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What is Mixed media? Mixed media refers to absolutely anything that can be incorporated onto a board, canvas or other support and which can be combined with paints or any other media. Why use mixed media? In the first place, mixed media is one of the best ways to enter into and to teach yourself the world of art. However, using mixed media is not, as many might assume, an easy way of doing art. Anyone can paste a number of elements together, but invariably the results will look tacky. This article is designed as a short introduction to the basics of mixed media art.

There are a number of advantages to using mixed media. Firstly, it is inexpensive. Newspaper, cloth, and household glue can form the basis of a mixed media work. Secondly, and most importantly, using different elements from the world around you sensitizes you to things that you would not ordinarily see. Who would have thought that a piece of the local newspaper, a piece of wool, and some paint could actually form a pleasing artwork? This is also an excellent way of training in the world of form, shape and color. By combining various shapes and colors from the world around you, you can very quickly train the eye.

How to Begin
The first step is to decide on a support. This will also depend on the type of elements that you want to combine, so a bit of planning is necessary. If you plan to include heavy elements to your work, for example, steel or wood, then a more stable and stronger support will be necessary. If you plan to use lighter material, then canvas and paper will do. The best support for almost any material is hardboard. I use hardboard in the following example.

Priming your Board
It is best to prime your board, as you never know where the proposed artwork will lead you and you may end up using conventional oil paints that need a primed surface. To prime a surface simply means to prepare it adequately so that the material (in this case hardboard or masonite) will not decay over time. An effective way of doing this would be to use good quality white acrylic house paint on the board. Once this dries you have a tough and resilient surface.

Collecting Materials
This is the fun part and the start of the actual artwork. Look around your environment for interesting items. The type of materials you could use include: paper, string, sand, cardboard, old toys, rusted metal, in fact almost anything that catches your eye. You should be looking for colors, shapes, forms and especially textures that attract you. Try not to make any conscious decisions about theme or motif at this stage. Keep these collage pieces and textures in a large box or plastic container. It should be noted that an entire article could be written just on the topic of diverse types of materials. There are numerous materials, including plants and other more delicate materials, which may need special treatment, but that will be dealt with in another article.

Other tools you will need
There are a number of tools that may help you create your first artwork. The first of these is the very important, adhesive glue. The best choice here is ordinary household white glue. You will also need some acrylic paints (only a few basic colors) a piece of smooth steel or wood and, of course, a pair of scissors and some household paint brushes.

The process
You may decide to start with your artwork in two basic ways. The first is to choose a motif or theme, for example, the human head. Or, you may decide on a more adventurous method and begin with no fixed idea but allow the collage material to direct you.

For this example, we will take the idea of the human head. One of the approaches could be to first sketch the head onto the acrylic primed board. Then, once you have the general outline, dip into the box of materials and allow your imagination and experimentation to take over. Apply a wash of acrylic paint, preferably a dark color, over your outline, but dilute the paint with water so as to allow the outline to just be visible. Take some string and, using glue, carefully place the string around the edges of the outlines. After this is dry, place another wash of darkish paint over the painting, and then rub the paint back while it is still wet with a cloth leaving parts of the string to shine through. At this stage you should start to feel excited about the emerging artwork.
Follow your intuition and place the materials on the board as you feel. These are only suggestions.

It might be a good idea to cut out some magazine pictures and place them within the shape of the head. Smear these pieces of paper fairly heavily with glue and wait for them to dry thoroughly before proceeding. Once they are dry, mix a flesh color (white and raw sienna and red) and wash this over the dried paper with a brush. You will begin see textures that you had never imagined beginning to appear. Experiment further by taking something with a hard edge, for example the piece of steel mentioned before, and work over the surface, even tearing the paper to a certain extent. Apply another wash, stand back and decide which pieces of material to apply next.

This is a very experimental technique, but if you persevere you will find that not only does it open your eyes to the amazing potential of everyday materials in art, but it may also produce an astonishingly interesting work of art.