Mixed Media Art, An Overview

shutterstock_64037938In the visual art world, mixed media refers to artwork that is created using more than one type of medium.  The term mixed media art is often confused with the term multimedia art. While mixed media art is a visual art form created using multiple mediums, multimedia art encompasses other, less conventional, mediums such as video, audio, dance and literature.

History of Mixed Media

While the practice of creating mixed media art forms is as ancient as art itself, the use of the term mixed media is relatively young by comparison. There are examples of artwork that incorporates more than one medium dating back to the third century of the Byzantine Empire. Artists of that era regularly incorporated gold leaf into mosaics and even paintings.


Collage is a mixed media art form that involves gluing pieces of paper, ribbon, or fabric onto canvas or other bases. The earliest examples of collage date back to twelfth century Japanese calligraphers that used the technique to prepare paper that was used to write poetry.

The term collage was coined by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso in 1912. The two artists worked together during that time period and experimented with collage, using bits of glued paper added to charcoal drawings.

Since the birth of the term mixed media and the recognition of collage, several artists have made a name for themselves using this technique. Hannah Höch, a German artist in the early twentieth century, used collage to protest and highlight the second class citizen status afforded women in Germany. She used bits of paper gathered from the modern world of the time, fashion magazines, photographic journals and newspapers to draw attention to the art that can be created from everyday sources. During that same time period and also in Germany, Kurt Schwitters developed the concept of Merz. Merz is the idea that everyday found objects were equally valuable in the expression of art as paint.  This was a new and somewhat unconventional idea for the time and opened up a whole new world for the modern artistic community.

Mixed Media in Painting and Drawing Mediums

In the early history of art, painting techniques and drawing techniques did not mix. If an artist began a painting with oil paints he stuck with that medium throughout the work. Late in the fifteenth century Leonardo da Vinci mixed pastels with other drawing media. This is some of the first examples of the mixing of wet and dry medium techniques being combined. In the late eighteenth century, William Blake added watercolor washes to his prints to create unique effect. These artists, along with many others, opened the doors for those artists that followed them. These artists threw out the rules that governed artists before them, allowing them to experiment with multiple mediums to create depth, contrast, and detail that were not available before them.

Mixed Media Installation Art

Installation art is a relatively new art form that found its beginnings in the free thinking artistic climate of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Where most art can be purchased and taken home, installation art is often created in an architectural setting, a gallery or a museum. This art form often uses found objects from daily life to tell a story or draw attention to a particular issue. Installation art asks the viewer to enter the art space itself and become part of the experience as opposed to just an observer.

Current Mixed Media Artists

Today mixed media artists are enjoying a great deal of popularity.

John Anthony Baldessari is a well-known artist from Californian who uses appropriated text and photographs as part of his paintings. As his art has developed over the years he has incorporated printmaking, installation, and sculpture into his mixed media projects.

Lawrence Weiner, an artist from Bronx, New York, is famous for his collage work using text. Weiner actually considers his work to be sculpture as opposed to collage because he often builds his art in an installation setting.

Rosemarie Trockel is a German artist that primarily uses wool as a signature medium. She has combined machine knitted wool with computer generated geometric shapes, logos, and even flags. Her work often comments on feminine and masculine roles and stereotypes of each. She has created a large, industrial looking, painting machine that uses human hair for the brushes. The names of the people that donated the hair are engraved on the brushes. She has also moved into the medium of photography, taking pictures of the webs created by spiders that were under the influence of psychoactive drugs.

Mixed Media for the Rest of Us

It is not necessary to be a professional, ground breaking artist to enjoy mixed media art. There are projects for every level of artist and every level of interest. Mixed media art literally offers us the entire world as potential medium for creating unique and meaningful art. One of the most popular uses of mixed media art is scrapbooking. By using collage techniques and wet/dry techniques, mixed media can add a whole new dimension to scrapbook pages.

Altered books offer another popular use for mixed media art. This art form uses hard backed books and many mixed media techniques to turn an average book into a unique work of art. Altered books have become popular as a form of scrapbooking, as a personal journal, and as a work of art in and of themselves. Explore this technique if you are looking for a mixed media project that would make a personal and creative gift for a loved one. You can even add digital collage effects to help wrap photos into your work.

Mixed media art is an endless storehouse of techniques, materials, and methods of expression. Mixed media art lends itself to almost any conventional art and allows the artist to expand the scope of their artistic creativity. If you have found yourself at a creative roadblock, mixed media can help you unleash your talent in a new and exciting way. The materials necessary are all around you and with a few pointers you can learn to integrate these found objects in new ways that allow your art to express itself fully.