Opacity & Layering: Mixed-Media Painting Techniques to Try

As our younger daughter explores college art programs, we have run into a little snag. Most of the schools we’ve visited so far require freshman and sophomores to take foundation courses before delving into their preferred concentration.

mixed media painting by jean pederson
Mixed-media painting by Jean Pederson, from
the book Mixed Media Painting Workshop.

Meri objects to spending two years studying topics she “already knows,” like drawing. I’m trying to explain to her that in college the subjects may have the same titles as the ones she’s studied in her high school art classes, but she’ll be exploring them at a deeper level, pushing herself further. Learning is not a straight line, it’s a spiral where you revisit topics and experiences, and it never ends.

I thought of this concept of spiral learning while perusing Mixed Media Painting Workshop: Explore mediums, techniques and the personal artistic journey by Jean Pederson. At first I was tempted to gloss over the first few chapters on paints and mediums, because “I know about all that” and get to the “good stuff,” aka putting mixed-media painting and collage together. But the section on paint and gel opacity stopped me in my tracks.

I know that fluid acrylics are more transparent (see-through) and heavy-bodied acrylics are opaque (not see-through). I know you can thin them with water or mediums to change their opacity. But after reading this chapter, I realized my knowledge only scratched the surface of this topic.

Here is an example Jean provides in the book (see image at right):

mixed media painting opacity experiment
See how the opacity changes depending on the medium and technique used.

“You can use a variety of techniques to emphasize a shape, unite the colors, tone the surface down a few notches or completely cover parts of the painting.

On a neutral putty-color base, I painted Pyrrole Red and let it dry. Then I explored options for covering the red under-painting. First up is fluid Teal at full intensity, then watered down to extend it and create a semi-opaque area. I like the way the Teal granulated much like a sedimentary pigment reacts in watercolors.

Next up is Phthalo Blue tinted with white gesso to make it more opaque and applied and extended to expose a bit of the red underneath.

Third is white gesso, full strength and also thinned and extended.

Finally, transparent Phthalo Blue is applied. The transparent Phthalo Blue exposed the underpainting throughout at full strength and after being diluted.”

Knowing this kind of information and experimenting with the possibilities will help you decide when and how to layer your paints–especially important when combining painting with collage.

Mixed Media Painting Workshop is filled with information and exercises to help you discover–and rediscover–your painting and mixed-media art supplies on your own artistic journey.

P.S. Did you recently learn something about a technique or supply you thought you had already fully explored? Leave your comment below.

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Blog, Mixed-Media Painting Techniques, Mixed-Media Techniques

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