Last week, I spent three extremely enjoyable days at a mixed media workshop in Sidmouth, East Devon. The tutor, Catherine Osbond, is a talented artist in her own right and a very good, experienced teacher. Not only did I learn a lot on this workshop, but I met some lovely people, who were all following their own creative paths. Part of the fun was chatting to my fellow artists to see how their pieces were progressing and how they arrived at particular results.
I was drawn to mixed media after decades of trying all sorts of arts and crafts. I’m a bit of a dabbler, in truth, and I want to pull together a few of the skills and techniques I’ve learned over many years. During the three days, Cathy demonstrated techniques with acrylics, watercolours, oils, inks and permanent fine line pens. For the first day, we weren’t allowed to use brushes to apply the media to boards – instead we used twigs, seaweed and dried flowers, plus found objects like bubble-wrap, rags and bottle tops. Only after that did we incorporate more traditional mark-making equipment.
Throughout the three days, we experimented with all the media and wrote notes about how we achieved various effects. I made sample boards to take away and keep.
This board shows some of the ways watercolours, powder paint and acrylics can be used to create different effects, especially when dropped onto a wet surface.
The board below shows some early experiments with acrylic inks. For the top two trials, I dabbed colour onto the board with a brush, then sprayed the area with water. For the lower two trials, I sprayed the board first, then dropped in colour. In all cases, I dropped a pinch of table salt into the wet ink, which affected the way it dried.
My first finished piece is a study in acrylics on mount board. It reminds me of an underwater scene. I created the background by spraying water onto some areas of the board, then sprinkling powder paints into it. I tilted the board to help the paint find paths to run in. When I was happy with this, I left it to dry. Next, I made a paper mask by drawing a simple shape and cutting it out. I laid the mask on the background and sprayed diluted watercolour paint around it to make a pale outline. I repeated this twice before the mask fell apart! Then I made two stamps out of thick cardboard: a kind of plant and a group of leaves. I painted these and used them to stamp on the background. I used white and burnt umber paint for these stamps and arranged the images as I liked them. I let this dry, then added a couple of plant stamps in metallic gold to ‘lift’ the piece. I also used the gold paint to add a few highlights.
My second piece is a stylised landscape painting in acrylics. I wanted to produce a simple hill scene with numerous fields, and I wanted each field to be a shade of green and to be differentiated by a texture. My initial sketch was a bit like a Zentangle picture, and I decided to use a selection of techniques to achieve the textures:
- board primed with thick gesso applied like rough plaster;
- dry brush into newly-applied colour;
- printing with bubble wrap;
- stamping with rubber bands wrapped around a piece of mount board;
- colour applied, then partly removed by scraping with mount board;
- printing with rags;
- painting dots using a fine brush.
If I painted this picture again, I would prime the board with gesso brushed on smoothly: I feel that the various techniques I used to produce texture were sufficient without having an uneven base as well.
The white-painted bubble wrap would have been more appropriate in the foreground: it looked too bright for a field in the distance. Cathy suggested I should use gloss medium to ‘knock the colour back’ a little. This certainly toned down the brightness, which was an improvement, but I would still use the bubble wrap in the foreground for a second version.
I think the plain blue sky is quite effective in this painting, because there is a lot of interest in the textured surface of the fields without distracting the viewer with extra shape and colour. (It was originally blue, white and burnt umber.) I was concerned at first that the path was out of proportion, but now I don’t think it looks out of place in this stylised picture.
My final piece is a study in acrylic inks on a textured board, which I prepared one day and completed the next.
I was fascinated by the way the inks ran and settled. Deeper colours were produced where the ink pooled – mainly in the crevices of textured materials. This method of creating pieces of art feels like a huge release from limitations. There is some planning, but it’s mostly spontaneous. The choice of materials is made by the artist, and an understanding of how they behave may determine the application of the various media, but to a large extent the process is uncontrolled. The artist can make of the outcome what s/he will, possibly enhancing a particular interpretation with additional materials.
I thoroughly enjoyed this mixed media workshop – so much so that I intend to go to a regular “watercolour and mixed media” class in the autumn, again with Cathy Osbond. That’s really something to look forward to.