What Defines Mixed-Media Art? You do

Often, when I try to explain what I do, some people question me as to what constitutes "mixed-media art."  When I tell them it means a work of art that uses more than one visual medium, I either get a blank stare or a look that implies I think they are dense. As if to say, "Of course it uses more than one medium, but what does it look like?"

breast cancer awareness art rager
'I have witnessed the terrifying effects of
breast cancer . . . and am amazed how
strong a woman becomes in ways she may never have thought possible.'
Amanda Berge Rager, artist.

Well, that's the trouble with trying to categorize mixed-media art, isn't it? It's outside the box, the rules don't apply, it can be anything you want it to be. Vive l'imagination!

So, I've tried giving examples and lists of materials a mixed-media artist might use to explain it. But that usually doesn't work either. A mixed-media fiber artist might never use paint while a mixed-media collage artist might limit themselves to paper, paint, and encaustic. And what about metal, glue, found objects . . .?

Over the years, I've decided it's the characteristics of the artist that often determine what is mixed-media art more than the techniques or the materials used.

So here are five essential ingredients for creating mixed-media art:

1. A love of variety. Most mixed-media artists I know find it almost impossible to stick with two or three tried-and-true media or techniques exclusively. A shiny new technique or product always catches their attention and if you ask them to name one medium that's their favorite, they'll say, "All of them."

2. A willingness to get messy. It's not that they don't clean their paintbrushes or organize their stamp pads. It's just that mixed-media artists on the whole don't create art at arm's length. They often use their fingertips to apply paint and gel medium and you can tell what colors they've been using by looking at their sleeves.

3. As Dumbledore once said of Harry Potter, a certain disregard for the rules. You know the little voice inside most people's heads that whispers, "You're not supposed to do that"? Mixed-media artists don't have that.

breast cancer awareness art cunningham
'I chose to give up my bra for those in our
family who gave up their breast to cancer.
As an artist, my intention for this piece was
to recycle, reuse, and renew all the
materials to symbolize that everything
needs a new lease on life and a
second chance.' Kat Cunningham, artist.

4. A passion for the sensory. Mixed-media artists love to touch, smell, and practically eat with their eyes. Even artwork that looks monochromatic on the surface, will, when scratched, usually reveal layers of paint, papers, and applied textures that work together to achieve a visual serenity.

5. An open mind. Mixed-media artists take all comers. No one is going to close the circle and say, "You're not like us. You don't make art the way we do." Instead, mixed-media artists are more likely to throw open the studio doors and say, "Come join the party! Let's teach each other."

I've seen members of the mixed-media community reach out and help each other in many ways, from bucking up an artist whose muse has taken a powder to supporting a cause they feel passionate about.

The artwork shown here is from our gallery of Supportive Art from our Reader Challenge in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness month (Cloth Paper Scissors Sept./Oct. 2012).

This week, to recognize National Breast Cancer Awareness month, I'm delighted to let you know that now through 11:59 PM MST on 10/5/12, 30% of all Cloth Paper Scissors Shop proceeds will go to benefit the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

If there's a book, a video, or an art supply you've had your eye on, now is the time to buy, when your purchase will do so much good.

P.S. This is my list, what do you think? How do you define mixed-media art and artists? Leave your comment below!

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