Get Rid of Artist’s Block and Start Creating Today
Copyright by Lorene Troyer 2017
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Creating mixed media art is simple and easy. It does not require any special art supplies or talent. You can start now by using the things you already have on hand. As you create, you’ll learn what works and you’ll tap into your own unique style of making art. However, sometimes even the most prolific artists can get into a rut. I have personally wasted a lot of time shuffling through my craft supplies and browsing the Internet, hoping to get some ideas on what to create.
If you’re having trouble getting started with your mixed media art or need some ideas on what to do next or simply want to try a new technique or material, here is an idea-generating list to help you. You can use any combination of these ideas or put your own twist on them. Print this list out and read through it periodically to get your creative juices flowing again.
1. Watercolor. To create an interesting watercolor background, you can layer transparent colors over one another, allowing the bottom colors to show through. A transparent watercolor effect can be achieved by mixing the color with water before applying it to your surface.
2. Sandpaper. Many times I’ll use sandpaper in my creative endeavors. Not only do I use it to scuff and tear up cardstock and other materials to give it texture, I also use it as a background or as a way to mat words or phrases. Other times I cut shapes out of it to use as embellishments.
3. Shelf liner. I like to buy shelf liner from the dollar store to use in my art. Often I’ll spray paint it gold or black before I use it. Note: I usually do my spray painting on newspaper which leaves behind a beautiful design that can be used in other projects.
4. Textured fabric. I like to use fabrics such as burlap, denim or muslin to add texture to my mixed media backgrounds.
5. Gauze or cheesecloth. This type of material can be glued to your background or tucked behind embellishments to add interest and texture. Another option is to cover your art with a layer of gauze to tone down the colors and give it texture as well as a sense of cohesiveness.
6. Drawing or Painting. One way to personalize your art is by using a drawing or painting you (or maybe one of your children) created. It can be cut out and used as a focal point.
7. Feathers. Craft stores carry a wide variety of feathers that can add an interesting effect to your art. The feathers can be painted, dyed or decorated with glitter.
8. Patterned fabric. In The Cloth, Paper, Scissors Book, mixed media artist, Beryl Taylor shares how to integrate a fabric’s pattern into the design by embellishing it with items that enhance it and using fabric paints to outline the design.
9. Fabric cut-outs. Select some fabric that has simple shapes or motifs. “Paint” around the edges with a mixture of white glue and water to prevent fraying. After the glue has dried, cut out your shape using a pair of scissors. You can use the cut-outs to decorate greeting cards, wall art, art journal pages etc.
10. Paper doilies. Paper doilies are an inexpensive way to add texture and interest to your mixed media piece. They can be painted, folded, and used to create art.
11. Silk flowers. I use a lot of silk flowers in my projects and always save the leftovers. I like to take them apart and layer them with other flowers. If they are not the right color for my art, I’ll color them with acrylic or spray paint. Then I might add some glitter, or glue a button or brad to the center.
12. Flowers can also be used to spell words by putting a single letter in the center of each flower.
13. Beads. Beads come in all shapes and sizes and can add texture, color and interest. I like to string them with wire and create interesting twists and shapes before attaching them to my art. Micro beads are another option. These can be used in a manner similar to glitter.
14. Clear glass gems or clear glass circle pieces. These can be used to bring attention to small items or images in your art. You can use clear silicone glue or Diamond Glaze (trademark name) to attach them on top of a small photo, silk flower, words or phrases etc.
15. Jewelry. I buy a lot of jewelry from second hand stores, dollar stores and garage sales. Not to wear, but to use in my art. Necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings can be dismantled (or not) and used as focal points or accents for your art.
16. [+ Words and quotes+]. Adding words, phrases or quotes to your layout is a way to make it more interesting and personal. Some ways to add wording to your mixed media are: handwriting, printing out from your computer, cutting words out of newspapers or magazines or buying stickers.
17. Stick-on jewels or rhinestones. Jewels come in a myriad of colors and textures. While not appropriate for every project, when they are used in the right way, jewels can add that extra pizzazz to your mixed media art.
18. Wire. Wire can be used in a variety of ways: it can be utilized to frame an item in your layout, or it can be twisted or coiled to add interest, or shaped into an object or word. Wire can also be painted or rusted to complement your theme.
19. Washi tape. This is a fun, easy way to add interest and color to your projects. You can also create your own washi tape: adhere rows of double-sided sticky tape onto a patterned fabric, paper or tissue paper and then carefully cut around the tape using a good pair of scissors.
20. Decorative trims. Trims such as ric rac, lace edging or embroidered ribbon can be used to add texture to your background, finish an edge or be used to frame or separate sections of your art.
21. Dimensional letters. You can use dimensional paste or clay to create letters or words to add to your art layout. For example, in creating art for my mom, I used an alphabet stencil to create letters that spell “MOM.” I sealed them with white school glue before attaching them to my art.
22. Stickers. I come from a big family and once in a while, I decide to make a birthday card for one of them. Sometimes, inspiration eludes me and I spend way too much time staring at my blank card and shuffling through my stash. One day, I placed a scrapbooking sticker on my blank card and was amazed at how easy it was to choose papers and embellishments that coordinated with it.
23. . Over my lifetime I’ve collected a lot of greeting cards. I don’t want to throw them away but I also don’t want to store them in a box, down in my basement, never to be seen again, so I started repurposing them in my art. For cards that are really special, I not only use the front of the card, but I also cut out and use any handwritten words written on the inside.
24. Wood shapes. “Woodsies” come in many shapes and sizes and are a blank slate for creativity. They can be detailed with a permanent marker and then painted or combined with other shapes, or embellished with decorative paper or fabric, ribbon, lace, gems, etc. I like to use round or rectangle shapes to serve as a base for words, phrases or scriptures that I’ve printed out.
25. Fashion accessories. Before getting rid of clothes, shoes, boots, slippers, purses etc., check to see if you can salvage any part of it to use in your art. While I try not to ruin anything that could be used by someone else, I like to save things such as belt loops, belt buckles, pieces of leather, bows, interesting tags or pockets, shoelaces, zippers, buttons, or hems with beautiful stitching.
26. Air Dry or Paper Clay. I like to start with a little bit of clay and roll it out with a rolling pin or another cylinder shape and then lay some textured material (such as burlap) over it and roll over it again, leaving the clay with a textured background. Then I’ll take one of my bold (not much detail) stamps and put an impression in the center of my clay. After it dries, I can paint it or dry brush it to highlight the textures. You can also cut out shapes using a cookie cutter or craft knife. These can be embellished and used in your art.
27. Grains. Rice, millet, oatmeal, dry beans, lentils etc. can be used to create interesting texture and designs in your mixed media art. Use grains to create pictures, fill in shapes or words or to use as a background. You can color the grains with food coloring and alcohol or spray paint, depending on the type of grain you are using.
28. Pastas. Macaroni, spaghetti, noodles, pasta shells, wagon wheels, penne etc. can all be used to create or embellish your art. Before you start creating, you may want to color the pasta either with a mixture of food coloring and alcohol or by painting it with acrylic paint. After it’s dry, you can glue it to your base. If you enjoy creating symmetrical designs, using dry pasta is an easy way to make complex-looking art.
29. Dried Fruit Slices. Oranges, lemons, limes, apples and other fruits can be sliced and dried either naturally or with an oven or microwave and glued onto a base. It’s a fun way to make art for a kitchen or dining area.
30. Herbs, spices and salt. Herbs and spices come in a variety of colors and textures giving you a wide array of possibilities. For example, cinnamon can be put on brown craft paint to create “rust.” You can also create entire works of art using only spices and herbs. Artist and photographer, Kelly McCollam, creates beautiful landscapes simply using salt and food coloring.
31. Netting/Mesh. Before you throw out that plastic produce bag your oranges came in or that leftover tulle, take another look at it. Wouldn’t it make a wonderful texture for your art? To attach it, you can use a few brads, a bit of super glue or attach some washi tape or other elements on top of it. Another option is to tack it down with a few stitches. The stitches could be done in a coordinating color to add interest.
32. Aluminum foil dimensional design. Another way foil can be used in your art is by drawing a simple design on cardboard and going over the drawing with a line of hot glue or tacky glue. After it’s dry, cover the cardboard with foil and press gently around the glue lines (using a soft rag or cotton swab) to reveal the design. Go over it with paint or shoe polish and wipe off the excess, which leaves paint in the grooves, and gives emphasis to your design.
33. Aluminum foil background, crinkly effect. For an interesting background, you can crinkle a piece of foil and then smooth it out by hand, and color it with permanent markers, shoe polish or ink.
34. Aluminum shapes. Interesting effects can be had by cutting shapes out of aluminum foil and putting them back together (leaving space between them) to create an image or pattern.
35. Paper napkins or towels. These paper products are available in a wide array of patterns, designs, textures and colors and offer an inexpensive way to decorate almost any surface. You can use the whole napkin or paper towel to decoupage onto your background or cut out certain parts to be a focal point in your art.
36. Modeling paste. You can create lots of cool, dimensional textures for your art by using modeling paste and stencils or other items such as plastic mesh. If you don’t want to buy the paste, you can make your own. There are a variety of recipes online.
37. Crackle technique. This is a good technique to use when you want to add an aged, weathered effect to your art. The basic idea is to apply paint to your surface and after it’s dry, put on a coat of white glue or crackling medium and before it dries, cover it with a paint that contrasts the color of the first layer.
38. Stitching. You can add texture to your art by stitching around certain elements or by using stitches to fasten down items or to create shapes or designs. Some people like machine stitching, others prefer the look of hand stitching.
39. . An iris fold design in a shape of your choosing can make a good focal point for your art. For example, I created a Valentine’s Day card using an iris fold heart design and iridescent strips of paper.
40. Drawing on aluminum foil. Use a dull pencil or ballpoint pen to sketch out your design and then color it in with sharpie markers or alcohol inks.
41. Rubber stamps. You can stamp a detailed image in black, color it in and cut it out to use in your art. I like to mat it with coordinating paper or cardstock. Stamps can also be used to create interesting background textures. When it comes to stamping, you are not limited to rubber stamps. You can use a variety of items to create shapes, patterns and textures. A few ideas: leaves, bubble wrap or shelf liner, bottle caps, silk flowers etc.
42. Wet paper embossing. There are many variations of this technique. It involves layering several layers of tissue (toilet paper, paper towels etc.) wetting them and placing on a stamp or raised design and gently pressing around the grooves. This will impress the design into the tissue and after it’s dry, it can carefully be cut out, colored and used as an embellishment.
43. Quilling shapes and designs. You can create beautiful dimensional art using strips of papers that are rolled, shaped, and glued together. You can buy precut strips of paper or cut your own using a paper shredder or a craft knife.
44. Nature finds. Take a walk outside and pick up twigs, weeds, bark, small stones etc. to use in your art. Make sure to check your treasures for bugs or spiders before bringing them into the house.
45. Leaves. Pick the leaves off the tree and flatten in a heavy book for a few days. Then you can paint them with acrylic paint to coordinate with your art or you can use them in their natural state. You’ll need to use a sealer to protect them and keep them from breaking.
46. Metal washers. I use a lot of washers in my art. They come in many sizes and I can buy them very inexpensively at my local hardware store. Sometimes I’ll decorate them with wire and beads or paint them with nail polish or alcohol ink. If I’m going for an industrial look I’ll leave them plain.
47. Old textbook or songbook pages. You can find old books at library sales, garage sales and in second hand stores very inexpensively. The pages can be torn, sanded, tea stained, painted with watercolors and used to create wonderful backgrounds.
48. Metal Food Can Lids. Have you ever thought about using the tops of metal (food) cans in your art? You can hammer them to create texture or punch a design into the metal using a hammer and nails. The lids could also be colored with nail polish, sharpie markers or alcohol inks. Another option is to rust the lids by sanding and applying peroxide and salt.
49. Corrugated cardboard can add a wonderful, natural look to your art. You can remove some of the paper from the cardboard so that the corrugated lines can be seen.
Here is a fun, but effective way to create art from corrugated cardboard: First sketch a design on one side of your cardboard. You can use stencils or simple shapes. You’ll only need an outline. Next, cut around your design with the craft knife. You only need to cut the top layer of paper, so don’t cut too deep! Then tear away the paper that’s outside of your design, leaving the corrugated cardboard as the background for your design. Your design can be painted or left as it is, depending your preferences.
When it comes to creating mixed media art, there is no shortage of things to use or techniques to try. Choose one or two from this list to help you get started. The simple act of creating something…. anything will help generate more ideas.
About the Author
Lorene Troyer is a mixed media/found object artist, a digital artist, and crafter. She makes her home in central Indiana where she lives with her husband and 2 teenaged children- a son and daughter. You can find her website at .
49 Ideas for Mixed Media Art has idea snippets to help you when you need inspiration for your next project or you want to create art on a budget or simply need ideas of new techniques to use. Go through the list until you find a technique you want to try. You can add your own twist to it or combine it with another idea that's on the list. You may want to explore some techniques further by doing online searches or by finding a book on the topic.