Tips and Tricks for Mixed Media

“Mixed media is a term used to describe art works composed from a combination of different media or materials.” the “tate”,London, UK, states on their website ( ).

Polymer clay is the main medium in our work and it is extremely versatile. If you use it in combination with another media, let´s say metal (as in findings or connections) or paints or powders (maybe to enhance the surface texture) then you are already dipping your toes into the realm of mixed media. It´s up to you to decide how many media you want to incorporate in your work, of course. There are purists that only exclusively use one medium (some of them are polymer clay artists/ crafters). And on the other end of the spectrum there are people working with as many different media as possible. They are referred to as mixed media artists or crafters. You don’t have to decide where on the spectrum you stand. And you don’t have to be in the same range forever. You can choose that for ever project anew. But you probably will find out after a while in which area you are most comfortable. There is a great number of steps between purist and extreme mixed media artists. Anything goes! And I am sure you will find your sweet spot.

The question is why would you want to work with a number of media? Does it not make everything more difficult, also to get your piece finished? Yes and no, I would argue. If you are working with multiple media of course you need to have knowledge about the use of every single medium, not only just about polymer clay. Also about metal, or wood, or paper, or whatever your medium is! Before your even start you need to find out a lot more how to work with your mix. That makes it more difficult. On the other hand not all media are good to use for everything. With polymer clay we already have a medium that is very good at a lot of things, but it does have it´s limits. For example, small strong connections are better made using metal or wire than polymer clay. So combining media, according to what that medium is best at, makes total sense and makes it easier to achieve what you are after!

Polymer clay and natural materials

Which materials can you use for mixed media? There is an extremely wide range of possibilities. A lot of natural and man made materials are up for grabs. For example: natural materials like stone, sand, rocks, minerals, fossils, crystals, pearls, shells, seeds, wood, bark, twigs, leaves, moss, bees wax, natural fur, feathers, wool, natural fibers, natural fabric, cloth, lace, paper, card board, metal, enameled metal, glass, mirror, beads, ceramics, found objects, craft items, trinkets, game pieces, cards, stationary and many more. If you are not sure if an item is suitable, I strongly encourage you to test it under save conditions first! For example: wood or stone can be tricky at times. And especially plastic, paints and some resins need testing before you should use them!

In mixed media there really is no limit at all. The choice is only a little bit smaller when working with polymer clay, as your main material. One of the main considerations is how the material you want to use is standing heat. If you want to add your chosen medium before curing it needs to be able to stand 275°F/130°C for at least 30 minutes. If that is not an option, you still can add it after your piece is cured. That of course would lead to other ways of connecting the clay with whatever you want to add. Now here comes the caveat: you need to find out how the combination of two or more materials will work together or even react with each other! Especially if working with a medium that consists of a number of components (like polymer clay, but also paint, lacquer or paint media!).

Polymer clay especially might react to other media. Sometimes not straight away, but after days, weeks or even month! It can be difficult to judge straight away if a reaction is going to happen. Having said that, let´s jump right into “how”, shall we?

The art and craft industries come up with new and exiting ideas and materials faster than you can keep track of them. Today we have a nearly unlimited choice of options. And the trend is not going to end any time soon.

I find it very exciting to try my hands on as many of these options as I possibly can. Not all of them will make it into my personal arsenal of options, although I already added many! I will not use every single one of my options every time, but I like to keep my possibilities open and wide!

A page from my sketchbook

I would like to share some of the things and ideas I find helpful working with mixed media: my trusted companion is a notebook and/ or sketchbook. I write and sketch out what I am thinking about, ideas I want to try out and problems and/or successes I have come across during working on my projects. Especially with new (to me) media this is very important. If I don´t use a medium on a daily basis, I might forget what I have found out about it and then start again the next time I use that material. So the sketchbook/ notebook is kind of my extended memory and helps me to remember what I need to know.

Making test pieces

The second most important practice, after keeping a note/sketchbook is: I always play first, if I use new material. Then I make test pieces or swatches. Let´s say I get a new paint and want to know how I can use it with polymer clay. I will roll out a number of small test pieces of clay, smooth or with a texture, and use those as a canvas for my new paint. Some will be used on uncured (raw) clay, some on cured. And they all will always have some kind of identification (numbers), so I know which piece did get which treatment. That sounds like a lot of work, and also like a lot of material to use just for test pieces. And sometimes it is. However these pieces are worth gold in my experience! So I don’t mind using a bit of material for that. The test swatches let me use new media with more confidence. I already know what effect I can achieve, before I start working on a piece. Not knowing what I do, and then in the worst case spoil a new project, is not what I want! I want to concentrate on the shape and design of my work, not how my material is behaving. In an ideal world that would give me total control over my media. That is not the case, of course. There is always a bit of randomness coming into ones work. Sometimes that leads to happy accidents. In that way it is good to have at least a general idea of what will happen if you do use polymer clay together with another medium of your choice. If you never have worked with test pieces you can start making test series with a bunch of media from your studio now. It´s never too late to learn more about your work material and how to use it to its best possibilities.

Shopping in my studio

Another idea I like is to go shopping in your own studio. Look around and try to find media that you got at one point, wanted to use, and then other things happened. You never used them. I know I have a number of these unused items in my studio, and I bet I am not the only one. There is nothing more inspiring than a new, unopened pack of something nice you have not yet tried out! Can you feel the excitement of that new set of pens? The ones that have that special metal ink? Or the jars of night glow powders, that you could mix into translucent liquid clay? It always makes me very exited to have a brand new pack of a new medium and I am thinking about the fun I will have trying it out!

These are my three main helpers with mixed media. But there are a lot of other ideas you can try out.

Inspirations from museums, exhibitions and fairs

Here are some to get you started:

  • Learn from other artists. Look for inspiration all over the place! Look at what artists, working primarily in other media, are doing if their work speaks to you.
  • Try to combine, try to incorporate.
  • Look at things that exit you. Try to think about what it is that exits you.
  • All tribes have their own rules, try to have a look at what other creative tribes are doing and what you find exiting about it.
  • Keep a list of things that you want to try out. Keep a notebook or digital file with work of other artists work that inspires you.
  • Go to museums, take pictures of things you come across that you find interesting, take notes, draw, sketch, take classes. Think about how you can incorporate your own take of things that exit you.
  • Connect with others who are working similar to you and share your ideas with them. Speak about what your intention is. Use social media to connect.
  • Most of all don’t let the medium you mainly use dictate what your artwork should be. The medium is there to help express your ideas, not bind you to a certain way of working!
  • And when you are working with polymer clay share your work with the hashtag #howdoyousculpey!
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