The Great Mixed Media Experiment

The past couple of months have been super busy. I’ve started taking wholesale orders with some of my prints and greetings cards, and since I’m a one-woman operation, a big order can take days to fill. I’ve been working hard to come up with a weekly schedule that gives me enough time to make new work, though–it seems like an easy task, but it’s been hard to carve out enough time for myself. I’m delighted that my new business is growing, don’t get me wrong–it just means that now I have to learn to prioritize a bit better–and that means prioritizing myself, too. 

A friend of mine told me that I needed to create a Google calendar. “Make blocks of times you need for all of the things you want to get done in a week,” he said. “Then move those blocks around into a time frame that works.” It sounded simplistic when he said it, but I did it anyway. And you know what? It worked. My method had been too simple: I’d simply written down 2-3 things that I had to do each day: deadlines for clients, orders to fill, a new show to prep for. I hadn’t block out times in the day to do these things, but considered my days a success when I completed those tasks. 

But here’s the thing my friend was saying: I needed structure. I needed to have an outline for my day, to keep myself on track. My friend explained that if I was feeling overwhelmed, I needed to find more time in my day–I likely had more time in the day than I thought, he explained, and I’d find gaps if I made myself a schedule. 

I thought he was totally full of it, because I felt like my days were jam-packed. But when i took the time to schedule tasks during my day, I saw that he was right. I did some gaps in my day, and I could see how to arrange my tasks in a better way so that I (1) didn’t feel flustered during the day, and (2) could stop trying to “work in” certain tasks that could be scheduled for an hour. 

In case you’re curious what this looks like, I’ll drop a screen shot of my calendar below. 

I’ve done this for a few weeks now, and it’s made a huge difference in how I feel each day (less hurried, more relaxed). Because of this new structure in my week, I just said yes to a new project that turned out to be both freeing and invigorating. I was invited to send some pieces to an exhibit by the Southern Highland Craft Guild in D.C. I was delighted to be asked, and I wanted to send some new work. I had a few prints that I could frame, but I wanted to send one-of-a-kind pieces. I’d been wanting to experiment more with monoprinting and mixed media, and this gave me the perfect excuse. 

Mixed media was way outside of my comfort zone: I’ve dabbled in it a little, and experimented with using monoprint techniques to make big colorful prints with details and textures that I can’t really achieve with my usual linocut or woodcut printing. But in the past, I haven’t had a lot of success with it. I had 10 days to make some new pieces for the show, so I got out my calendar and scheduled myself a few hours of work time each day. Then I watched some videos by Tom Quigley, an artist who does some really interesting work with mixed media. After watching, I had a head full of ideas I wanted to try, and was eager to layer those ideas with some printing techniques, too. 

Quigley said in one of his lessons that “mistakes are part of the process.” So I took that to heart. I gave myself two rules here. (1) Have fun. (2) Don’t overthink things, and let myself make mistakes. I added layers of interesting papers (like pages from a road atlas and tissue paper) and then added layers of gesso and paint. The trick was to add light, translucent layers, and resist the temptation to pile on dark or super saturated colors. If I made a mistake, I’d just cover it up with another layer and keep going. 

This idea of covering up my mistakes and forging ahead was seriously liberating. If you know my work, you know that I do things that are meticulous, like woodcuts. If I make a mistake somewhere in the carving or the printing (especially with a multi-block print), then 99% of the time, there is no covering that mistake. It’s just wrecked. Sometimes I can start over. Sometimes I can’t. Sometimes it’s really disheartening to get almost to the finish line, and then make a mistake that ruins the print. 

But working this way, layering color, texture, and yes, even some prints on Japanese paper—was quite satisfying. I let myself play, I made myself get away from my comfort zone—just for 10 days, just to see what happened. Some pieces were more successful than others—I definitely had clear favorites—but overall this was a great way to try something a little different and loosen up and have some fun with the process. 

Will I be doing more with mixed media? You bet. Will I work as fast as I did last week? Probably not. 🙂 Sometimes I like the pressure that comes with a deadline, but more often I need to be able to take my time and explore while I work. I learned some things though this process, though–one of which was that my favorite pieces (pictured here) were the ones that I spent the least amount of time with. That’s not to say they were made quickly, but rather that I didn’t try too many processes on them or overwork them. It was hard to decide when these were finished, but for these two, it was easy. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut. I’ve been learning that lesson a lot lately. 

I ended up with six new pieces last week, all of which are headed to D.C. I’ll be making archival print reproductions of a few of my favorites, and those will be available in my Etsy shop soon.