Four Recipes for a Perfect Collaboration

In our last post, we talked about some things you should know before embarking on a collaboration, since making art with another person can be a bit, well, nerve-wracking. But once you have put those initial five tips we suggested into practice, you might find yourselves thinking, “What do we do now?” So we’ve outlined four different types of collaborative enterprises you might embark on with your artmaking partner. Think of them as recipes.

layer cake_abel

  1. Exquisite Corpse

An exquisite corpse is the layer cake of collaborations. It’s a time-tested classic, specifically designed by Surrealist artists to engender strange, communally-created results. The key to an exquisite corpse is that each artist takes a turn working on a small part of the image or text, and the larger project is concealed. In other words, at any given time, a working artist can only see part of the image. Any number of artists can collaborate, and at the big reveal, the patchwork result embodies the idea of surprise. Like a layer cake, each part of the collaboration has an equal role to play in the final result.

mystery basket_abel

  1. The Mystery Basket

Ok, so we already mentioned the reality cooking show Chopped in our previous post—what can we say? Now you know what we do with our Netflix. But this collaborative recipe can’t help but remind us of that ominous basket of mystery ingredients that each contestant is given at the beginning of each round. The contestants all get the same basic ingredients to work with, and each one uses them differently. To apply this to collaborations: each artist in the collaboration brings a different ingredient, and once they are all on the table, only then can they hatch a plan about what to make. For example, in a recent collaborative installation, Tim and two other artists—Melissa Wagner-Lawler and Angela Zammarelli—each brought pre-made paper objects to the gallery without telling each other what they were going to bring. Once there, each artist swapped objects and remade them, finally installing as a group for the final show. Essentially, each artist brought a mystery basket and handed it over to see what the others would do with it.

potluck plate_abel

  1. Potluck

It’s no mystery how this type of collaboration calls to mind a recipe: or rather, a feast of different recipes. This is probably the most common type of collaboration, but it’s also one of the hardest to pull off. Every time a high school art class works together to create a mural that will decorate a wall in their city or school, they are working off of a potluck idea: each artist is bringing their own skills to a common concept. It isn’t until everyone’s individual contribution comes together with all of the others that you get the visual banquet.


  1. Call and Response

Call and response is probably our personal favorite. Since Tim is an artist and Colleen is a writer, we often use each other’s work as a jumping off point to create something in response, and we love that this style lends itself so well to working across disciplines, which makes it super versatile. Artist A can send, say, a photograph to Artist B; Artist B can manipulate it digitally and email a scan back to Artist A, who can then paint on top of the digital scan, and so on, to use one example. If you’ve ever made tiramisu, maybe you can see the analogy here. Each ingredient—coffee, cookies, cream—can stand on its own (and be delicious), but they are transformed with each addition, until they form a perfect whole.

Obviously, we’re big fans of artistic collaborations because they enhance what we love most about the creative process: new breakthroughs, discoveries, and surprises. Bon appetit!

Avatar photo
Tim & Colleen Abel

Tim and Colleen Abel are Chicago-area natives. Tim draws. Colleen writes. Sometimes they do those things together.