Working with Mixed Media: An Introduction
Whatever the media in which you normally work, using mixed media is a great exercise if you’re looking to get out of a rut, push yourself in new directions, or just have fun. What makes it so wonderful is the freedom it offers to explore new ideas and experiment with a variety of mark-making techniques. I find I can work quickly and intuitively, responding to each mark I put down.
Mixed media is freeing because it is easy to re-work the image. If you don’t like something, you can cover over it with paint or collage a piece of paper on top. It doesn’t require much planning, just a willingness to be present and create!
(choose a variety of these materials. You don’t need all of them!):
- watercolor paint
- watercolor pencils
- oil pastels
- soft pastels (chalk pastels)
- wax crayons
- colored construction paper or other papers
- india ink
- pens and markers
- whatever other supplies you have kicking around
This is also good opportunity to recycle materials – old drawings or watercolor paintings can be torn up and collaged.
You’ll also need:
- a large sheet of watercolor paper or another sturdy paper (you can even use mayfair paper, but it may warp a bit)
- a glue stick or glue size
- masking tape
- brushes (don’t use your nice brushes. Use old ones or buy some cheapos)
- a container for water
To get started:
Set yourself up at a table. Tape your sheet of watercolor paper to a board all around the edges. This will prevent it from buckling and help it dry flat. Use a piece of wood or another prop (like a book) under the board at far end to incline it slightly toward you. I like to work standing up, but do whatever is comfortable for you. Make sure your materials are accessible.
You can work from observation (set up a colorful scene or get someone to pose for you), take inspiration from photos, drawings, your imagination – or some combination of the two. Abstract paintings are fun because you can do them anytime and they don’t require a special set up.
Start by making a mark. Put down a large patch of color with a piece of paper or watercolor wash. Add to it, respond to what you see… Go for variety: a mixture of linear elements, splatters, blobs… Really, anything goes. I like to try to be as outrageous as possible.
For abstract paintings, it can be helpful to have a general color scheme in mind. This could be complementary colors, analogous colors, or neutrals with a splash of something vibrant. Try to add one element that is unexpected. You don’t want it to be too harmonious.
General tips for using mixed media:
- Work large. Don’t use a tiny sheet of paper. Go for a sheet that is at least 16 x 20 in.
- Work quickly. Don’t get caught up in over-planning your composition. Just jump right in and respond.
- Start without an initial drawing or only a very loose sketch.
- Make big moves. By this I mean work from large to small. Begin with large passages of color rather than small details.
- Block out areas that you want to remain white using masking tape or fluid which can be removed at the end or at a later stage in the painting.
- Be responsive. Don’t be afraid to radically re-work your image.
Have fun! I find working with mixed media like being a kid again. It is so hands-on and has a wonderful textural quality.
Leave comments to let me know how your explorations in mixed media turn out!