Cohort 52 is a platform for emerging voices from the Applied Art & Design program at Sierra College in Northern California. Cohort 52 is facilitated by Assistant Professor Vincent Pacheco.


Natalie Hays

“This was a very lengthy project where I often found myself working either in complete silence or in chaos (with no in-between).”




Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hi! My name is Natalie and I’m studying digital media. This is my first semester back at Sierra College, as I previously graduated from here in 2020 and just moved back to the Grass Valley area after earning a B.A. in communication and political science from UC Davis in June. I’m very passionate about digital marketing and media/journalism but have little knowledge of platforms like Adobe and need to learn them for my job. I’m taking a leap of faith with classes like publication design to explore a more creative side of myself and discover more career fields or hobbies that allow me to challenge myself through visual storytelling! In my free time, you can find me baking, cycling, playing video games, and/or binge-watching TV (my all-time favorite series are New Girl and Parks and Recreation)!


How much experience do you have with collage?

Before this course, I had no experience making print collages other than a few middle school arts and crafts projects (if that counts). I worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency at my university and gained useful experience making digital collages, mood boards, social media threads, etc., but only used very basic software like Canva and have lots of room for improvement with this style as a whole.


Collage artists tend to be picky when it comes to their source material. Can you talk about your approach for selecting your images and/or publications?

Nearly all of my source material came from magazines. More specifically, most of the scraps I used to incorporate into the collages came from fashion magazines. I love all things relating to skin care, beauty, style, femininity, etc., so I knew I wanted to include snippets showcasing that side of myself as well as presenting generally ambiguous yet still feminine-leaning themes and color palettes. As a longtime magazine subscriber, I knew I’d be able to find these symbols in my favorite publications like Vogue and Vanity Fair, which appeal to a very wide audience interested in fashion. I also managed to incorporate some fantastic images from local magazines that I read regularly, including many issues of Nevada County Gold.


Were there any large themes you intended to explore or unpack before you began with this series of work? Did you stay on theme, or did things change as you began physically cutting and pasting images?

Before embarking on this project, I knew I wanted to be very personal and give insight into who I am and my background/interests, as well as who I hope to be in the future. As someone in my early twenties, I’m unsure of where I belong or who I am in a lot of aspects but still wanted to show who I believe I can be through future growth and embracing my identity as a woman. I do believe I stayed on theme and had very specific images in mind such as showcasing lots of women-identifying figures throughout, but also added more ambiguous images and themes that could apply to any individual seeking more fulfillment in their lives and learning through hardships and personal growth.


How did your background and life experiences inform your collages?

My background and experiences were the driving force behind all 15 of my collages, and I truly wanted to make sure each one meant something to me rather than just throwing something together and pretending it was relevant. I had this very specific idea to showcase feeling comfortable in my skin and my taste in colors, fashion, symbols, etc. as a woman, as well as show the things I’m passionate about, including politics. I knew it would be hard to do everything and probably too time-consuming to try to fit everything in, but I also knew that many common symbols we see in literature such as flowers can have very broad meanings. I felt confident that I’d be able to create shapes and stories out of seemingly mundane advertisements as well as the use of text to get my messages across more clearly. Although I tried not to put too much text on my collages and leave them up to audience interpretation, I also think certain words and phrases I put on my work helped inform my peers about who I am and allowed me to better convey “my world” in this sense.


What was your environment and set-up like when making the work? Did you listen to music? Did you work in isolation, or were you surrounded by distraction? Do you think this influenced the work you made?

This was a very lengthy project where I often found myself working either in complete silence or in chaos (with no in-between). When I was initially brainstorming, I would blast very energetic pop music playlists in the kitchen and chat with family, or binge-watch a show for hours while searching for aesthetically pleasing images. However, when it came down to physically assembling and gluing things together, I went into perfectionist mode and was very particular about where I wanted things to go. At that point, it was just me working in complete silence alone in my bedroom since I felt any distractions could make me mess up in an instant. I do feel my distractions helped influence the collages I made. For instance, if I’d been watching the evening news, I’d make a note on a piece of paper to make more social commentary pieces since politics and current events were fresh in my brain. On the other hand, if I was listening to a fall-themed album or if I noticed a certain color on a TV character or celebrity, it inspired me to seek out similar palettes or symbols in fashion magazines and then use fragments of them to convey a specific idea.


Scissors or X-Acto?

It depends on what’s being cut, but I’d say X-Acto for doing most or all of the work and scissors for cleaning up little details or finishing touches if necessary.


Was there anything unexpected that emerged while creating your work? Any new epiphanies?

I don’t feel any major epiphanies emerged in my work that weren’t already specified in my project description, but I do like how open-ended many of the collages were. I did want to make something that looked very pretty and visually pleasing to my eye, but I also like that the messages I tried to convey about growth and embracing identities can apply to virtually any individual. I wasn’t expecting this to be as present as it was since the collages were meant to be about our lived experiences, but it’s comforting to know that my journey of personal discovery is very normal for my age and very common among a diverse population.


Looking at your work again, has your understanding of your collages changed over time? Has any hidden meaning emerged?

The more I look at my collages and the final zine, the more I start to see even more potential themes that interest me. While I do mostly see a consistent idea of growth through womanhood, I’ve also observed a lot of symbols that represent things I might not be super passionate about yet, but would like to be, such as travel. I think some of my pieces like “california girl” and “present” present this double meaning very well, with symbols showcasing landscapes, the planet Earth, outer space, and more. Not only could my collages represent where I’m at now and my symbolic “journey” or “road trip” through life thus far, but also the places I hope to end up in and my desire to be a more worldly person.


Many artists are using the pandemic as a moment to pause and reflect. Do you think Covid-19 informed your work in any way?

Even though I’d prefer to forget about parts of the Covid era for a variety of reasons, I absolutely think it inspired some of these pieces. I had the unfortunate experience of graduating high school and completing my freshman year of university over Zoom, so I was constantly being forced to reevaluate and readjust things like my living situation as well as solve a variety of questions. Who are my true friends? What issues am I most passionate about? How can I gain the confidence to be extroverted in public again? I felt like I was missing out on a lot of things during this period socially, but at the same time spent a lot of time working on maturing and learning where my true interests lie. I think my collages (especially the ones with symbols like flowers and insects that could represent a “new bloom”) showcase how I’ve overcome hardships like this. With COVID-19, I ironically went from being extremely pessimistic in my outlook on life to learning to enjoy being alone and seeking pleasure in the little achievements when I was inevitably challenged. I think my collages greatly showcase this message and also have a lot of important calls to action that were very much needed during the pandemic.