Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Layers: Creating Depth in Your Mixed Media Art...

At the request of some of my flying cohorts, I am posting this little tutorial on how I create depth and interest in my paintings. I always find it helps me to move along in a piece if I have a kind of formula to follow. I hope it helps you as well...I actually counted while creating the piece "Those Who Wish" and realized that I have at least eight layers of assorted paints and papers in it, so here is the break down.

Layer1: Tear or cut strips of paper, and glue them onto your surface using gel medium. I am using a small canvas panel as my surface, and matte medium instead of gloss. I like using the canvas panels for a couple reasons. They are very inexpensive, and they are firm enough to use a brayer on to really smooth down the papers. I find that stretched canvases have too much give for the kind of pressure I use. Here you can see the little bird picture that was the inspiration for this piece. Here I have used sheet music, a page from a technical manual, and a page from a book written in German, found at a library sale this summer.

 Layer 2: Paint over the papers with a layer of acrylic paint. I usually like to just drizzle the paint on, one or two colors at a time, and blend them on the surface with my brush. In this case, after the drizzle, I ran my brayer over the surface, I like the way it tints the papers.
 Layer 3-5: Before the papers are sealed with a coat of gel medium, it is a good time to add some details. You can see here, I have used a scrap of shelf liner to stamp and interesting texture in rust acrylic paint. Simply paint the shelf liner with your paint, lay it on your piece and run a brayer over it, moving it around to create a random pattern. This is also a perfect time to stamp any images. The paper is still porous, so the ink can really grab. Any stamping after you seal this layer, will have to be done with permanent ink. You can see I have also added some scraps of decorative papers, and stamped images over them as well.
  I save caps from spray cans and bottles for making different sized circles. This is the time to add bubble wrap stampings, circles and more detail with acrylic paints. I have used a dry brush with  walnut colored paint to soften the edges of the canvas board. I like the way it starts to frame and focus your eye towards the middle of the piece.
 Layer 6: I know we are on layer six, but this could easily be seven, eight or nine! The best depth is achieved by constantly adding more, some times very subtle details, that blend in, but add a richness. Now I will try a gel medium transfer, something I just learned, but haven't tried. What you see here is the back-side of the bird picture, laid into a thick coat of medium. I went ahead and sealed the entire piece with the medium, then placed the image in my chosen spot. I then smoothed it out as best I could, and waited for it to dry.

 Now I have dampened the back of the bird image, and am gently rubbing the paper off the back...

I must have been too impatient, some of the transfer was lost...this means I either did not burnish it down enough, or I didn't wait for it to completely dry. Not to worry, I have a backup plan! 
The same magazine happened to have a smaller version of the image, so I will add that on top. I love the way the failed transfer echos the clearer image. Happy accident after all! Coat everything with gel medium again.  Every time you do this, it adds just a little spacing between layers, and slightly "fuzzes" the previous layer, this is what will add the depth you are looking for. I have added a foam stamped B, (for bird) and I
am ready to add the final meaningful words.

Layer ?: At this point I am so far into the piece, I have no idea where we are! I type and retype the message I want on my computer, and play with different fonts as I go. Then I will print them out and snip them into individual words, to be reassembled on my panel. This is where you can accent different sections of the piece, using either Derwent Inktense ink pencils or Caran d'Ache Neocolor water-soluble crayons, ( both give some very nice, rich colors) I outline my focal pieces. This means the words, the bird, which ever parts I want to really stand out. With a damp brush, blend these colors in, creating a shadow effect around your focals. Don't forget to sign your work! A final full coat of gel medium is then applied, to seal in these last colors.

That's how I do it, many, many layers! Just when you think you are done, add another layer...
 I hope you have fun playing with this process, and share your creations with the rest of us! Enjoy...


  1. Great tutorial and a beautiful collage.

  2. Very nice! I like your blog banner btw;D

  3. That came out very cool. Thanks for taking the time to show us this. I know how hard it is to stop and take photos as you are working.

  4. beautiful!! it's amazing how many layers there are.

  5. Great Job on your tutorial. Your directions are good as well as your photos.

  6. Thanks for the how-to. This is a great one! Love the artwork too.

  7. Sally, thank you so very much! This will be VERY helpful. I really love your work.

  8. Sally, Thank you for this! As soon as we get down to FL I'm going to spend some time learning mixed media. Every little bit of info helps me.

  9. Great job Sally...beautiful work :)

  10. It was interesting for a non-mixed media artist to see how you do this. I really like the little saying you put on your piece.

  11. This is awesome! Thank you, Sally, for sharing your techniques. I have just learned so much.

  12. ohhhhh!!!!!! thank you - Love this! very helpful and inspirational!! xo

  13. Thanks so much for sharing your process with us. I love process pieces! This was very interesting and inspiring.