the above-ground roots of a big oak tree, naming the spaces as rooms in a home and populated those rooms with stone “people.” My first paintings in high school home economics class were of a living room and a dining room.  I had 6 years of home economics in middle and high school and majored in home economics/clothing/textiles in college.  Home is where it’s at for me.

M: Isn't it interesting how little things from childhood carry though our entire lives? I know you like order and organizing, but your work is so "loose" and expressive. Can you let us into your process a little bit?

JR: Several times during the year I devote a couple of weeks to painting and decorating paper which is then sorted into bins according to color.  I also have boxes of many kinds and colors of papers torn from books and magazines or saved from the trash. I call these boxes “compost” because beauty grows from the combining and mixing of these otherwise useless papers.

When I come to my work table I stir and sort through my "compost" and choose a few papers that interest me for some reason. Sometimes I come to the table empty minded and let ideas form from interacting with the papers. Other times I have something definite in mind… a memory or an idea or simply a geometric composition that I’ve sketched in my studio journal.  I set out my glue pot, a few palette knives, a wet cloth to clean my fingers, and a support… and I begin. I audition the papers which will make the cut and be included in the first layers. I lay the papers in place, repositioning them until the composition is pleasing, and then begin the actual gluing process.  It’s messy and fun. The work changes and evolves over hours and days. Sometimes the collage is finished in just a few hours, but usually I return to the work again and again until it’s finished, adding inked lines and paint where needed.

M: How is your work impacted by your faith, and do you find the reverse to be true? How does art impact your faith?

The work changes and evolves over hours and days.
— Jo Reimer

JR: I’m a Christian who makes art but mostly I don’t make religious art, not the kind of religious art sold in a Christian bookstore.  Over several years I’ve made numerous works of art for my church, alter frontals, banners, replica textiles for a model of the original Tabernacle as well as Aaron’s garments.  I made a series of collage paintings/ illustrations of the sermons of my pastor, 10 of which are used in the children’s department. I completed 54 of these “Sermon Notes” before the series ended and I consider these works to be the best things I’ve made. Definitely my faith was impacted and was driven by the creating of this body of work; however, I feel that everything I do is an act of worship, simply because of who I am and in whom I believe.  I was created to be who I am, to be creative, to draw and paint and glue and make things, so of course my art is impacted by my faith and vice versa.  It’s who I am.

Thanks Jo!

Isn't she interesting? I've blogged about Jo's work before, you can find that article here.
Jo has a website:
And art blog:, The title of her blog, One-A-Day, refers to her commitment to make one piece of art every day. The searchable blog contains lots of information on how she makes art.
Photos of her art can be viewed on at
For information about purchasing a painting contact her at

Learning to Listen

One of the reasons I value art for worship is because it helps me to clear a wordless space to listen for His voice. Wordlessness is difficult for me. Henri Nouwen says that sometimes attempting to pray in silence, his mind becomes filled with a banana tree of hungry monkeys! That metaphor always makes me smile because I can relate. Using art has been a productive way to begin to train and discipline my mind so that prayer can be a conversation rather than a monologue, or an exercise in list-making (all things I have been prone to do).

My friend, Jo Reimer,  a brilliant collage artist, has a series that I want to share with you. She has given me permission to use her work in this way. Today we are going to practice using art to worship. The series is titled Sermon Notes, a collection of 51 pieces, that can be found here.

When I use art for worship I tend to go through these stages: I notice that I am drawn to a particular piece; I prayerfully consider the elements that drew me in; I listen for what the Holy Spirit has for me; I spend time in silence with Him.  Here is an example from my prayer notebook of how I used Jo’s  piece entitled “Truthful.”

"Truthful" from Jo Reimer's Sermon Notes series.

"Truthful" from Jo Reimer's Sermon Notes series.


 I am drawn—The colors in this are provocative. Blue and orange, peace and boldness, are side-by-side. I am attracted by the word—TRUTHFUL. How perfect! Truth is provocative. There is an element of peace and an element of boldness to it.

 I come—When I think about “truth” I am filled with feelings of safety and peace. Lord, I thank you that I can trust You. That You speak the Truth—that you are Truth. In You there is no guile, no deceit. No room for lies. I can rest safely in You, and I praise You for that. I DO trust You. I want to worship You in spirit and in Truth. Lord, what am I withholding from You? Am I being truthful before You? Am I coming to You pretending to be something I am not? Truth isn’t all safety and peace, is it? It is provocative and confrontational. Here I am—examine me.

 I listen—At this point I put down the pen and listened. At first there was only silence, but soon the Lord brought to my mind several fears that I needed to release to Him. I attempted to obey and entrust my fears to Him. I then remained quietly present in the moment. Heart speaking to heart.

If you would like to use Jo's work as a starting point for worship, choose a time and place free of distractions. It can be helpful to some people to journal during this exercise. If you are one of these people, be ready with paper and pen (but also be willing to put your pen down when needed). Click here to go to Jo Reimer's flicker page. Scroll through her various pieces and notice which one you are drawn to. Click on it to enlarge and then prayerfully consider the piece. Use the following questions as a guide as long as they serve you:

Why am I drawn to this piece?

Consider/journal what it is about this work that draws you to it at this moment.

Come to it. Ask the Holy Spirit to make connections for you, to form a prayer in you.

Listen/Commune. If you find that your mind has wandered, take a moment to offer that stray thought to the Lord, and then settle back into a listening posture.

Give yourself some time to ponder the experience. Give yourself at least 24 hours. Then consider these questions:

Was this a new experience for you?

Did you notice any resistance to the exercise? Where do you think that came from?

In what ways were you called?

Can you use this technique of noticing what draws your attention, asking the Holy Spirit what He might have for you, in another context during your day?

Once you start to practice noticing and listening, it will become a habit. It will become the beginning of "praying without ceasing."