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Mixed Media painting techniques Combine Media to Create Inspired Mixed Media Art

mixed media painting techniques

Howard Johnson’s Snowy Nocturne II 2007, pastel, watercolor, and tempera on paper, 20 x 27. Collection The Trenton City Museum, Trenton, New Jersey. All artwork this article collection the artist unless otherwise indicated.

Combine Watermedia & Pastel

to Achieve Paintings that Hum with Life New York City based artist Janet Cook layers pastel over bright watermedia underpaintings to create scenes that positively pulse. by Jame s Me tcal fe This content has been abridged from an original article written by James Metcalfe. This premium has been published by Interweave Press, 201 E. Fourth St., Loveland, CO 80537-5655; (970) 669-7672. Copyright Š 2010 by Interweave Press, a division of Aspire Media, all rights reserved. The contents of this publication may not be reproduced either in whole or in part without consent of the copyright owner.


mixed media painting techniques


olor has always played a role in Janet Cook’s life and certainly in her development as an artist. “Actually, I think it was the color orange that first triggered my creative instincts,” she says. “As a child growing up in England, I lived in a typical English townhouse, and somehow it ended up being painted a kind of bright, beacon orange—one of those hasty decisions made from a small paint chip that went horribly wrong.” Not one to waste anything, her dad then applied what remained of that paint to the fence that divided their house from their neighbor’s. “Orange was everywhere!” she quips, “but as a result, I think I had my first lesson in how light affects color and how color affects light. Even as a child, I was intrigued by how that color orange changed with the light of the day and reflected warm light into the kitchen.” Today, color continues to play a central and complex role in Cook’s work and is one of the first characteristics viewers note about her lush cityscapes and detailed portraits. “My use of color has both a lighter and a darker side,” the artist says. “In my Times Square series, for example, the bright, saturated, ‘happy’ colors help to convey the hustle and bustle of Times Square and its resurgence in the past 20 years.” However, Cook is also saying something a bit darker. “When I began this series,” she adds, “I was thinking of Van Gogh’s Le Café de Nuit and, like him, I wanted to express the darker side of color. For him, it was ‘the terrible passions of humanity’ that he expressed through his use of red and green; for me, it was the garishness of the place where everything is vying for one’s attention and money. I certainly had this in mind when I chose my colors, for it was not that long ago that Times Square was known as a red-light district and area of crime.”


Cook feels that no medium meets the challenge of working with intense and saturated colors more than pastel. “Pastels are such a great way to trigger an artist’s imagination, especially in his or her use of color,” she explains. “They provide instantaneous ‘saturation’ results; moreover, the colors won’t change over time, each stroke maintains its own individuality, and introducing texture can be as easy as applying gesso mixed with pumice on a board then pasteling over it.

Iridescence Near Times Square 2009, pastel over tempera with gouache and watercolor on paper, 27 x 20.

mixed media painting techniques


Pregnant Pause 2007, pastel over tempera, watercolor, and gouache on paper, 40 x 30. left

Hannah 2010, pastel over tempera with gouache and watercolor on paper, 27 x 20. Private collection.


“Since most pastels are in the middle-value range and quite saturated in color, I pay close attention to value and will add muted colors— grays and browns, for example—to offset the more intense colors,” Cook goes on to say. “Otherwise, everything is competing for the viewer’s attention, and it can become difficult to look at.” To assess value clearly, Cook likes to squint her eyes to eliminate color, and when working from a photo she will first print a black-and-white version. “I don’t think it matters what color an artist uses as long as the value is correct,” she believes. “This philosophy, in essence, frees me to use any color I want.” Cook considers herself primarily a representational painter and loves to explore subjects that spark her imagination, whether they are written, verbal, or visual. “I read, listen to music, study lyrics, watch music videos, animation, films, and television, and always take note of graffiti, graphic designs, and even Japanese graphic novels,” the artist says. “Cityscapes, figures, portraits, and an occasional still life, which I like to infuse with dramatic lighting, are generally my favorite subject matter. I strive to avoid any kind of sentimentality, and I am inspired by dynamic form, color, contrast, movement, and light—especially how light reflects off of faces, figures, buildings, rivers, or roads.” Cook wants her art to not only reflect the time in which we live but also acknowledge past influences. She likes to work from life whenever possible because she feels there is so much more information than what one can find in a photograph. “For me, art is about creating something original, not slavishly copying either nature or a photo. And I am very flexible; if something is not working in the painting, I am not adverse to moving, removing, or changing it,” she says. When asked to describe her style, Cook cites her painting Outside Paramount, which she feels exemplifies her preferences for color choice, subject matter, mood, light, and technique. “Late one evening, a group of filmmakers assembled outside the Paramount building in Times Square and began shooting a scene. I made quick sketches, took photos, then returned to my studio and created this pastel using my own unique color palette—an underpainting of Dayglo green tempera, enhanced with ultramarine blue watercolor. I pasteled more green, blue, and yellow across the surface and tried to create

mixed media painting techniques

an atmosphere of a chilly evening, just as the rain eased. I introduced the reflections in the foreground and bathed everything in an otherworldly green glow—a glow generated from my imagination. I was aiming for a combination of storm clouds and artificial light. I reserved the warmer colors for the foreground elements but used flecks of red in the background to contrast with the greens and blues. Instead of highlighting the ads that reflect in the building’s windows dominating the scene, I chose to keep them muted to keep the focal point on the people.” Cook readily admits to being “on the loose side” with her strokes and likes to leave many of them apparent—one of the strengths, she feels, that pastel painting offers. “Each stroke maintains its own uniqueness, so I vary them,” Wiggles

2007, pastel over tempera and watercolor on paper, 19 x 26.


she notes. “Small, short, staccato strokes, for example, can create a stop/ start feeling, and blended sections can elicit feelings of calm. Long strokes tend to signal fast movement, such as the movement of a car.” Crisscrossing colors is a technique the artist employs often, as she finds that it’s a great way to create vibrancy, energy, and drama, something she explores fully in both her subject matter and the way she uses pastels. “I also like strong contrasts and lighting,” the artist says. “The artificial lights in my night scenes, for example, offer a strong contrast to the surrounding darkness as they bounce off the wall and wet streets. “I would rather paint a raging storm than a bucolic scene at midday,” Cook adds. If drama is absent naturally, she may likely introduce it with a streak of color or exaggerate the value contrast. Cook begins with a layer of Dayglo

tempera paint in a combination of either yellow, orange, and pink or of green and blue to give the entire work a unity of color. “I then add a layer of gouache and/or watercolor in violet, black, and ultramarine blue, depending on whether I want it to be opaque or transparent,” she explains. “I generally use darker colors to establish a base value in a pastel painting; however, because I do a very detailed underpainting, this allows me to work out all the elements with the gouache and watercolor before applying the pastel.” As she begins to work with pastels, she may rewet an area to mute it or make it darker. During the underpainting stage, she creates the highlights with a hard bristle brush and scrubs over the darker areas where the street lights and illuminations are. “This lifts off the underpainting, revealing white paper,” she details. “It even removes the tempera. Since Art Spectrum paper is very

mixed media painting techniques

resilient, it can be rewetted repeatedly 2009, pastel over and is very resilient gouache and watercolor on paper, 27 x 20. to scrubbing. After I have completed a fairly detailed underpainting, which in itself looks like a monochromatic finished painting, I begin to apply layers of pastel. I seldom blend my pastels, preferring instead to crisscross colors of the same value to create simultaneous contrasts that make the colors more complex and the work more vibrant. I leave approximately 5 percent to 15 percent of the underpainting showing through to imbue the piece with a sense of harmony. At this stage I always work from a black-and-white photo, so as not to get seduced by the local color.” Cook may then rewet or work watercolor over an area that may not be have been drawn properly and then alternate between the two methods until she completes the work. “When I am nearing completion of the pastel, I look at the color photo to isolate the ‘local color,’ i.e., a billboard or the color of a logo, as I did with the logo in Howard Johnson’s Snowy Nocturne II. Steppin’ Out on Broadway


Normally, Cook tries to convey a mood in her landscapes that defines the time of day as well as a location. “I naturally gravitate to evening and night scenes and those times of day when shadows are at their longest,” she says. She also likes to juxtapose ordinary subject matter in unusual ways as she did in Pregnant Pause when ideas she has stimulate her “inner illustrator.” To determine composition, Cook generally focuses on one main point but strives to keep the viewer’s eye moving around the canvas. “I love asymmetry and try to balance all the elements to keep the viewer’s eye moving around the pastel,” she says. “I also try to think of different or unusual views, as I did in Wiggles, where I tilted the horizon line.” Conversely, Cook may exaggerate and make the buildings appear to be leaning further inward, especially if she wants it to appear as though they are bearing down upon the figures. She may also include or delete people, as she did in Steppin’ Out on Broadway, for which she took a photo of two women walking on the street and later added them to the scene. The artist cites this painting as an example of her willingness to change something that was not working. The figures changed several times. “Originally they wore coats and were stationary, but I thought they looked a bit too static, so I changed them to two women in skirts walking,” she notes. “Unfortunately, they did not look believable, so I decided to take my camera to the streets, where I took a shot of two women walking in front of me. I took it at the same height I had taken the photo of the road so that they would fit with the horizon line I had in my painting. I then placed them into the scene, but in my enthusiasm to render the new figures, I accidentally made the woman on the left too tall, so I changed her from a ‘she’ to a ‘he’ and added pants to both of them.” When working on a city night scene, Cook usually uses bright, high-key colors for her underpainting—yellow, pink, greens, and/or blues. “I use a

range of violets and blues for the darker areas, but I don’t really have a fixed method because I want each piece to be different,” she says. As for figure work, Cook frequently does a detailed charcoal drawing or underpainting and then uses a Holbein hard pastel in a shade of red umber over the darker areas to give warmth to the shadows. “I like to begin with a medium value for the lighter flesh tones and work toward the lightest and darkest values,” she explains. Cook prefers the durability of Art Spectrum paper and Dayglo tempera paint, which shows through in places. In terms of her choice of pastels, she loves to experiment with all brands, but she especially enjoys Diane Townsend and Terry Ludwig because of their darks and lights. “Townsend makes thins which are great for details and a wide variety of whites, from blue-white to yellow-white,” she says. “I also use Sennelier, Nupastels, Girault, Schmincke, and Holbein, and Caran d’Ache pastel pencils. My parents bought me a full set of Caran d’Ache pencils when I was a child, and I still have some of them today.” n

about the artist Originally from England, Janet Cook now resides in New York City with her husband, and maintains a studio near Times Square. She is a signature member of the Pastel Society of America, where she also teaches, and she is a member of the Connecticut Pastel Society. She is also a Master Circle member of the IAPS and an elected artist-member of the Salmagundi Club, in New York City. She is represented by Farnsworth Gallery, in Bordentown, New Jersey, and For more information on the artist, visit her website at, or e-mail her at

mixed media painting techniques The Officer 1996, acrylic and torn paper on board, 24 x 18. Collection U.S. Army. Irwin’s life portraits generally include numerous images, which when woven together produce a visual narrative. For The Officer, however, Irwin took a different approach. “I thought that this single image conveyed volumes more on its own by capturing the subject in a moment of personal reflection.”


ussell Stuart Irwin is a kind of artistic archeologist. In his work, layers of painted paper bond with acrylic paint to form a rich, mosaiclike surface, offering tantalizing glimpses of the past. Often the artist will deliberately obscure an image only to sand back through the covering layers of paper to reveal it again. This technique conveys an impression that we are rediscovering a history, generally that of an individual rendered through vignettes from his or her life, captured in overlapping and dissolving images in paint and paper.

Mixing Acrylic & Collage Leads to an Artistic Breakthrough

by John A . Par ks

This content has been abridged from an original article written by John A. Parks. This premium has been published by Interweave Press, 201 E. Fourth St., Loveland, CO 80537-5655; (970) 669-7672. Copyright © 2004 by Interweave Press, a division of Aspire Media, all rights reserved. The contents of this publication may not be reproduced either in whole or in part without consent of the copyright owner.


mixed media painting techniques

“I love to tell a story,” the St. Louis artist admits, “and I live to do work concerning people.” In his quest for a story Irwin spends months interviewing friends and associates of his subject, ransacking archives and picture collections, and generating scores of drawings and sketches. He finally pares down all of this information to a group of pivotal images organized in a fluidly layered space, where they hang and shimmer like memories. None of this would work as well without strong draftsmanship, a gifted sense of design, and an uncanny feel for the decorative possibilities of color. These skills are hard-won for anyone, but especially for Irwin, who did not have the benefit of art school. Fearing he was destined for dead-end jobs unless he committed himself to a passionate interest, he put together a portfolio and eventually landed a series of jobs in commercial art studios, later becoming a freelance comp artist. Just when he was finding the hectic deadlines of this field too draining, he received a call from an agency working for the U.S. Army, offering him a job. Although at first hesitant to work with the military, assuming his employer would be restrictive, Irwin soon learned that in regard to his work of painting murals for headquarters and portraits of retiring officers, the Army was generous. One project involved creating a piece to commemorate the sale of Apache helicopters to the Israeli air force, a commission that changed everything.

Israel Air Force 1995, acrylic and torn paper on board, 30 x 25. Collection Israeli air force. In this piece Irwin wanted to communicate more than the acquisition of military hardware; he wanted to say something about the culture, history, and identity of Israel. “In a paper mosaic stylization,” he explains, “I could weave the Apache helicopter into the geometry of the Star of David.”


“As usual with a project I did a lot of research—in this case looking up many examples of Israeli and Middle Eastern art,” Irwin explains. “Then one evening I came home to find my 10-year-old daughter tearing up pieces of painted paper and gluing them down. Watching quietly, I was completely fascinated. It struck me that the mosaiclike quality of the image was similar to some of the art I had been looking at for my project. The next day I ordered a pile of paper and began to work.”

After much experimentation, Irwin devised a technique that was a breakthrough, both personally and artistically. Beginning with a rough graphite sketch on a gessoed surface, he built the image by adhering pieces of roughly torn painted paper with acrylic matte medium. He could then paint the paper with acrylic. “The process forced me to think more abstractly,” says the artist, “to think more in terms of the relationship of shape and color and to think much more about the sur-

mixed media painting techniques

face.” Being forced to make shapes by tear2000, watercolor, ing and cutting paper 22 x 281⁄2. Collection edges helped the artist David Pratt. think in terms of bold simplicity, an effect that spawned a more monumental and authoritative image, reinforced by a powerful surface texture. Moreover, the technique allowed for great flexibility. Irwin found that he could paint back into the piece once the paper was adhered to the surface to adjust color or add detail. He could also add to the excitement by sanding back through the surfaces he had built up to reveal images he had previously covered. Vanishing Moments


The result of the first project was a vividly rich rendition of a helicopter that has become an almost abstract shape. This new approach allowed the artist to combine different kinds of information— realist images, text, graphics, and abstract shapes—into a unified surface. He would now be able to build whole new levels of meaning into his work rather than simply present straightforward renditions. In addition, the finished work itself, with its rich color and dense layering, was a very attractive and desirable object. Irwin had found a way to make art that suited his needs on all fronts. After 10 years of working for the Army, Irwin formed his own company,

RSI Creative (www.rsicreative. com), which markets its projects as vehicles for charitable fund-raising. His most successful project to date was what he calls a “life portrait” of long-time St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck, who died in June 2002. “The project raised money for a Cardinals charity called the Backstoppers,” explains Irwin. “It’s an organization that provides money to the families of firefighters and police officers who are killed in the line of duty. Jack Buck broadcast in each of the last six decades, and I decided to incorporate an image of a famous Cardinals player from each of these decades into

mixed media painting techniques

High Places 2001, acrylic and torn paper on board, 19 x 13. Collection Gerald Keller. This painting connects to a larger work, Top of the Mountain (not shown), the story of Lou Whittaker’s legendary climbing career. “I chose to focus on one of Whittaker’s students, Ed Viesturs,” says Irwin, “because mentoring young climbers was dearest to his heart.”

my picture—in fact, each one of them is a Hall of Famer.” Buck himself is shown in the middle of the piece, talking into a microphone, presumably describing the action of the players around him. The border comprises images of the fans listening to him, such as people working in stores and on factory assembly lines, and even soldiers listening on armed-forces radio. “The idea is that Buck was always the


conduit between the team and the fans of the club,” says the artist. “He was the person who tied everything together.” As usual Irwin spent months interviewing his subject and the people in his life. The finished image, which he created in watercolor because of time constraints, raised more than a million dollars for the charity through the sale of limited-edition prints. In addition, the artist donated more than

40 preparatory drawings, which were auctioned to raise further funds. A deeply religious man, Irwin credits his persistence in develop-ing his talent to a power greaterthan himself. “I commit the work of my mind and my hands to God every day,” he says. Certainly the artist has been given the strength and talent to follow a remarkable path in life and in art, and he is the first to say that he is forever grateful.  n

mixed media painting techniques

Demonstration: intimate gathering Step 1

Irwin began by preparing a hollow-core wood door panel with gesso.

Step 2 1

He drew the forms on the board with a carpenter’s pencil, referring to a preliminary watercolor study. Because he was concerned about maintaining spatial relationships between the figures, he used a grid to transfer the image from the sketch to the board.

Step 3 2

The artist adhered torn papers of varying weights, textures, and colors with acrylic matte medium.

Step 4

At this point, Irwin says, “I was trying to recognize and understand the relationships between the forms, shapes, and movements.”


4 5 &6 11

Step 5

Here, the artist considered the colors and textures of the papers. “Approaching a subject with a sheet of paper in my handdetermines a different articulation than if I approached it with a No.12 brush,” he explains. “I tend to think more broadly about shapes, forms, and geometry.”

Step 6

Irwin worked from two palettes: a plastic one on which he mixed acrylic paints and one on the floor, where he scattered torn pieces of paper. For this work, he applied little acrylic until the final stages.

mixed media painting techniques

Step 7

The artist applied the papers in a process he describes as “thoughtful, intellectual, purposeful, but also visceral.”

Step 8

Irwin notes, “The forms of the girls’ hair and clothing flow together like forms in a quilt.”



Step 9

Irwin carefully considered the significance of the girls’ postures, which reflect the relationships between the figures.

Step 10 & 11


10 & 11

The artist wanted the redbrown dress of the girl in the foreground to dominate, but he also wanted to integrate the blue-grays of the shadow beneath the walkway. To accomplish this effect, he adhered blue-gray paper used in the shadow area over the dress color. After it dried for several hours, he sanded away the blue to allow the red-browns to show through to varying degrees.

The completed work

Intimate Gathering 2002, acrylic and torn paper on board, 48 x 60. Collection the artist.


Mixed media painting techniques  

Mixed media painting techniques