Ideas and techniques for abstract painters

Mixed Media

Techniques for including different types of mixed media in your paintings.

Mixed media means using a number of different materials to create one work, often an unusual combination of seemingly unrelated materials can be used such as sand, paint, and fabric.

1. Collage

Collage traditionally includes types of paper, cotton, threads and other materials to create an artwork. The materials are usually glued to paper or canvas.

Collage materials can include: wrapping paper, fabric, maps, newspaper, drawings, cotton, wool, string, buttons, ribbon and cotton thread. The popular craft of scrapbooking is all collage.

Collage technique: apply gel medium with a brush under the piece of paper to stick on, coat over the top, sealing all edges. It is important that you coat the paper with gel medium to seal it. If you are going to paint over the paper the paint will bleed into the paper discolouring it if not sealed correctly.

The same technique is used for fabric, canvas and cut up old artworks. You can also mix paper and fabric samples.

To attach thread and wool: Paint an area of paper or canvas with gel medium, arrange wool and cotton thread, press down and paint over with gel medium to attach. Depending on the thickness of the wool, you may need to do a touch up coat of gel when dry if there are areas you have missed.

Landscape Essence, Jane McKay, 50x100cm, diptych, mixed media on canvas, 2010.

Other materials such as wood and metal can be added and incorporated into artworks. Attach wood and metal with aquadere, pva or white wood working glue. Attach to a dry surface and use liberally to glue. It may be better to use a canvas board or wooden painting surface rather than a canvas if the items are heavy.

2. Sand

Texture can be added to paint by adding sand. Fill an empty tomato tin half full with sand and then mix it with paint. It gives a grainy texture to the paint that can then be applied with a palette knife or brush to your painting.

If you are using sand and mediums to create texture it may be better to use a canvas board or primed wooden board instead of canvas due to the weight of the mixed media materials used.

3. Adding Texture with Gel or Impasto Medium

There are many similar products available in the range of gels and mediums. Essentially they are thick colourless products that provide bulk. Some can be mixed with paint and applied to your canvas whilst others must be applied directly to the canvas and left to dry allowing paint to be applied later on top. Read the specific instructions before use.

Gel or impasto medium can be painted directly onto the canvas with a brush or more commonly a palette knife and left to dry. This will create areas of texture in your work.

Gel medium tends to dry clear and impasto medium tends to dry white. Both come in tubs and have many uses. The gel has a wider variety of uses as it dries clear. Both need to be left to dry when tacky or they will start to ball.

Use 1. Apply clear gel medium with a brush or palette knife to a canvas or board to build up a base layer of texture that can then be painted over when dry.

Use 2. Mix paint with impasto gel medium to bulk up the paint, apply thickly to canvas board. This technique can also be used to extend paint when you are running out of a colour; up to 50% gel can be added to paint. Adding more than 50% will cause your colour and the paint texture to change.

4. Plaster

Plaster or commercial products used for filling gaps and holes in walls in preparation for painting can also be used in artworks. I use one in a tub already mixed. If you are planning to use a lot then the work will be quite weighty and it would be better to use a canvas board or wooden board to paint on rather than a canvas.

Plaster was also used in ancient frescos. Frescos were traditionally painted by painting onto wet plaster on a wall. You can do a similar thing by applying the plaster to your canvas and painting over it. You can leave it to dry first. It will absorb a lot of paint and dull the colours with a whitish look.

Apply the plaster mix with a trowel or palette knife, it will create some stone and concrete like textures to use in your work. You can paint over the plaster in a matt acrylic house paint to seal it before using artist acrylic to save on paint if you want.

5. Wax Paper

Crumpled wax paper can be laid over wet paint and lifted off to create some interesting textures. Apply paint in a thick layer with a brush or palette knife to the paint surface, lay wax paper on top. Press lightly. Holding the four corners slowly lift up from paint to create a textured surface.

6. Cling Wrap/Aluminium Foil

Cling wrap can be used with wash painting techniques. Apply a wash to a painting surface, lay the cling wrap on top. Partially crumpled cling wrap produces great results. Leave to dry completely and then remove the cling wrap and you will be left with textured lines.

The same technique can be tried with aluminium foil. Apply a thick layer of paint and then crumple aluminium foil and press into the paint surface. Remove the aluminium foil to create texture in the paint. Works best in thick paint.

11 responses

  1. Brain Castelluccio

    Definitely, what a magnificent blog and revealing posts, I will bookmark your website.Best Regards!

    September 13, 2011 at 4:55 am

  2. czekoladowe fontanny

    This one was very handy, exactly what I was lookin’ for

    November 21, 2011 at 3:48 am

  3. Vigura

    I was very pleased to find this web-site.I wanted to thank you for your time and for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoyed every bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you blog post.

    November 27, 2011 at 10:21 am

  4. Jeanna nyc

    Nice, I’ve bookmarked the page in under “Mixed Media Jane McKay”. Cheers!

    November 28, 2011 at 11:07 pm

  5. pozy cjonowanie

    Thank you for the tips. It helped me a lot.

    December 10, 2011 at 12:51 pm

  6. Yrra Cutler

    this site really saved my research paper! thanks !

    December 11, 2011 at 8:02 pm

  7. Joyce Horton

    hello Jane, a couple years ago I saw a group of paintings that the artist said that it was simply gobs of acrylic paint applied to a paper (what kind of paper?) and she took crumpled up wax paper and fairly straightened it out and laid it on the wet surface of gobs of paint and lifted it off. It looked very artsy. Can you give me more complete instructions Please? Thanking you so very much in advance for any help and/or suggestions you offer.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:56 am

    • Hi Joyce,
      I am not sure what the artist you saw used but I would recommend a thick 300gsm weight paper. Without seeing the work it is hard to guess how they would have done it. I would experiment with mixing a few colours together and spreading them a little on the paper and then press the wax paper on top. You could also print form the wax paper onto another piece.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:11 pm

  8. Joyce Horton

    hmmmm, very interesting. I had not thougtht of doing the reverse w/the wax paper. Thanx and also thanx about the info on that weight of paper. Might be a tad wasteful w/my limited amount of talent BUT Hey, this is my “Me Time” (My husband of 52 years is in Stage 3 Alzheimer and ‘playing’ in paints is my release and therapy) Thanx again and have a blessed day. Let today be special!

    July 30, 2012 at 6:46 pm

  9. Lann

    Great techniques! Thank you so much!

    June 6, 2013 at 8:10 am

  10. rajeshbajaj


    February 6, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s