Savvy Savings: Substitutions in Mixed-Media Art

I like to bake, and I know from experience when I can make substitutions for ingredients and when substituting is a recipe for disaster. Most of the time, anyway. (There was an unfortunate incident with an apple cake and bourbon, once.)

mixed media collage with crayon debbi crane
The humble crayon makes a great substitute for pricier art supplies. Art by Debbi Crane.

Because baking is chemistry, it’s important to keep in mind the properties of the ingredients when you trade one for another. Sugar and flour are both dry ingredients, but they act differently when mixed with a liquid, for example. Knowing how the ingredient acts and interacts with other ingredients can mean the difference between a fluffy, sweet delight and a hard, doughy mess.

In mixed-media art, you can substitute more freely (though, as always, take precautions with any chemicals), so long as you take into consideration the properties of the materials (for example, oil paints and acrylic paints don’t mix). In fact, substitutions in art are often less expensive and more creative.

Fancy tools are nice to have, but you can often use household items when creating art projects:

In place of a bone folder to crease paper precisely, you can substitute a butter knife.

If you don’t have a compass handy, use bowls or plates from the kitchen to trace perfect circles.

Texture stamps make great impressions on clay, but if you check out the soles of your sneakers or flip-flops, you might find an unusual stamp there for free.

Instead of an artist’s palette or palette paper, use a plastic or Styrofoam egg carton.

When substituting materials for mixed-media painting and sculpture, for the most part the keys to success are color and consistency:

Walnut ink and other antiquing glazes are wonderful for giving your art an aged look, but usually brown paint watered down to the consistency of milk will have a similar effect.

You can rust your own found objects and fabric, but red oxide paint alone or mixed with a gritty gel medium will fool the eye.

Air-dry craft clay is good for molding into embellishments, but salt dough (one cup flour, one cup salt, plus enough water to make a stiff dough) works well, too.

Regular kids’ crayons can substitute for many of the fancier products. Use them to doodle, scribble backgrounds, or add color to fabric and trims.

Many of these ideas come from Mixed Mania: Recipes for Delicious Mixed-Media Creations by Debbi Crane and Cheryl Prater. This fun book featuring more than 20 smart and sassy projects is divided like a cookbook into appetizers, main courses, and sweet treats for a fresh perspective on creating mixed-media projects. Perfect for a beginner or intermediate mixed-media artist.

P.S. What are your favorite art substitutions? Leave a comment below.

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Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques

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