This is the final post in a series about teaching a mixed media workshop at the Arkansas Arts Center. So far, we’ve covered the use of stencils and stamps, image transfer, collage, language and text, and drawing. Finally, to pull it all together, we will focus on one overarching goal of every workshop: a willingness and ability to work in layers (as seen in the slideshow above).
The benefits of layering our mixed media pieces are numerous. For starters, a rich history is built into the composition. Intrigue is created with areas that become partially hidden or obscured. Layering creates an interesting surface, one that is dynamic and deep. During the layering process, we can develop texture. Finally, a willingness to cover up our work allows for the unexpected….the happy accident. If we see each mark as precious, we tend to get attached to mediocre work and wonder why our art isn’t growing or why we can’t seem to get to the next level. The “next level” requires a fearlessness and ability to paint over, to abolish, to cover our work in a constant exploration of style, material use and composition development.
Remember, whether you are on your first layer or your tenth, there are many ways to get the paint on the paper:
- Large brush blob with drips (hold up and tap on table)
- Straw blowing or blow dryer
- Scraper with paint
- Sponge on paint
- Splatter paint with toothbrush and paint brush
- Medicine dropper or spray bottle
- Drip painting
Building a pattern in at least one of the layers is a strong visual tool. Patterns can be implemented using countless methods, for example:
- Use acrylic gel in paint and create texture and pattern (the gel will add body to the paint and then you can press a tool into the gel; for example, drag a comb through the gel to create a striped pattern)
- Make or buy stamps to create pattern (ie the end of an eraser can be used to stamp a dot pattern)
- Use stencils for pattern
- Use language for pattern by handwriting, collage, stencils or image transfer
- Tear painter’s tape into shapes, or use it “as is” for a bold stripe pattern
One challenge many of the students face after days of fearless experimentation, is their work sometimes lacks a focal point – a place for the eye to land. When critiquing, we often express a need to “calm down” certain areas of the painting or a need to guide the eye. There are many ways to resolve this issue when applying a final layer:
1. Paint over everything (students are often resistant to this suggestion but once you learn to paint over your work, you are set free!). You can use a semi-transparent paint layer so the marks and patterns underneath remain somewhat visible.
2. Along the lines of painting over everything, you can choose areas to save and not paint over. One way to do this is to lightly draw shapes where you do not plan to put the final layer of paint. Another way is to use a stencil or stencils to block out areas.
3. You can also use acrylic gel medium to create windows to the layers underneath the final layer. Paint the gel medium thickly in whatever shape(s) you choose, let the medium completely dry, then paint over the entire piece. Using a damp rag or paper towel, wipe back the paint from the areas where there is medium and you will have created a window. If the paint dries and seems stuck to the medium, use a razor blade to scrape paint off, which creates an interesting texture. Other resists that are fun to try include candle wax and one of my favorites: rubber cement.
You can also create a focal point by adding a dominant feature such as a collage item, an image transfer, a pop of color, text, a bold mark…anything that stands out among it’s surroundings. While figuring out what to do for your focal point, consider the previously mentioned design element: CONTRAST.
For example, below on the left, Robert Rauschenberg pushes some of the collaged text back by painting over sections with a thin white paint. The inclusion of thick red marks among the neutral color palette allows the red to become a focal point. On the right, artist Sigmar Polke uses white to paint around a stencil among dark colors. While the white is transparent, allowing the patterns beneath to show through, it is still a strong contrast to the heavy colors. Additionally, the patterns are detailed and meticulous which contrast the organic application of the ethereal white layer.
Whether your work includes representational imagery, or is purely abstract, learning to work with layers will provide you with a strong tool to develop intriguing compositions. Especially freeing is the idea that any marks can be covered, any mistakes can be altered or hidden. Once we learn this lesson with the use of layers, we are more willing to take risks, experiment, and push our work in a new direction. I hope you have enjoyed the mixed media blog series. If you are in Central Arkansas, please check out the Arkansas Arts Center schedule of classes by visiting: http://www.arkarts.com/
Thank you for reading!