So You Want to Try Mixed Media? Here’s What You Need to Start!

Mixed media art is extremely freeing and fun to do. And you can use basic household items and cheap supplies to create beautiful art. Anyone can do it, even children.
Mixed media art is not just pipe cleaners, paper plates, macaroni noodles and glue. It is an actual art form. And just like any other art, there are certain things a mixed media artist relies on to make projects come together. Think about it…
If you are a scrapbooker, you at least should have your own paper trimmer, scissors and scrapbooking adhesive.
If you are a cardmaker, you really need to have a certain kind of card base. You can’t just use random computer paper or something and expect to have the same results as a card base made from watercolor cardstock.

Likewise, before you just grab something from your house and try to create mixed media art with it, you will probably want to invest in the BASICS of mixed media.

So, if you have NEVER tried mixed media before, here are some starter supplies you will NEED:

Gesso is used as a “base” or “primer” and also used in between layers in almost every mixed media project. If you are just starting out, you can get away with using inexpensive white acrylic and/or black acrylic paint, but the paint MUST be matte (not glossy).
I am not super picky about which brand I use when it comes to gesso for my own projects. I am more picky about how heavy the gesso is, because sometimes I just need a quick base coat (lightweight gesso), and sometimes I’m trying to cover an entire canvas of metal embellishments (heavy gesso). So for me, it depends.
On this mixed media jar art project, you can see the coat of lightweight gesso I applied as a base.

But, on this mixed media beer bottle art project, you can see the coat of heavy gesso I also apply on top of all my metal embellishments. This creates a consistent color base and then I add the colors I want later.

Gel Medium. This is basically a very very thick glue, like the consistency of a heavy lotion or petroleum jelly. You will absolutely need this if you are doing mixed media. There really is no way around it, and there’s really no effective “DIY” version that I have found to be successful. Figure on spending about $10 (give or take) on a container of gel medium, and choose MATTE gel medium. It will last you a really long time. And if you have never used gel medium before, you may be thinking “Can’t I just use Mod Podge?” No, you can’t. It’s not the same thing at all.

My absolute favorite gel medium is “3D Matte Gel” by Prima. But I also like to use Matte Gel Medium by Liquitex, too.
I used gel medium to glue all the metal embellishments and micro beads on this mixed media trinket box:

Coat of black gesso first…
Gel medium to adhere embellishments
More gesso on top and then add metallic color

Heat Tool. Using a hair dryer WILL NOT get the same results. You can get yourself a basic heat tool for around $25 or so, while the top-of-the-line versions can cost over $40. Remember, a heat tool isn’t something you need to purchase again and again. But you will definitely need one for your mixed media projects. Heat tools are not only used for embossing, but they are also used for drying ink and paint between layers, spreading ink or paint across a project, or drying gesso or gel medium between layers. Without a heat tool, a mixed media project could end up taking a week instead of a few hours (waiting for drying time).
This card I made used embossing powder with stamping ink plus I used Distress Oxide ink as a watercolor. There is no way I could create a project like this without a heat tool.

Hot Glue Gun. You might already have one in your house. If so, use it. As you create more projects, you will see what kind of hot glue gun will be best for you. There is lots of variety, and glue guns have varying degrees of temperatures and sizes.
This mixed media album cover used accents made from hot glue shapes made in silicone molds. Then, I painted over top of them.

The center of the flower and the accent at the top left are made of hot glue in a silicone mold.

Heat-Resistant Craft Mat. Like the heat tool, a craft mat is not something you purchase again and again, so get yourself a good one and you will be very happy you did. I use a heat resistant craft mat. I bought three of them, taped them all together and then taped the whole 3-mat-set to my desk. You can use your hot glue gun right on the mat. And when I say that, I mean exactly that: like magic, you literally can squeeze hot glue directly on the surface of the mat, and it will dry and peel up with no problem and no damage to the table underneath. You can ink and paint right on the surface, as well, and just wipe it up with a baby wipe. Plus, you can even rest your hot glue gun right on the table top on top of the mat with no worries.

Heat-resistant craft mats taped together and used as my desk surface.

Texture Paste/Modeling Paste. This is used for pushing through stencils and creating texture on your projects. If you are just starting out with mixed media, you COULD opt to make your own version of texture paste and spend that extra cash on other start-up supplies, if you wanted.

I sometimes use a simple recipe as follows: (watch the video below for a tutorial on this) –
1/4 cup baby powder
1 Tablespoon white school glue
1 Tablespoon matte acrylic paint
a little water

This will do the trick for a while, but it isn’t the BEST choice. After a while, the DIY recipe version can dry out and flake off of your project.

My favorite brands of “real” texture paste are the Modeling Paste from Liquitex and the Texture Paste from Ranger. But, as I said, trying a DIY recipe is sometimes helpful at first so you can learn how to USE it before you actually go out and buy it.
On this mixed media canvas art project I used a “homemade” texture paste in the background. I dragged some paste across a stencil, and that was pretty much it. Doesn’t it add the nicest touch?

Staz-On Black Ink (and Staz-On Ink Cleaner). This is a permanent, SOLVENT ink and you use it the same way you would any other stamping ink. But this ink sticks to everything: glass, metal, canvas, wood… everything. You won’t realize you need it until you’re mid-project and you think, “what I REALLY need is an ink for over top of this metal,” or “what I REALLY need is an ink that I can stamp ON TOP OF my shaker card window.” Get yourself ONE inkpad in Black, and you will be loving life. They run about $5.00 or so. Also, pick up the small bottle of Staz-On Ink Cleaner while you are at it, because your regular stamp cleaner won’t work with this ink. And, no, your DIY stamp cleaner will not work on Staz-On ink.
On this card, I used Staz-On Ink to stamp directly onto the clear acetate window.

Watercolor Cardstock. If you are coming into mixed media from the scrapbooking or cardmaking world, you might have some of these “start-up” supplies already. But you might not have watercolor cardstock, and you WILL need it. Mixed media involves lots of layers of moisture, and regular or even heavyweight cardstock won’t cut it. Canson makes a nice-sized pad of cardstock and it costs around $10 and lasts a LONG time. Plus, many big box stores and even some grocery stores carry it.

At one point, this pad of Canson Watercolor Cardstock was only around $6 at WalMart

Acrylic Paint. Go ahead and get a few small plastic bottles of paint from your local grocery, discount, or craft store. They are usually around $2 each. BUT… pay attention to the DESCRIPTION of the paint more than the name of the color. There’s a big difference between “glossy”, “enamel”, “matte”, and “metallic”. Also, since people tend to gravitate toward their favorite colors and not necessarily the ones they would actually need, here are 12 starter color suggestions to have on hand for acrylic paint:
White Matte
Black Matte
Light Tan Matte
Light Brown Matte
Light Grey Matte
Metallic Gold
Metallic Bronze
Mustard Orange-Yellow Matte
Army-Green Matte
Turquoise Matte
Navy Blue Matte
Dark Pink Matte (not fluorescent)

Don’t be tempted to go with your “old normal” such as purchasing “red and green paint for Christmas projects”, for example. Paint in mixed media projects often tends to go in the background or as accents or drips or spatter. Honestly, the paints I use most often for my Christmastime projects are Metallic Gold and White Matte. So from my personal experience, start with the 12 paint colors listed above in small bottles, and then go from there.
I use acrylic paint in almost EVERY project I make, honestly. I use it as a quick accent to the edges of cards and scrapbook layouts, or for spatter when my project “needs something”. And if you have any desire to try using a gel plate, you will need acrylic paint for sure.

I use acrylic paint on my gel plate.

OTHER THINGS YOU WILL NEED (Please note that you WILL need them. Do not skip the palette knife and think the popsicle stick does the same thing… it doesn’t):

Water spray bottle;
Plastic palette knife;
Craft popsicle sticks;
Baby wipes and paper towels;
Clear deli plastic containers or clear acetate sheets (1 or 2 to start);
Paint brushes (various sizes with some strength to them… not flimsy childish brushes);

Hopefully this will help you focus your efforts a little, and help you not feel so overwhelmed. Once you have these items on hand, THEN you can pull everyday items from your home, garage, attic, or even the trash and create BEAUTIFUL art!

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