What does “mixed media” mean? The answer varies from piece to piece and artist to artist. Here’s what it means in the case of my painting, “Dreaming of Magnolias,” shown below. This piece is part of TRILOGY, the current featured artist show at the Hillsborough Gallery of Arts.
Strange as it may seem, I started the piece by tearing brown paper grocery bags into random shapes and pasting them down on a white panel using acrylic “matte medium,” a fluid the consistency of thick cream that is often used as glue. The result was a brown mosaic with white “cracks,” somewhat reminiscent of a stone walk. (You can see what remains of the “cracks” in the upper right quadrant of the painting.) I have used this technique in many of my abstract paintings because I like the random linear elements it adds to the finished piece.
I covered this mosaic with fluid acrylic paint in a random pattern of neutral gray-beige tones ranging from dark to light with touches of orange, rust, red and even a little blue. I liked the resulting painting but felt that it needed something.
At the time I was taking a class in collage. The class gave me the idea of pasting photographs on top of the random gray-beige background. I used to have a huge magnolia tree in my front yard, and I have taken hundreds of photos of magnolias over the years. I blew some of them up, cut them out, and threw them down on the painting. To my surprise, I liked the effect. But I didn’t like the way the magnolias stood out against the background. I wanted them to blend in. So I used Photoshop to adjust the color of the shadows in the magnolias so that they matched the gray-beige tones in the painting. This involved a long process of trial and error. I ended up with piles of magnolia rejects, flowers photos that were too yellow or too blue or too pink. The tone needed to be just right to create the effect I wanted: the illusion that the flowers were floating on the stony background of the painting. Then out came the matte medium again, this time to paste the photos down, as seamlessly as possible. I was delighted with the result. A couple of coats of acrylic varnish and the painting was done.
When I first started making art, I painted realistic flowers in watercolor. Many viewers, especially people who are familiar with my earlier work, were convinced that I painted the flowers in “Dreaming of Magnolias” and the other mixed media pieces in the show. I can’t help feeling a little guilty as I tell them that the flowers are actually photographs collaged onto a painted background. But not so guilty that I don’t plan to continue experimenting with this technique. Maybe I’ll move on to mushrooms next.
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