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Art journals and mixed media

Once in a while I miss playing around with ink and paint, and making layouts. I usually just make greeting cards and that’s usually enough, but recently I’ve been tempted to try other materials, especially acrylic paint, and I liked the idea of mixing several different materials in a collage.

Since I’ve been in a steampunk mood lately, I finally bought some gear dies for my sizzix and a bunch of stencils, so it was time to try out some mixed media projects.


A mixed media project means that you can use several materials and techniques in layers to achieve interesting textures – stamp pads, paint, collage, drawing, photos, buttons, bottle caps, bits of metal, shells, and so on. Basically, anything goes. The final look varies according to your personal taste. It’s a very liberating concept for those who enjoy experimenting and having fun with artistic expression more than getting caught up with technical detail. And even though some artistic notions are useful, especially in terms of color combination and layout, this kind of project can be done by just about anyone willing to jump in and get their hands dirty (with paint and glue). Mixed media projets are often associated with scrapbooking and are also used to make decorative canvases, with or without photographs.

Acrylics work well with this kind of project because they stick to all kinds of materials, especially if you use a primer, they dry quickly, can be layered and have good coverage capability. The trick is to use acrylic gesso before laying down the color. Gesso is a primer created to coat canvas before painting but can be used over pretty much any material, from cardboard to plastic or metal. A 500ml jar costs around 10 euros but lasts a long time. There are some more expensive brands, but the “student” lines, like Raphael’s “campus” work just fine for beginners.

When it comes to acrylic paint, the difference between cheaper and more expensive brands and lines is pigment density. A cheap acrylic will probably be more transparent, with a lot less coverage than artist quality paints. Talen’s “Rembrant” line has great coverage on the first coat. Windsor&Newton’s “Galeria” line is not as expensive but also very good. I’ve been using Royal Talen “Amsterdam” line which has both student and artis quality paint and they’re both great and fairly inexpensive for the quality. It’s a matter of figuring out what you can afford within your budget and trying out a few brands until you find out which you like best. You should also be aware that light colors are usually more opaque because they are mixed with titanium white, which is pretty opaque.

alguns materiais usados em mixed media
some materials used in mixed media projects

Whatever brand you choose, there’s no need to start with a lot of colors. the basics are cyan, yellow, magenta, black white and black but you may not want to start with those. The colors you pick should reflect your preference and what feel you want for your project. A custom pallete may include only pastel colors or have more greens and browns if you want landscape colors. To darken the colors you should use a brown (sienna or umber) or a complimentary color instead of black, which makes the colors look muddy.

My suggestion for a basic pallete is this:
– Medium cadmium yellow
– Dark or medium cadminum red
– Phtalo blue
– White (a large bottle)
– Raw Sienna or Burnt Umber (to darken colors)

Colors can be mixed to create new ones.

When you want to expand your pallerte, you can add other colors like:
– Ultramarine or cobalt blue
– Magenta
– Ochre yellow
– Lemon yellow (colder)
– Phtalo green
– Raw umber
– Payne grey
– other colors you use more often, so you don’t have to keep mixing them, such as purple, orange, ad so on.
– metalic colors (gold, silver, copper, bronze)

Spray versions are used often in mixed media. At first I mixed my sprays out of gouache and water but I didn’t like that solution because gouache will react to water if you get it wet again, so I chose to make acrylic sprays. I bought inexpensive mechanical spray bottles and reused some I had at home (from perfume, hair products, etc.)

The problem is that, even though acrylic paint is water soluble, it shouldn’t be mixed with too much water because the pigment molecules ar driven too far apart and the paint won’t stick to the surface and can flake off after a while. You should never mix acrylic paint with more than 30% water. For this reason, I had two choies for making my sprays – either buy the liquid version or mix the acrylics with liquid medium. I liked this option because I was able to use the colors i already had. It’s not that much cheaper but it depends on the amount of color you wish to mix.

For my first few projects I decided to decorate notebook covers. I felt like making an art journal and what better way to begin.


I started with a moleskine type notebook, with a hard cover. My first step was to coat the cover with white gesso but you don’t have to start here. In fact, in future projects I may glue all my cardstock elements first and apply gesso later. However, is the cover has a busy design, it can help to create a neutral background to make the layout decisions easier.


I used stencils and modelling paste to create some texture on the background. Modelling paste takes a long time to air dry but it should be completely dry before starting the next stage. I also glued some gauze with white glue.

I cut some gears with my sizzix and added them to the layout before covering with more gesso. When you work with cardstock or cardboard you can use white glue to assemble the layout. If you plan to include metal, plastic, resin or polymer clay elements you should use a glue that works with these materials or gel medium.


I painted the background color with brown acrylic paint and added some stamps. I chose a dark color for the background because I knew I wanted to paint the highlights in gold and it works best against a darker background for contrast.


I added some turquoise spray over the background color, for some interest and contrast without controling the placement of color too much. You can also apply color the paint with a spong but it’s less random and it can leave streaks.


I glued some metal and plastic components for added texture and covered these nem elements with gesso and then painted them.


Finally, I applied gold paint only on the raised areas, to highlight the texture. You can use your fingertip or a dry brush.

This notebook became my art journal. It’s not the best notebook for the job because the paper is so thin, but I’ve done some fun things in it.

Before figuring out my improvised paint storage (contact lens cases), I had a really hard time throwing out leftover paint. Because acrylic paint dries so fast, you either use it right away or you have to throw it out. To prevent this waste I started painting whole pages with whatever color I had made too much of. This gave me a bunch of backgrounds over which to work. Considering how panicked a blank page sometimes leaves me, having a place to start was a good thing. It made e think of color schemes and mood for the page, according to what color I had painted first.

The point of an art journal is to do something creative each day, even if it’s only for 10 minutes. In art school I had a graphic journal, which is similar but more focuses on drawing. It’s a way to make students practice their drawing everyday without a strict theme or project. The idea is to always have some paper and pencil (or pen) with you to make quick sketches whenever you see something interesting.

An art journal is similar but it’s more about trying out different techniques mad materials without having to make a perfect work of art every time. For some people it’s close to a scrapbook where they add a picture each day and then decorate the rest of the page, others write poetry, song lyrics, quotes, or anything else that will give them an idea or theme for the page and then decorate it. Everything is acceptable and the process is entirely personal and free.

These are the first pages I made on my art journal:


First page, with the name of the owner. Some people also add their adress and phone number in case they lose it, but mine won’t leave the house, so I don’t need to.


This page was done on the day my husband left for a long trip. Some days the theme is easy.


Here I had fun making the background but didn’t finish the layout. A page doesn’t need to be completes on the same day. That’s the advantage – there are no rules. It’s a place to try out whatever you want.


This page was an attempt to share the experience with my children. My son loved the stencils and sprays and my daughter wanted to repeat everything I did. She still did a few more pages with me the following days but he wasn’t that interested.

I know none of this looks amazing but that wasn’t the point. I just wanted to have fun experimenting, and trying out my new tools ad paints without fear of messing it up. This freedom is something that’s really hard for me sometimes. I have a tendency to want to control everything and to make it all perfect, which is great for some things but terrible for artistic expression and creativity.

Although I had fun making some journal pages, what I really loved about the whole experience was making the covers, so I gathered all the notebooks I could find and subjected them to the same treatment.


This is my jewellery notebook where I sketch my pieces and take notes of the process as I’m making them.


This is my techniques notebook, where I take note of important information I may need later on.


After showing some of my work to my colleagues, one of them asked me to make a notebook for her. Since the one she chose had a thinner, flexible cover, I did all the work over some cardstock that I later glued onto the cover.

I also used a slightly different method because she asked for lighter colors. I chose a beach pallete – blue, green and a sand tone – and painted all the elements separately, befor gluing them on, so they would have a contrasting color to the background.

When this one was done, and since I didn’t have any more notebooks of my own, I started on my husband’s drawing pads.


I still had blues and greens on my mind, so I used the same colors in this one. I kept these simpler because they are for drawing and the cover should not become a hindrance when using the pads. Too much volume would be a problem.


This one was similar to the first one I made but without using any sprays. I just think there isn’t much contrast between the top elements and the background. I may still do something else to it later on.


This is my favorite. I had already done the title, so I just built the rest around it, with the zombie theme in mind. I used dark red for the ackground and bright red for the highlights, which really pop. I sponged some black around the edges to add depth.

And there you have it. If you want to learn more about mixed media, I suggest you visit the following sites:
Such a Pretty Mess

And watch these videos:
Steampunk mixed media journal cover tutorial
Mixed Media Art Journal Cover Tutorial

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