What is mixed media?  well, to over simplify it, mixed media for beginners would be using a variety of “things” in one single art piece.  

To explain it more, mixed media is a combination of backgrounds, layers, embellishments, your focal point, watercolours, acrylics, watersoluble oil sticks, pastels, inks and I can go on and on and on on a substrate, which could be a canvas, masonite panel, birch panel, art journal, canvas paper and I can keep going.

Personally, I like simplified version.

mixed media for beginners clock

Stop the Overwhelm

Walking into the “big box” arts and craft stores, it’s super easy to become overwhelmed when you are a beginner. 


Give yourself some time to learn at a slow and steady pace.  It’s not a race and if you feel rushed, you won’t enjoy it as much.

As for supplies, not to be labelled as boring, but why not start with what you have in your home?  

See if you can pick and choose something in each section.

Are you ready?

Pick Your Base

Let’s start with what are you going to use as your base.  This is called a substrate or a surface.  

It will depend on what you plan on making, so for this exercise, let’s say you are making an art piece that is only 3″ x 3″.

Choose one of the following:

  • Cut part of a cardboard packing box
  • Cardboard food packaging from your pantry, such as a cereal box
  • Cardboard packaging from something in your medicine cabinet
  • The back of a writing pad…that thick pressed cardboard backing
  • Coasters you don’t use anymore
  • Have some old newspapers, you can glue a bunch of pages together and then cut it to 3″ x 3″
  • How about some old dryer sheets, baby wipes, kitchen wipes or even paper towels.  Glue a bunch of those together and cut to 3″ x 3″
  • If all else fails and you have nothing in your home, visit the discount or dollar store and pickup some tiny canvases.

You Can Even Use Playing Cards as Your Base

Mixed Media for Beginners - Substrate

Time to Prime (optional)

Depending on what you choose as your base, it may need to be primed so things will stick to it.  So this step is optional.

You can simply apply a couple of layers of gesso or your favourite colour of acrylic paint, using a paint brush.  Thin, even coats will ensure proper drying. 

While this is drying, go to the next step.

Pick a Background

If you painted your piece with your favourite colour in the previous step, this part is optional.

Use one or more of the following:

  • Using a contrasting colour, stencil something
  • Using a stamp pad or a contrasting colour, stamp something
  • Do you have gift bag tissue, printed paper, an old map, napkins or an old dictionary/book?  

Tear little strips of paper and glue onto your substrate.  You don’t need to cover everything.  

You can apply a very thin layer of gesso or paint to diffuse the text.

Mixed Media for Beginners - Buttons

Add Texture

You can do so much with this, so start with one in the beginning.

Mixed Media for Beginners - Buttons

Buttons are always a good choice because they are inexpensive.

If you glue the buttons to your substrate and then paint over them, you can really get some interesting effects.

You can almost combine textures with embellishments – they can be interchanged.  The idea of texture is to break up any flat areas.  

  • rip the top layer off of a piece of corrugated cardboard (from a packing box)
  • beads or old jewelry fillers
  • modeling paste or spackle
  • crackle glaze, paste or paint
  • burlap strips
  • onion or potato bags
  • regular paper strips
  • cracked glass or “hammer smashed” marbles
  • broken plates
  • string or twine

Pick a Focal Point

This is the main piece in your design.  It can be anything that you enjoy.

Mixed Media for Beginners - Focal Point
  • large button
  • flower
  • a print of a digital image
  • a photograph
  • mini frame
  • a tiny canvas with a print or painting on it

Sprinkle Around Some Embellishments

Mixed Media for Beginners - Embellishments

You can use this step to fill in some empty holes or to add a bit of extra “oomph” to your design.

  • ribbon
  • trim
  • washi tape
  • rhinestones
  • pearls
  • small flowers
  • metal 
  • shells
  • glitter 

Add a Quote or Sentiment (optional)

Adding a quote or sentiment makes the design more personal.  You can use your computer or tablet with your favourite font to print out a saying and print it on printer paper or card stock.

Here are some to get you started, but please feel free to use your own.

  • It’s Never too Late to Create
  • You Are Beautiful
  • CRE8
  • Art is Never Finished,  Only Abandoned. ~Leonardo daVinci
  • One Day
  • Bliss
  • The Secret of Joy is….
  • Admire
  • Family
  • Be True
  • Just Breathe

Tip:  An idea is to use a printed dictionary, close your eyes, open it up to a random page and put your finger on the page and then use whatever word you pointed at as your quote.  This could work for or against you, depending on the word you pointed at 🙂

Finish the Edges (optional)

If you have little things sticking out past the edge, give it a trim.  You can also take some paint on a cosmetic sponge or use a brush and dab paint on the edges to finish it off.

Not a requirement and it depends on what you created.

Don’t forget to sign your creation on the lower right/left corner or on the back.

What did you think?

I’m always looking for ways to help beginners…is there something that I’m missing in this list?  or maybe something doesn’t make sense.  If so, please share in the comments below and I’ll be sure to update it.