How to Make Your Mixed-Media Art Your Own

I am going to come out and say something controversial: It is OK to copy other artists. In fact, I encourage you to do so. Copying other artists is a low-risk way to learn design principles and mixed-media art techniques.

mixed media painting technique
This is Sue Pelletier's mixed-media house painting. What would yours look like?

Artist and entrepreneur Mary Engelbreit has often said she admired the work of classic children's book illustrators, like Johnny Gruelle, who did the Raggedy Ann and Andy books. For a long time, she practiced recreating something of their styles and, as a result, they influenced her.

I can't tell you how many pieces of art I've made that copy the work of other artists (Lesley Riley and Jenn Mason are two of my favorites). I like the materials and colors they use; I like their compositions. By copying them, I've learned what works, what doesn't, and how hard it is to do what they make look effortless.

So, in my view, copying another artist is perfectly OKup to a point. Or, rather, two points.

Point #1: It's not okay to copy someone's technique or style and then pass it off as your own or try to profit from it (selling the work, teaching a class). If you have any question at all about whether what you're doing is appropriate, ask yourself how you would feel if someone did the same with your original work. Or, better yet, ask the artist.

Point #2: There comes a time when you need to make your art your own. Mary Engelbreit taught herself to draw by using other artists as inspiration. But then she developed her unique style. You can see the early influences in her work, but you'd never mistake an Engelbreit for a Gruelle.

Similarly, you might make your first chocolate cake by following your grandmother's recipe to the letter. But after you're more experienced with ingredients and baking in general, you're probably going to say to yourself, "What if I substituted sour cream for some of the butter?" Or, "What if I added cherry liqueur?" And before you know it, you have your own signature dessert.

I have been copying for quite a while. But where I used to be thrilled to just make something that would resemble the work of an artist I admired, lately I've been dissatisfied, asking myself, "Who are you as an artist?"

preparing to paint mixed media art
Mixed-media art techniques from the Preparing to Paint video workshop with
Sue Pelletier.

I was prompted to think about this after watching Sue Pelletier's new Cloth Paper Scissors WorkshopTM video, Preparing to Paint: How to Add Texture, Depth & Personality to Your Art. Sue introduces a ton of products and techniques for preparing your surface with texture and backgrounds as a foundation for painting. But, she emphasizes, the techniques are just jumping off points for you to explore and discover your own style.

I was so inspired by her ideas that I wanted to try them all. But when I tried to follow her advice and think about how I would do these techniques in my own style, I admit I was hesitant to leave my (her) comfort zone. To give myself a little nudge out of the nest, I pulled together a list of ideas for how to start bridging the gap between copying and making your mixed-media and collage art your own.

How to Make Your Art Your Own

Choose the unfamiliar. If the artist you're learning from uses a bird theme, go ahead and do the technique, but choose a completely different image that appeals to you-like a pineapple, a boat, or a skull and crossbones. If you've been making a lot of art with zippers (a hot trend right now) try a different notion, such as hooks and eyes, a strip of buttonholes cut from an old shirt, or frog closures. Anything to jog your mind in a new, unique-to-you, direction.

Get some new material. How do artists discover new techniques? They try something new. Go to your local art supply or hardware store and find a type of paint, adhesive, or other medium you've never used before. Then take it home and experiment with different applications. Just be sure to read the label carefully and take any and all safety precautions before you begin to play.

Banish "should." With the exception of following safety rules, don't let "should" enter your artistic vocabulary. When you find yourself saying, "I should use this product this way" or "I should place this here because so-and-so recommends it," stop and ask yourself, "Really? What would happen if I didn't?" Then do what you "shouldn't" (aka break the rules).

Make something "from scratch." Once you have a basic technique down, stop looking at the directions or any other visual cues from other sources. Pull together the materials you need from memory and then create something with them. Maybe you'll leave something out, but maybe that's when you'll discover something new.

Finally, trust yourself. The creative spirit within you is going to want to spread its wings, and you should have the courage to open the cage and let it fly. With confidence, the unique artist within you will soar.

Sue Pelletier is an artist who isn't afraid to experiment, be herself, and fly to new heights. You can download Preparing to Paint right now or order the DVD from the Cloth Paper Scissors Shop.

P.S. How do you make your art your own? What tips do you have for others? Please share them below.




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