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The Beginner’s Guide to Making Mixed Media Art

What is mixed media? This beginner’s guide to mixed media explores techniques in combining painting, sculpture, photography, collage, and more.

Always wanted to try a different art form—but aren’t sure where to start? Sculpture practice feeling a little stale? Sick of sticking to collage? Want to add more dimension to your photography? It might be time to give mixed media art a try!

What Is Mixed Media?

First of all: what is it, exactly?

Mixed media art involves mixing different creative mediums to create work that incorporates two or more art forms. For example, you can add sculpture to your painting, or draw on top of photography prints. Mixed media is all about breaking the boundaries between different art forms.

Artists need to look at everything as a potential canvas. If you are a traditional artist who works with oil-based paints, for example, perhaps you could try painting on a woodblock, or a piece of furniture, or found objects like books or antique toys. Or, let’s say, you work with embroidery, make-up or water-based paints—you can add in more delicate items, such as tea leaves, flower petals, and found photography. Digital artist? You can print out your creations on different materials and paint over them, or paste them onto a form to create a mixed media sculpture. These mixed media creations also make a wonderful addition to your art portfolio.

When starting your first mixed media creation, feel be to be playful—and get messy! The goal is to learn how the mediums can interact with each other, so don’t be afraid to experiment. It’s better to go too far and pull back for your next piece than to be too timid and never know what the mediums you use are capable of. As Ernest Hemingway said, “Write drunk and edit sober.” The same goes for making mixed media art!

Introduction to Mixed Media Mediums

When easing into mixed media, try out different mixtures of mediums you already know. But don’t be afraid to explore new techniques! So—let’s learn about all the different mixed media art options you can try.

Mixed Media Painting

Painting is one of the most popular artforms, and you can create beautiful effects using mixed media—even with minimal experience. From alcohol-based paints to salt (!), Pinterest is the place to browse innovative techniques and open your mind to the mixed media art possibilities. You can also learn tips and tricks from great painters at the Khan Academy. Here are some basic ideas to get you started:

  • Paint mixes: Mix watercolors with pastels or acrylic paints, or try layering paper and wood into your artwork.
  • Techniques: Blend paint washes, paint with a credit card or give mixed media stencils a try.
  • Mixed media canvas: Add textures, memorabilia and even rocks to your canvas.

Remember: there are special kinds of paints for a variety of surfaces, from chalkboard paint and spray paint to fabric paint, so ask your local art supply store what’s available. Also, don’t forget to look around in your environment for things to paint on. There are tutorials online for nearly all forms of painting, including painting on tea bags which creates an interesting, aged effect. Etsy is also full of mixed media inspirations of what can be painted on, like butterfly-stenciled music sheets.

Mixed Media Collage and Papercraft

Paper is just about the most accessible material to create with. Here are some examples of how you can use paper in your practice:

Mixed Media Sculpture

Making mixed media sculpture can remind you of your grade-school glory days and your first forays into creating with strange, fun, found materials. Here are some ideas to make some more grown-up mixed media sculpture:

  • Building: With the right kind of glue, you can make a mixed-media sculpture out of anything, from a Lego minifigure to a backpack.
  • Carving: You can learn how to carve all kinds of materials, from pumpkins and books to ice.
  • Crochet and Embroidery: Consider crocheting a plushie or small sculpture, and adding embroidered patches on it. You can also paint on those and glue on whatever elements you want.

Mixed Media Photography

In this day and age, tons of great photography is just a tap away. You can find images from glossy magazines and newspaper clipping photos, or even print out your own pics to work with. For photo collages, you can follow traditional cut and paste tutorials or learn how to create digital collages using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.

When creating traditional mixed media collage with found imagery, you want to avoid accidentally tearing your subject. These are some clean, easy ways to remove paper from magazines and books.

Now that you have a few options to get you started, here are some ways to spark your creativity for future mixed media art projects.

Other Fun Ways to Work Mixed Media Into Your Life

You can reflect on your journey with a mixed media art journal. Or maybe create personalized gifts for loved ones with mixed media cards that contain ticket stubs or photographs? There’s also mixed media fashion to showcase your art through your style.

Mixed Media Art Journal Or Book

Mixed media is great for getting back to a childlike state of creation, arts and crafts-style. Tap into this sense of wonder with an art journal where you can jot down your ideas and express them across multiple mediums. Mixed media journals are great multi-purpose tools: they can be a scrapbook, vision board, dream journal, and diary of your creative journey all at once!

Every page is an opportunity to explore your mediums, from painting meditative, abstract textures to using found objects like flowers in your drawings. Here are some tips to make your mixed media art journal easier to manage.

Looking for a killer gift for a beloved kid in your life? You can create a customized mixed media story for them, complete with mementos from your time together incorporated.

Mixed Media Cards

Cards are another easy way to have fun with a mixed media creation and incorporate elements of your relationship with the recipient into your mini project.

Pop-up cards make a wonderful impression, and there are a variety of styles to be explored. Here is an example of a polaroid pop-up card that makes use of a piece of memorabilia. You can blend painting, printmaking, or photography for a refined artisanal look. There are also more complex styles that use many cuts to create a sculpture. Different executions of the mixed media pop-up card varieties. can be explored.

Mixed Media Clothing

Wearable art is a great way to express yourself on a daily basis. Bonus: it’s an easy way to get your artwork in front of the public, who will hopefully be intrigued enough by it to ask you more about yourself and your work.

You can turn an ordinary cap, sweaters, shorts and shoes into something special through embroidery, tie-dye or stenciling a design on it. You can paint it, or layer it with your own unique combination of patches, or specialty buttons. Go to your local thrift store for some unique finds. You can mix and match any fabric you want! You can turn pretty much anything in your wardrobe into a one-of-a-kind mixed media art piece.

More art inspiration:
11 Ways To Battle Creative Block—And Get Back To Work
20 Contemporary Painters with Gallery-Worthy Portfolios
A Guide to Social Media Strategy For Your Creative Business

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