Now that the warm weather is here I’ve drawn up a list of mixed-media summer projects that I can’t wait to get started on. Throughout winter and early spring all I could think about was being outside and using the environment as inspiration, or for raw materials. I’d love to share some ideas with you, in case you’ve been itching to take advantage of the season yourself.
1. Print with leaves and flowers: Using natural vegetation is so fun and rewarding, and supplies are incredibly easy to find. Leaves and flowers can be used as stencils and masks; just lay them on paper, fabric, or canvas, and paint over them. The silhouette shapes they leave are stunning. Or, use them as printing tools. Brayer or brush acrylic paint over a leaf or sturdy flower, press it onto a substrate, and you have an instant artful print. Layering leaf and floral shapes looks fantastic, and Sharon Gross shows how in her article “Nature Print Greeting Cards” in the September/October 2013 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors.
Use leaves and flowers to make gel plate monoprints, and try pressing leaves and flowers into paper or polymer clay to capture their unique textures and patterns.
The natural dyes found in vegetation create great prints as well. Position leaves and flowers on paper or fabric, pound them with a hammer, and you’ll have beautiful impressionistic images. Pansies work great for this, as do hydrangeas and poppies. Test lots of varieties of leaves and flowers to see what works best.
2. Create eco-dyed prints: This is one of the coolest mixed-media summer projects, and different from the techniques above, as plants are captured between sheets of paper or folds of fabric and boiled to release their colors and patterns. Dorit Elisha showed how to eco print in the article “Eco-Dyed Collage” in the July/August 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, and you’ve got to see her stunning work. You’ll want to gather up a bunch of leaves and get cooking. Dorit also shows how to create a beautiful collage from these prints and other natural and man-made materials.
3. Make your own art tools: Mark making is such an integral part of mixed media, and it’s a robust way of developing your own voice and style. Tons of ready-made tools are perfect for making marks, such as combs, wiry paintbrushes, and dip pens, but it’s really rewarding to make your own. Take a walk outside and open your eyes to what you can use to make marks: feathers, twigs, grasses, pine needles, seed pods, and shells are just a few items. If a piece is large enough (like a feather) you can use it as is, or lash it to a sturdy twig or branch using glue and twine.
Rae Missigman uses a feather and the cut end of a branch to make marks in her Art Lessons 2016, Volume 6: Nature’s Stamps. I love how both natural items create funky, imperfect marks, and add so much to her artwork.
4. Add texture and color with sand: Sand is a great textural element to add to artwork; you just need something in which to suspend it. Try adding it to gesso, gel medium, or molding paste, then leave it natural or paint it. Crystal Neubauer shows how to embed tea leaves and other elements in cold wax in her Art Lessons 2017, Volume 8: Cold Wax Play. Try this technique with sand to see how it can add depth to your artwork.
5. Make cyanotypes: Cyanotypes are high on my list of mixed-media summer projects, and it’s painful to admit I’ve never made these beautiful blue prints using the sun. All kinds of items can be printed on paper or fabric using this easy method: leaves and flowers, lace, and distinctive objects such as scissors and paintbrushes. In the July/August 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, Heather Stemas shows how to create gorgeous sun prints on fabric in a variety of colors. A cool technique featured in the article uses designs printed on acetate—think of the possibilities of your own hand-drawn designs becoming a cyanotype.
Finished prints can be used for art journal pages, as book covers, in stitched collage, for banners, bags and clothing, and much more.
6. Turn the outdoors into your canvas: In her column The Spark in the March/April 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, Carrie Bloomston urges us to find beauty in the ordinary, to notice the everyday things that are beautiful and artful. She offerers a few prompts, including printing with berry juice—perfect for summer—and creating flower mandalas using whatever plants are blooming in your yard.
Making art part of the here and now, she writes, “connects us with the elemental simplicity of making, so art is much more approachable and a part of the daily conversation: near the sink, in the backyard, over a glass of wine. Unfussy. Unrestricted. Unpressured. When our creativity is less rarified, we can wander into the creative state more easily . . . and more often.”
7. Include the natural world in your artwork: Many of my favorite mixed-media summer projects involve incorporating bits and pieces of nature in my artwork, such as a broken shell or a preserved leaf. These things may be lumpy and bumpy and sometimes fragile, but they allow us to make an instant connection with something real and beautiful. They also invite you to touch them. Sometimes there should be a literal connection with the art we make, instead of having that art be separate and detached.
Natalie Kalbach includes branches in the piece she created for Art Lessons 2017, Volume 9: Creating Texture Plates Inspired by Nature. In the lesson, she shows how to create marks with the branches before attaching them to the canvas, creating a dimensional piece that has real and abstract references to nature.
8. Find rocks and paint them: Painting rocks may sound like a simple exercise in doodling, but it goes much deeper. In the article “Zen Doodle Rocks” in the Spring 2016 issue of Zen Doodle Workshop, Regina Lord shows us that combining ink and smooth stones is a meditative pursuit that results in a bundle of loveliness.
I’m so eager to get going on a bunch of these mixed-media projects, and I hope you’ll join me! Watch the @mixedmediacps Instagram feed for updates, and don’t forget to hashtag your own projects with #clothpaperscissors!
In this blog post I show how to make a polymer clay accordion book using leaves as inspiration for the cover and inside pages.