What Is Mixed Media Painting? A Beginner's Guide to a Whole New Art Era!

9 minute read

What is mixed media painting?

A true art enthusiast knows that art can be composed of anything - whether it is a combination of alcohol inks on cardstock, watercolors on canvas, stamping in an art journal or stenciling on glass. Mixed media paintings encourage us to step out of the box, and to explore endless possibilities, by breaking boundaries between different types of paint, inks, and techniques (for example watercolor + acrylics, collage + stenciling). By integrating different paper crafting techniques, mixed media art may be infused with life! Very simply put, mixed media art painting encourages expanding the possibilities of creativity on canvas, by allowing water or oil-based media to work alongside acrylics, marbling, and so much more!

Grungy Watercolor Card Sample using Altenew's Watercolor Brush Markers

Grungy Watercolor Card Sample using Altenew's Watercolor Brush Markers

Exploring mixed media art!

If you are a mixed media painting beginner and wondering how to make a mixed media painting, feel free to be playful - and to get messy! Painting on a mixed media canvas holds a world of possibilities for anyone's creativity because of the opportunity it gives to explore new materials and styles. The goal should be to learn how painting and mixed media interact with each other, and how innovative techniques can be used. So, do not be afraid to experiment.

Did you know that the history of painting and mixed media dates back to Pablo Picasso? His oil on oil, clot over canvas painting, called “Still Life with Chair Caning”, is often considered the first modern collage! It is actually an assemblage of oil paint, oil cloth, pasted paper, as well as rope, turning it into a low-relief, three-dimensional work.

What mediums are needed to start off a mixed media painting?

The first obvious question in a mixed media painting lesson is where do we start? What foundation do we use? The good news is almost anything can be a canvas for mixed media paintings - from traditional paper and artist’s canvas to art journals or even blocks of wood. But, when learning how to make mixed media art, a great place to start is with mixed media paper. Why? Because it is specially created to handle both wet and dry mediums.

Altenew's Watercolor 36 Pan Set

Altenew's Watercolor 36 Pan Set

Once the foundation is selected, think expansively about what other mediums to use. What’s fabulous is, almost any painting material can be incorporated into mixed media art. Let’s take a look at a few ideas to get your creativity kicking:


  • Extensive endless color palette
  • Transparent and luminous
  • Easily responsive with fast-drying
  • Can be layered on, or scrubbed down and softened, as needed.
  • Can be easily combined with other painting media like ink, gouache, gesso, pastel, etc.

Oil paints

  • Always need to go on top of other mediums.
  • Usually contain linseed oil.
  • Dry slower than others, which at times can be an advantage.
  • Opaque, but can be made transparent with the use of a medium.
  • Requires underpainting, because having oil paint under other mediums can cause cracking and other disasters.

Watercolor cards inspired by Cyanotype Printing Technique

  • Acrylic paints are non-water soluble and don't re-activate.
  • Can add layers or texture to the artwork.
  • Works on multiple surfaces like wood, plastic, paper, glass, or canvas.
  • Water-resistant after drying
  • Acrylic glazes may be applied over watercolor to seal the watercolor.
  • Different mediums can be added to achieve different results such as glossy finish, matte finish, or slowing the drying time.
  • Mixed media paper is perfect for acrylic paint.


  • Consist of paint pigment similar to oil paints and binding material.
  • Come in two types: oil pastels have a very creamy texture and dry pastels are more like chalk.
  • Dry pastels are great to add to watercolors, for outlines.
  • Adding a bit of white or light pastel is great for lightening an area.
  • White pastel can be added over acrylics or watercolors for impact.


  • Popular for bright colors and soft effects.
  • Used for sketching
  • Blending pastels with water combines the powerful strokes of pastels with the flowing softness of watercolor to give unique effects.
  • Also available in a variety of liquid paint.

Fun Fact: Adding water to dry pastels results in something that looks a bit like gouache or watercolor paint.


  • Is water-soluble and opaque.
  • Its opacity enables it to be a strong base for mixed media paintings.
  • When diluted with water, it becomes more transparent and may be used to layer colors or create stunning gradients.

Alcohol Ink

  • Is light and permanent.
  • Can be layered easily.
  • Spraying water on this ink can produce fantastic, intricate textures.


  • Is an acrylic primer
  • Generally used on canvas or boards.
  • Provides a nice surface to work on. It has a slight tooth, which helps paint cling to it.
  • It is recommended to prime any painting surface with gesso before use.

Embossing Paste

  • This paste, usually bright white, is an acrylic compound that is commonly used to add texture or dimension on a flat surface, like paper, canvas, or cardstock.
  • May be used with stencils, papercrafting dies, or applied just free hand.
  • It is opaque, and has a smooth texture.
  • It dries quickly and turns solid when left to air dry. Drying time varies based on the amount of paste, and the thickness of the applied layer.
  • Can be mixed with any coloring medium to add different colors.
  • Easy to clean up with just a wet paper towel, or baby wipes.

Ink Blending with Golden Days Simple Coloring Stencil

How do different painting mediums interact with each other?

Watercolor & Acrylics

  • Best used on heavy-weight paper.
  • Acrylics should be used over watercolor because once mixed with watercolor they become thicker. This method is called Acrylic Glazing. It helps to make the watercolor painting waterproof.

Watercolor & Gouache

  • May be used independently.
  • May be layered over each other. To create wonderful transparent and translucent combinations, try layering washes of watercolor and gouache.
  • May be mixed together to give a matte finish with muted colors.
  • Gouache may be used over watercolor paint to add details or hide unwanted areas. It also is good for covering/ blocking areas.

Fun Fact: Did you know gouache is workable for a long time? This means you can go back over it, and pull some of the gouache up!

Oil & Acrylics

  • Best to layer oil over acrylic.
  • Oil paint takes days to cure and dry, therefore acrylic paint has a hard time staying on an oil-painted surface.
  • Oil pastels and acrylic inks make striking combinations in a mixed-media painting. As one resists the other multiple layers of scumbled broken and blended colors are created.

Watercolor & Pastels

  • Pastels are great to cover watercolor layers. They add a uniquely special depth.
  • Overlapping pastels over watercolor paint creates beautiful effects by adding tints, or soft transition hues.
  • It is recommended to cover pastes with a fixative or varnish, due to their fragile quality.

Mixed media art with Hot foil technique

Mixed media art with Hot foil technique

What are some mixed media techniques for beginners?

1. Layering: A mixed media painting is all about creating layers, and telling a story. Ideally, the first layer should be a basic background. Painting or gluing paper (be it from paper packs, newspapers, etc.) is usually the simplest option.

2. Deciding a focal point: Although it is true that mixed media art is popular for its randomness, it is always a good idea to have a focal point. This can be achieved by stamping images, gluing photos, found items, or anything else that is of interest.

3. Adding Embellishments: Add embellishments around the focal point! Lace, ribbons, glitter, buttons, shells, etc. are a great place to start.

4. Release your mind to endless possibilities: Mixed Media Paintings are all about liberating yourself, and understanding that anything and everything has the potential to be created into art. There are absolutely no boundaries between different art forms.

Sample Mixed Media Painting card

5. The versatility of mixed media allows an artist to explore a wide range of techniques like 
    • Drawing/ Painting
    • Stamping/ Die-cutting
    • Embossing/ Foiling
    • Stenciling/ Ink blending
    • Wet on Dry technique - This technique consists of applying a wet layer on top of a dry layer. This keeps the paints completely separate from one another and is a great method to use when adding details or highlights to a painting.
    • Wet on Wet technique - One color is added to another while still wet. This can result in lovely soft edges and blurred colors.
    • Dry Brush technique - Helps create a unique texture while working wet on dry. Dip your paintbrush in paint and then wipe most of it off using either a bit of paper towel, some scrap paper, or a paint rag. Whatever paint is leftover on your “dry” brush is used to drag across your paper, creating a lovely crackled and ragged effect.
    • Blooming -  In this method, get the area of paper wet where you would like to create a bloom. Then, using a paintbrush loaded with water and a bit of pigment, simply touch the tip to the wet paper area and watch it spread and bleed. It gives lovely little irregular and abstract color splotches.
    • Collage
    • Texturizing - Here are some easy ways to create texture to your paintings:
        • Decorator’s sand
        • Tissue Paper/ Paper towels 
        • Netting
        • Paper Packs
        • Newspapers/ Magazines, etc.
        • Make textured paint backgrounds using paint, embossing paste, etc.
      • Wax resist technique - Lay down some wax on your paper, paint over the wax, and the wax resists the watercolor leaving the white of the paper exposed
      • Glazing - Glazing, exclusively used in watercolors, is the process of laying a coat of transparent paint over a dry painting, and it’s used for intensifying shadows and changing color.
      • Sgraffito - Using sharp tools to remove the top layer of paint, to expose the underpainting is called sgraffito
      • A variety of mediums may be added to paint to vary its consistency, drying time, and texture. Each medium works in a different way and has its own unique quality.
      • Apply acrylic markers on a wet area, and watch them bleed beautifully to create a softer effect. 
      • Apply layers of different painting media over acrylic markers to create surface intrigue in mixed-media paintings.
      • Producing a peeled paint effect
      • Painting with gel medium over dry pastels will considerably darken the original color.
      • Cyanotype printing - Cyanotype is a photographic printing technique that produces prints with a cyan-blue color. Although Cyanotype images are made using chemicals on photographic paper, watercolors and white die-cuts may be used to mimic this technique! 

      A glimpse into mixed media collage paintings

      Creating collage is a great way to give dimension and add depth or interest to a mixed media painting. The combination of textures and collage elements allows for an unrestricted approach to creating art. Let’s take a quick look at some mixed media collage painting techniques:

      • Combine typography with a pattern, ephemera, and drawing to create dynamic paper collage art.
      • Preferably use water-soluble inks like acrylics, watercolors, and gouache. This is because all of these mediums interact well with each other, without pigment separation.
      • A great way to create a vintage look is to use sepia ink.
      • Pick a color scheme, and then create papers with that palette in mind.
      • Create a focal point by adding images or digital prints. These may also be added as just a design element.
      • Add interest to a mixed media collage through the use of stencils or stamps.
      • Craft glue or PVAs or gel mediums are great for gluing the papers together.

      Can you use oil paint on mixed media paper? The answer is yes! By applying multiple coats of primer to the right weight of paper, oil paint on mixed media paper is definitely possible!

      Sample Card Using Altenew's Watercolor 36 Pan Set

      Mixed Media Paintings - Final Thoughts!

      Mixed media is fun! It is liberating because the sky's the limit. It is inexpensive, with no age barrier. The incorporation of ink, acrylic, gesso, watercolor, gouache, etc., opens up endless possibilities. No matter what sort of art enthusiast you are, melding one medium with another, can create incredible visuals. Art is all about exploring new horizons. Mixed media paintings encourage just that, by helping us to push boundaries, and to create art that is not only unique to you, but also to those around you.

      The beauty of mixed media art is that it lets an artist's voice emerge even more! Just remember a few basic rules like water-based first and oil-based last! Stepping out of your comfort zone can definitely take your art to the next level! So, why not throw caution to the wind, grab your tools, and just create?

      Ready to explore mixed media painting? Check out our fantastic range of products, exclusively created for mixed media!

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