Working with Mixed Media

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It’s happened to all of us: You sit in your studio, surrounded by all your paints and supplies, and you can’t come up with an interesting subject or decide which medium you want to use.

To bull your way through your artistic fugue, why not do a mixed media piece to spark your creativity and get your juices flowing? Mixed media is great for what ails you, as you can start with one medium, cover over what’s not working with another, and continue on to a successful completion with another technique or two.

That’s part of the fun of mixed media. You can just keep adding and subtracting until you come up with something that really speaks to you. There’s no rules and no limits to how much you can incorporate into a mixed media piece of art. So, line up all your supplies, and give mixed media a go.

What Kind Of Support Should I Use?

When you’re creating mixed media art, it’s a good idea to use a sturdy, forgiving support. You should use a surface that can take the abuse of erasure, scrubbing with a stiff brush, water and perhaps even a bit of sandpaper.

If you’re using watercolor paper, choose the heaviest weight you have. If you’re using a stretched canvas, make sure that it’s prepared with several good layers of gesso. For optimum durability, you may choose a gessoed Masonite board or prepare another hard surface with sufficient primer to give it a durable, receptive finish.

How Large Should I Make My Creation?

The size you choose is totally up to you and your budget. Remember, the larger you make your piece, the more paints and materials you’ll need to complete the painting. Can you afford the cost of a huge support? Even if you can buy that large canvas or piece of Masonite, can you afford to buy enough gesso, paints and supplies to cover it?

If this is your first mixed media project, don’t go crazy on the size. Work on a size similar to what you are accustomed to using. Don’t go ultra large or uber small for your first multimedia creations.

What Mediums And Materials Can I Use?

Anything that you can apply to your support is fair game for your mixed media creation. You’re only limited by the support’s ability to hold the medium or object firmly, and you can use whatever it takes to ensure that found objects are firmly attached to your support.

Technically, when you draw your composition with graphite or charcoal and then complete your piece with paint, you’re doing a mixed media painting. However, you’re generally going to use multiple mediums that show up in the work to add color, texture or design elements.

You may start out with a drawing or a watercolor, and then superimpose pastel, crayon, pencil or ink onto the surface. To build up texture, you can include some areas of acrylic paint and perhaps use that wet acrylic to adhere some pieces of torn tissue paper.

Get creative with layering your paints and chalks to see how far you can push the combinations. Tempera paint in Day-Glo colors can add some real electricity to your piece.

Maybe you’ll add some glitter, found objects, photos, newsprint or fabric to your artwork.

Paper of every weight and hue can be torn or cut for added dimension and color. Stencils, airbrush, inks and gouache can add details and finishing touches that take your idea to the next level of interest and flair.

Found objects can spice up a mixed media painting. Natural detritus like pebbles, leaves, twigs or other dried objects are easy to find. Just take a walk in your yard or a nearby park to collect a whole shopping bag of potential embellishments for your paintings. Rummage through a child’s toy box for bits of plastic, or scour your kitchen, garage and workshop for prospective bits and pieces.

How Permanent Is My Mixed Media Artwork?

Your artwork is only as archival as the materials used to create it and the manner in which you display the piece. If you plan for your works to be enjoyed decades from now, you need to use materials that are lightfast, colorfast and apply them to acid free supports. If this is your goal, you are certainly eliminating things like leaves, twigs and common construction paper.

However, with proper protection, a non-archival piece of artwork can last for many years. After your work is complete, spray it with a good coat of clear finish. You can choose satin, matte or gloss finish to give your painting an even, overall appearance and a protective coating to shield delicate objects in your work.

Make sure that you use a strong adhesive to secure found objects to your support. If you’re using a glue or epoxy, check to be sure that the ingredients don’t yellow or become brittle with age and exposure to UV rays.

If your piece is for sale or will be shown in a gallery or museum setting, make sure that those in charge of hanging it understand that it should be placed out of direct sunlight.

Get comfortable with all this flurry of activity and shifting gears. Also, don’t feel as though you have to rush. Take time to stand back and ponder your piece. Squint your eyes to see if the basic shapes and values are appealing, and don’t be overly concerned with the details until you’re down to the final touches.

Don’t be afraid to remove things, cover them up, re-gesso an area or tone down a too-vibrant passage. Keep your colors lively, your brush strokes bold and your composition dynamic.

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