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What Is Mixed Media Painting?

Different kinds of paints may be combined in mixed media painting.
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  • Written By: Lori Spencer
  • Edited By: S. Pike
  • Last Modified Date: 22 March 2014
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In the visual arts, a mixed media painting is a work of art that employs more than one medium. An example of mixed media might be a collage that contains paint, seashells, and bird feathers. A fairly common technique for painters is mixing oil, watercolor and acrylic paints into a single painting. Practically any combination can be used, limited only by the artists' imagination and available materials.

The origins of mixed media painting are in the late Victorian years from approximately 1870 to 1914, known as "La Belle Epoque." Translated from the French, this literally means "the beautiful age," or "the gilded age." Rapid advances in science, technology and loosening social mores inspired artists of the time to explore uncharted waters of creative expression. As a result, the arts underwent a radical transformation. New, progressive styles such as Impressionism and Art Nouveau began to cross over from the underground avant-garde into the mainstream.

Use of mixed media was a significant emerging trend in the evolution of early 20th century art. According to art history scholars such as Clement Greenberg, cubist collage first began to be employed by painters such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque around 1911. Picasso created his first mixed media piece, "Still Life with Chair Caning," in 1912. This daring work incorporated oil, oilcloth, and paste paper to simulate chair caning on the canvas. Breaking away from centuries of painting tradition, artists were now depicting objects three-dimensionally from various angles and points of view.

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Another variation of modern mixed media painting is combining paint with other paper media such as pen-and-ink drawings. Advances in technology also make it easier for today's artists to mix traditional printmaking techniques with digital photography or graphics. Multimedia art, a related form, was inspired by mixed media painting. Multimedia art differs from mixed media in that nonvisual elements may be used. An example might be combining recorded music, dance and spoken word poetry into a single work.

Mixed media is typically created in layers. The artist chooses each layer with care and allows enough time for each layer to dry properly. Found objects such as bottle caps, matchbooks, or rocks are sometimes employed for effect. Pieces of jewelry, mismatched buttons, pencils, cereal boxes, bolts, screws and nails may provide some added visual color and interest. Use of these types of elements in a mixed media painting can impart new meaning to such seemingly unimportant things. This technique adds even more texture and depth to the work.

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