How One Artist Creates Masterpieces from Magazines

Three years ago, Glen Rock’s Jim Nonas decided to get a little creative with his Sunday school class at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff. The concept was to do a project depicting an icon in mosaic-style art. To keep costs down, he swapped old magazines for traditional tile. Sketching out an image from the Bible, Jim guided his seventh- and eighth-grade class to glue down strips of yellow, red and blue magazine paper to create the picture, and the results were a big hit.

When he was asked to do the same project with a class a few years later, it was once again successful, prompting Jim to explore the idea of creating art pieces of his own to show and to sell. So in his spare time, when not teaching science or coaching wrestling at Teaneck High School, Jim began dedicating countless hours honing his technique and experimenting with various styles. He produced a collection of 30 works and entered the Bergen County Art in the Park Festival. By the show’s conclusion, he had sold five pieces to an art dealer; contracted with Rock House Gallery in Key West, Florida, for six pieces; sold two works to show visitors; and was retained for a commissioned piece. With his great success at the show, Jim knew he was well on his way to becoming a professional artist.

“I think the appeal of magazine collage is that it is unusual,” Jim says. “Many people paint, but this is a little out of the ordinary.”

He sometimes sketches his designs out first, especially ones that require linear perspective, but he has become skilled at creating many designs freestyle. 

“Collage is somewhat freeing,” he says. “I am forced to be less exact when choosing what magazine images to use.”

And upcycling magazines, which otherwise would be destined for an energy-consuming recycling process, creates something different, useful and beautiful out of discarded materials. All it takes are a few supplies and lots of imagination to have a positive impact on the environment, he says.

Jim’s studio is in his basement, and his artistic scope includes landscapes, animals, beach themes and his own interpretation of famous works. He has even reproduced a photo of his grandparents on their honeymoon in Atlantic City into a very special collage. As a child, Jim enjoyed various types of artwork, which evolved over the years from building with Legos and drawing Star Wars scenes to colored-pencil sketches and scratch model building. 

When Jim creates commissioned artwork, he chooses stock that suggests words or ideas about the subject to personalize it.

“I like using materials like magazines that already exist,” he says. “That’s all you need, along with scissors, canvas and Mod Podge.”

He credits his neighbors for keeping him well stocked with their old magazines instead of putting them out for the recycling truck. Non-glossy pages are his media of choice; especially cooking and fashion magazines and clothing catalogs. The finished pieces are sealed with a UV-resistant varnish upon completion.

Jim shares his upcycling philosophy and artistic talent through his Collage Art workshops at the Creative Den in Glen Rock. The Den’s owner, Tara McKee, recalls she had a few reservations about how the students’ art would turn out, but after his first class, she was pleasantly surprised.

“Jim is an amazing teacher,” she says. “His willingness to share his gift is a testament to his personality. My favorite part is telling people that he’s a wrestling coach. It shocks them every time.”

Jim lives in town with his wife and three young daughters whose college funds are the beneficiary of their father’s remarkable artistic talents.

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