Mixed Media In Fine Art

Mixed media has become very popular in art over the last couple of years, and there is no question as to why … It is wonderful to be able to sit down and work on a project and not be limited to only one or two materials despite what may convey your idea best.  It is also a way to make 2D art more tactile, introducing elements of 3D art and design onto a 2D surface.

I’ve found that introducing mixed media to my drawings has given my pieces a new life. There is nothing at all wrong with using one material, and I enjoy a lot of artists’ work that create art that is all ink, or all watercolor, or all acrylic. However, for my own art working with multiple mediums has enabled me to break through the possibility of my work becoming repetitive or stagnant, and has helped me develop my own unique style.

It’s easy to be intimidated by mixed media art because it involves a lot of choices, but using multiple mediums can actually make the artistic process easier by removing the limitations of using one material at a time so that for each part of our piece we can use the medium that will lend itself best to creating the visual effect we desire. It can also allow us to be more efficient with our work; for example, yes I could find a fabric I like and copy it by hand onto the dress of a figure in my drawing, or I could add something tactile and interesting and adhere the actual fabric to my drawing as the figure’s dress.

Wondering how to incorporate mixed media into your drawings or paintings?

  • Start with what you know. Create a base drawing or painting first, and then assess where you could add some 3-dimensional or tactile elements. In the image below titled “Artist At Work”, fellow artist and art friend Emiliano Vega painted the scene first with acrylics and a palette knife, and then I applied mixed media accents evenly dispersed throughout the scene to finish it off. Think about what the objects depicted in your drawing or painting are actually made of be it wood, metal, fabric, leather … and try to incorporate those materials. I used thin cutouts from sheets of wood samples for the wood of the window frame and easel. Real fabric and leather samples were used for the furniture, with paint applied overtop for shading. Prints of an actual sketchbook were used for the book on the table, as well as a a closeup section of an actual painting for the work on the canvas. the artist at work
  • Go gathering and narrow down your choices! Look for materials with a similar color scheme, pattern, style, or period look to the 2D image you are creating. Once you’ve accumulated a store of like elements, it will be a lot easier to decide what you want to place where to add to your piece. For “Lunar Fantasy”, I painted everything in watercolor first and then determined what to accent in mixed materials. I gathered fabrics in dusty, muted tones of black, ivory, gray, blue, and violet. I also collected some gold metal/metallic pieces that reinforced the vintage style. Everything I collected was pretty and feminine with a definite older feel to it (think Grandma’s craft drawer) but with a whimsical, luxe element to it as well. I gave myself a couple fabric choices, a couple edging choices, and a couple metal choices and narrowed it down from there. I used actual fabric and ribbon for the top curtain and her outfit, and accented any of the metal with gold cord. I also reinforced the vintage circus look by using scavenged vintage jewelry for decoration.

lunar fantasy

  • Maintain your original style. There are literally no rules to mixed media art. When you google “mixed media art” or even watch youtube tutorials, a lot of what comes up are mixed media styles that are very “on trend” with a heavy art journaling influence. Much of it is very busy and colorful with all-over pattern and texture, visible paint strokes, and super stylized figures, flowers, or animals with a lot of elements of paper crafting and collage. If you’re a fine artist who likes sharp detail and realism you may feel like this is an area you aren’t able to dabble in but that isn’t true at all. I integrate mixed media into my pieces as an accent and an enhancement to the work I am already doing in either paint or pencil. The piece on the left is all colored pencil, and on the right colored pencil with the introduction of mixed media, both other 2D mediums as well as some 3D objects. In this piece on the right, I was able to use prismacolor pencil for the figure to achieve the sharp detail and realism that was desired, and watercolor for the background to create a softness and “fog” to the view through the window. I used prismacolor markers for the eye pattern undulating out from her line of vision because I wanted that to have a more hard-edged graphic print look with no visible pencil or paint strokes. I used actual fiber materials for the gold edging on her outfit and her dress as well as actual decorative gems for her jewelry because yes, you could imitate it by drawing, but using the real thing adds a surprise 3D element that makes viewers look twice and gives the piece depth. That is part of the fun of mixed media art – it draws viewers in encouraging them to investigate further, because it’s not just a painting or just a drawing – they are invited to try to figure out the artist’s process, and what they used for different parts of the piece. There are new discoveries the longer they take the piece in.
  • Start small. Try out different techniques and materials on a small surface. Bulk value packs of 8×10″ canvases or mixed media paper sketchbooks are great! Get out your paints, pencils, fabric, beads, odds and ends and play!

With many things being cancelled right now resulting in a lot of downtime, it’s not a bad idea to get creative and try something new! Fine art and crafting materials CAN coexist!