What Do Mixed Media Artists Do?

Elle Jay

Mixed media artists create visual works of art using a variety of tools and substances, frequently moving well beyond the traditional. Surfaces and substances found in mixed media artwork include typical artistic implements but expand to non-traditional materials. Mixed media art comes in multiple forms, including collage, assemblage, photomontage, and sculpture. Many mixed media projects are layered, making foundation and timing two of the most important considerations for mixed media artists.

Recycled materials are frequently used in mixed media art projects.
Recycled materials are frequently used in mixed media art projects.

Base materials used for mixed media art projects include typical surfaces such as canvas and paper. Other foundations used by mixed media artists can be made of plaster, rock, cork, and fabric. Mixed media sculptures can have any foundation imaginable, and artists often use natural or recycled surfaces. The foundation for a work of mixed media art may help the artist give meaning and purpose to his or her artwork.

Mixed media work might begin with a painting and have other elements added later.
Mixed media work might begin with a painting and have other elements added later.

Art supplies used by mixed media artists range from the traditional to the imaginative. Oil- and water-based paints are regularly used in mixed media artwork along with ink, pastels, and pencils. In keeping with the nontraditional side of mixed media art, a wide variety of objects are used in mixed media sculpture and collage art. Contemporary mixed media artists have been known to use string, buttons, newspaper clippings, and pieces of glass or metal in their mixed media art installations.

Collage art is one of the most popular techniques used by mixed media artists. A collage typically contains multiple layers made of a variety of substances. Strong foundation materials are vital to a collage in order to support the various media used to create the art piece. Layering can be time consuming and requires patience, as each layer must be allowed to dry thoroughly before moving on to the next layer.

Only the imagination limits a mixed media work of art. Some mixed media artists work only with natural substances to send an earth-friendly message. Recycled materials are frequently used in mixed media art projects, allowing artists to express their creativity by repurposing everyday objects and used items. Aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and locally produced materials may help tell a particular story through art.

The term mixed media art may be confused with multimedia art. The biggest difference between these two types of artwork is that mixed media refers to visual art projects. Multimedia art includes non-visual elements such as music, sound, and motion to create a work of art that is not limited to visual expression.

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By far the funniest work of mixed media canvas art I have seen is a work called “Christmas Sweater.” The background is painted red, and the foreground is a busy mixture of different media.

The artist used black yarn to sort of crochet the sweater on top of the canvas. She then took actual Christmas lights and strung them across the sweater. A hole in the back of the canvas allows the cord to poke through, so this work can be lit up.

She threw in some sequins and glitter to make it even more outlandish. She used the old-fashioned Christmas light bulbs to make it extra cheeky.


Mixed media works can be very bold and intriguing. I still remember one that I saw in a gallery years ago. It was called “Riverbed,” and it was a commentary on the pollution in local tributaries.

The artist had used a murky gray plaster to portray the water itself. Onto that, she had attached soda cans, broken beer bottles, and fast food wrappers.

She painted a couple of children wading in the water. They had red streaks emanating from their feet and spreading out into the water.

It was so powerful that it spawned a movement in the community to clean up the waterways. It remains on display in the community center to remind residents of the need to prevent pollution.


@OeKc05 - College can be really influential on a budding artist. My college roommate had to draw stuffed animals like teddy bears in her class, and since she had to use mixed media, she chose to glue buttons on the paper for eyes and noses. She wound up doing a series of mixed media paintings of stuffed animals with buttons and acrylic paint.

She got to have her own exhibit and reception for this series. People were intrigued by the mixed media style, and she landed some projects because of this.

What started as a class project led to her career. She is known for using buttons in her artwork, and she is one of the few of the graduating class who became successful in the field of art.


In my college art class, I had to do some mixed media drawing and painting. The subject was totally left up to me, and the only requirement was that I use more than one type of medium to do the art.

I liked using chalk pastels, so I started with those. I started drawing an old barn with them. Here and there, where black or gray lines were needed, I used a charcoal pencil instead.

There was a pond in front of the barn, so I decided to use watercolors for this. It really added extra texture and visual interest to the drawing. I liked the mixed media technique so much that I continued to use it after I graduated.

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