Working with Multi-media
Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981)
The Quintessential Blade
Doing the Gallery Thing
Working with Multi-mediaBehind the Art
by Melissa Acker
Working with more than one media at a time can give you the flexibility and freedom to create almost any look or effect you’re after, but with the wide range of choices and combinations available, it can be a little overwhelming. So today we’ll go over some of the things you should think about when you consider doing a multimedia piece.
What is it?
A multi-media piece is a work of art that uses more than one kind of media in it. This usually means more than one kind of pigment vehicle, but can also mean using completely different media together, such as collage, textiles or even sculpture. For our purposes here though, we’ll stick to paint and similar media.
What to work on?
When you on working on a multi-media piece, you have to make sure your support (the thing you work on) is compatible with all the media you plan on using. That means that if you want to use oil paint, you need to work on a gessoed panel or canvas, and if you want to use watercolor you’ll need to work on something that can absorb the paint.
For the most part, you can use anything on anything, but there are some guidelines. Oil paint always, always has to be over gesso, or it will eat whatever you put it on eventually. Acrylic will stick to almost anything, but a little texture will help it stick better. Watercolor needs to be on something that can absorb it at least a little; a masonite board or plastic sheet won’t cut it.
What order to work in?
To understand what order in which to apply your media, you need to understand what they’re made from and how they affix themselves to the support.
Oil paints and pastels are, obviously, oil based, and don’t play well with others. They must always be applied last to the painting, since as far as I know, nothing will sit on top of it in any way. Colored pencils are wax based, and so they will repel water-based media. Unless this is an effect you’re going for, they are best saved for later. Oil paint can go over colored pencil if it’s thick enough. On the other hand, a watercolor pencil is not wax based, so it can be used underneath water media. On the other hand, they will dissolve in water, so plan ahead. Watercolor is usually applied first, but it can go over a light drawing, ink, watercolor pencil or even hard pastels (although that would be messy). They can even be applied over thin washes of acrylic. Gouache is similar, but is thicker and opaque and so is not quite as dependent on an absorbent base. Ink has similar properties to watercolor, and playing with the differences between waterproof and bleeding inks can be fun. Ink, for the most part, also stains more than watercolors, so it can be used for interesting effects on top of thick dried acrylic.
And then there’s acrylic, the master multi-media paint. It is frequently used as a base for an oil painting, and if the paint is thin enough, it can also be used with watercolor paints. If you use it thick enough, it can be used on top of almost anything (apart from oils). And with all the mediums you can add into it, you can even use it as a ‘glue’ for collage, and make it dry into almost any texture or shape.
Here’s a quick example. Watercolor and colored pencil is a very popular choice for working in multi-media. You can achieve a variety of looks, including realistic, but this style I’m working on has a sort of story-book quality to it. Watercolor speeds up the working time with colored pencil, which can otherwise become quite tedious.
A quick line drawing on my 140lb cold-press watercolor paper, which is my favorite support for colored pencil pieces (the other is cold-press illustration board). This particular piece is 7 by 10 inches.
I applied a light background wash, using quinacridrone gold and violets. While the paint was starting to settle I flicked some water into it to create some texture.
The basic colors have been blocked in. I was more interested in creating a nice interplay of colors, and not worrying about detail at all – that’s what the colored pencil will do.
The finished piece, with all the colored pencil detail. I tried to leave as much as the original wash in as possible, and used the colored pencil to add detail and draw attention to the parts I wanted the viewer to look at.
So there we go! I hope this article has given you some ideas and some guidelines for trying something new!
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