One way to start off a mixed media painting (or any painting, if you want) is to create an interesting underpainting. In this case, I used four successive layers of the same color. Each layer deepens the color and obscures the white of the canvas more. You can try layering over different colors, too, including layering over a solid color underpainting on the surface.
Depending on the effect you want under your painting, you can stop at any point. Any of these surfaces would have worked as a good underpainting — it's all a matter of your individual choice.
One of the many wonderful features of acrylics is their quick drying time, which allows for layering like this, both to create an interesting underpainting and to create an interesting surface of the developing and finished paintings.
The last few weeks have been Mixed Media Weeks for me. This really is how I play with paint. When I have a nice stretch of time for this kind of creative work, everything goes into mixed media mode. My living room becomes my mixed media studio, with my painting set-up and drying table in one corner. I set up another table for collage work. And it's lovely to sit on the sofa and comb through my papers and photo images and old magazines and quotation files to find the things I want to incorporate into my paintings.
These two paintings include two of my favorite quotations by Nikos Kazantzakis, the author most well known for writing Zorba the Greek. Long ago, I studied Zakzantzakis's work with Thanasis Maskaleris at San Francisco State, and was able to meet his wife, Eleni Kazantzakis, so I feel a double connection to them (I love what they mean, too, obviously). I've been long wanting them on my walls, and decided that finally this was the time for it.
This kind of work is a layering process. You just keep adding things until it feels right — and the layers make the work more and more interesting. I like to think of it as reverse archeology — the discovery process happens as you add layers, rather than as you dig down through them. Because you can't predict how things will look, you learn to go with the flow in a way that is harder for many people when they try to paint realistically. That's why I love teaching this kind of painting — it helps people tap into their deepest creative selves without critical interference. And, after all, that is when you really feel the joy of creativity.
This year I was asked to demonstrate mixed media painting again at the Napa County Fair, on the Fourth of July. To make the experience a little different from last year, I thought I'd have fairgoers contribute to collaborative paintings — a touch of paint here, a bit of paint there — using a little collage, and a little in the way of stencils, but mostly just acrylic paint with various options as to how you apply it.
Most, though not all, of my participants turned out to be under thirteen — and a lot of them were six and under. I'd ask them, "What's your favorite color?" and then give them the color, or colors they needed to create their favorite. Then I asked, "Would you like to use a brush, or would you like to do texture?" It was especially fun to see their eyes light up as they tried painting with bubble wrap or plastic wrap or styrofoam, or something else they never would have thought of using.
The paintings began as mostly-blank canvases, but progressed throughout the day. Each person contributed a little or a lot, as they chose. The youngest children seemed to enjoy the tactile experience of moving the paint around the most, and experimented with applying it in different ways to the greatest extent. Older children and adults (with the exception of a professional artist who also came by and added her touches) mostly wanted to paint something identifiable — a picture, a word, or a pattern of some kind.
It was an opportunity for everyone to just play with the paint, and have fun. At one point, a grandfather brought his little granddaughter over to paint. She couldn't have been much more than two, and had quiet, unflappable concentration as she painted, even though her grandfather tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to get her to smile at his camera as he took photos of her.
Later in the evening, they came by as I was cleaning up, and he thanked me. Then, as they walked away, she turned back to me, and in a loud, clear, chipper voice, with a big smile on her face, said,"That was FUN!"
That's what doing this is all about.
The methods people tried out on these paintings are some of what we'll be doing in my August 8th workshop, Adventures in Mixed Media: Paint, Paper, Stencils, Collage, and Relief Printing. My favorite thing about doing this kind of artwork is that it allows adults to step back in time and get into that child-like creative space — the state of mind that gets into the process, enjoys the experience, and says, "That was FUN!"
As we get older, and our critical mind gets stronger, we sometimes forget to play. Or we approach a creative project with expectations — which is the death knell for true creativity. This kind of painting helps get us back in that state of discovery, of beginner's mind. You have no idea how something will evolve and change. But look what comes out of it... and it's FUN.
I may add a little more to these paintings, in their evolved state — including quotations I'd originally attached to each one. Or not. We'll see. But the finished pieces will be up for auction at the Calistoga Art Center's big fundraiser, The Soup-er Bowl, this autumn. Stay tuned!
Karen Lynn Ingalls
I am a working artist in Napa and Sonoma Counties, in northern California. I paint colorist landscapes of rural California, teach art classes, workshops, and private lessons, and live in Calistoga, California.