Oh, the thrill of walking into an art supply store and seeing all those pretty paint tubes lined up, calling to you to bring them home. But before you blow your budget, consider a few things: You don’t have to have it all. A few tubes of paint, a surface to paint on, and a brush or two will give you a good start. I suggest using a variety of materials for the projects in this book, but I encourage you to be resourceful. Adapt with what you have on hand, substitute when possible, and be innovative with your supplies. If you are interested in learning about art supplies, we’ll review the possibilities in this chapter.



Selecting supplies is a personal process because it depends on the style of art you make and the specific techniques you prefer to use. I’m happy to tell you what I like, but the best advice I can give you is to get to work and discover what works best for you. When you play with materials, you’ll see what feels natural to your process and to the type of art you want to make. With a bit of information, you can make informed choices.

Acrylic Paint

My favorite medium is acrylic paint. It’s easy to use, fast-drying, very forgiving, and versatile. You can mix it with almost any other water-based medium and make magic with layer after layer of buildable paint.

  • The basic formula for acrylic paint is pigment plus an acrylic binder. Start with the best paint that fits your budget. Higher-quality paints contain more pigment and higher-quality binders, so colors are more saturated and cover more surface. These paints have better permanence or lightfastness over time, so your work won’t fade. I can’t say this enough: You will improve faster and be happier with the results by using better paint. I like Golden® Acrylic Paints for their quality and color selection.
  • Student-grade paints generally offer less coverage because they have less pigment, and the colors tend to become darker as they dry. The binder is often weaker or has fillers that can leave your painting dry and chalky. But, sometimes cheaper paint is good for creating the first layers of large-scale works. I mix and match brands as needed, since all acrylic paints can be mixed.
  • If you’re on a budget, start with the three colors needed for modern color theory: primary cyan, primary yellow, and primary magenta, plus titanium white. You can always add more colors as you discover your signature palette, but having every color is never necessary when you know how to mix them.
  • Paint viscosity refers to a paint’s thickness, which affects how it flows. Heavy-body paint is thicker, offering painterly and often textured results. Fluid paint is more like heavy cream and can work as either a thin wash or for watercolor effects. Both can have the same pigment load, since only the binder is different.

Acrylic Mediums

Mediums can dramatically alter your paint by creating new and exciting textures and finishes for your work. Mediums control a paint’s transparency, fluidity, texture, and surface sheen, while other additives control how long a paint stays wet and workable. Though I tend to like my paint pure from the tube, mediums can add extra punch to your work. Here are a few mediums to try; some are included in the projects in chapter 4:

  • Gesso: Traditionally used as a base for painting, gesso is made from a combination of pigment, chalk, and binder. Gesso prepares substrates, such as canvas or wood panels, for paint and other mediums. I use it as a substitute for white paint because it’s fluid and opaque. Gesso also comes in a number of colors, as well as clear, which I use on unfinished wood so that the wood grain becomes part of my art.
  • Heavy-body matte gel medium: Heavy-body gel medium is thicker than regular gel medium and may be blended with paint to create texture. It’s my preferred adhesive for collage because it has a low moisture content and is less likely to wrinkle paper.
  • Fluid (or regular) matte medium: This is a pourable medium that can be used for extending the dry time of paint and for decreasing its sheen. It can also be used as an adhesive for collage.
  • Texture mediums: This category includes molding paste, crackle paste, glass bead gel, and tar gel—all mediums that will add texture to your artwork. Each has unique properties and can be blended with paint. The best way to become familiar with these mediums is to just play with them.
  • Fixative: I prefer the brand SpectraFix. Unlike other potentially toxic fixatives, this one (made with casein, water, and alcohol) is low odor and can be used indoors. It seals and protects artwork and is especially useful for preventing graphite, pastel, and charcoal from smearing before adding an additional layer.
  • GAC 100: This medium can be used for thinning or extending colors and for increasing the flexibility of paint. It is made from the same acrylic polymer base that Golden paint is made from. GAC stands for Golden Acrylic Colors, and the 100 is its series number.


Finding the right brush is a matter of trial and error, but I have a few suggestions. Generally, a better brush that is well cared for will last longer.

  • Acrylic paint can ruin a natural bristle, so synthetic brushes are recommended. These are generally more affordable, leave smoother brushstrokes, and hold and release more paint than natural bristles. I encourage artists to use a long-handle brush to keep their artwork loose and free. My favorite brushes are Princeton Catalyst Polytip brushes. They’re a bit stiffer than most brushes on the market, which fits my painting style, and can hold up to vigorous wear.
  • When choosing a brush, check to see if the ferrule is secure. The ferrule is the crimped metal section of the brush that attaches the bristles to the handle. Also, make sure the bristles are straight and even.
  • Through experimentation and play, you can decide if you want your brushes to be stiff or soft, square or round, small or large. But don’t limit yourself. A cheap brush for house paint can still work wonders. It’s all a matter of preference and experience that will tell you which works best for you.

Mark-Making Tools

I can’t get enough of lines, texture, and gestural marks. I’m willing to experiment with anything that will make a mark. I’m often asked why I scribble all over my surface before I paint, only to cover it up. This technique is such a beautiful release of emotion, and I’m also not starting with a blank page. I’ve begun my work with energy and motion that guide me into the next step of my process. This spirit continues while I’m working, as I love to run oil pastel or water-soluble graphite through my wet paint or add lots of marks at the very end of a piece to express my final touch. I highly recommend playing with all the supplies you have at your disposal to discover some great mark-making tools. These are a few of my favorites:

  • Water-soluble graphite is one of the most versatile ways to add instant drama to mixed media, and it is my first choice when I want to shake things up. I like chunky pencils or sticks, such as Lyra or ArtGraf®, and I add marks where my intuition leads me—sometimes to start a painting and other times when I want to let loose on a painting that is turning in the wrong direction.
  • Oil pastels are like crayons for adults. They’re made with a high pigment load, oil binder, and wax and are perfect for adding a finishing touch to your art. They are great for making a strong mark through wet paint or for adding final details. One caveat: Don’t add acrylic paint over the pastels. The acrylic paint won’t adhere properly because it’s oil based.
  • You can also incorporate colored pencils, acrylic paint markers, charcoal, fine-line black markers, chalk pastels, and a simple number 2 pencil. I like using chunky Stabilo® Woody 3 in 1s, which are colored pencils, wax crayons, and watercolors all in one and are very fun to use.

Collage Elements

I love paper and found objects, including clever packaging, clothing tags, and doodled notes. I save them all. Collage resources are endless if you keep your eyes open. If collage layers speak to your design sensibility, add them to any work of art. Using found treasures is a great way to preserve pieces of your life in your artwork and make it more uniquely you. Here are a few sources for ephemera to explore:

  • Daily consumption items: magazines, flyers, packaging, tags, junk mail, gift wrap, note cards, receipts, and event tickets
  • Purchased supplies: textured handmade paper, origami papers, scrapbook paper, stickers, tape, wrapping paper
  • Vintage finds: maps, postcards, book pages, letters, ledgers, advertisements, labels, wallpaper, dress patterns, diaries, sheet music
  • Handmade: hand-printed textures, stamps, drawings, painted patterns, gel prints, leftover scraps from art making


As much as I love collecting found treasures to use in my work, there is nothing I relish more than using my own art papers. Make art out of your own art? Yes! While this book shows you how to use color in mixed media projects, I want to share the pleasures of creating your own mixed media materials. I’ll get you started with gel printing, but be warned—once you start, you won’t want to stop.

A gel printing plate is a hypoallergenic polymer material made with mineral oil that’s meant to replicate a homemade gelatin printing plate. I believe it’s better to buy a premade plate instead of making your own because it can last for years.

I like printing on cheap copy paper because it prints well and is thin enough to use easily in collage. I also use deli paper (yes, the same stuff they use to wrap sandwiches). I also print on found papers, such as sheet music and old book pages. To print, you’ll need paint (I prefer fluid acrylic, but heavy-body paint works as well), a brayer, and mark-making items that won’t damage the plate: stencils, stamps, silicone hot pads, placemats, bubble wrap, cardboard, packing materials, leaves, flowers, feathers, string, brushes, etc.


1 | Start with a small amount of paint on the plate. If you use too much paint, you won’t get good prints. A penny-sized amount will do. Use a brayer to roll out a thin layer of paint across the plate (use two colors if you’d like). Roll any excess paint on scrap paper.


2 | Place a stencil on the plate. You can also press soft-textured items, such as bubble wrap or corrugated cardboard, into the wet paint to create patterns.


3 | Press a sheet of paper onto the plate and rub around the cutouts in the stencil. Gently pull the paper off the gel plate.


4 | Remove the stencil and wait one or two minutes for the paint to dry on the plate. Add another thin layer of lighter or darker paint with the brayer. Place another element on the plate, such as another stencil, a stamp, or an item that creates texture or a pattern. I added string.


5 | Press a clean sheet of paper onto the plate and pull a print. Experiment and repeat for long, blissful hours of relaxation.



PAPER: Paper is available in smooth or rough texture, heavyweight or lightweight, and is made for a variety of uses, such as mixed media or watercolor. While it’s easy to get lost in the choices, I use one paper for all my mixed media projects: Stonehenge® printmaking paper by Legion. This paper is smooth and lightweight but still sturdy enough to accommodate all my layers of paint and collage. Stonehenge is available in a range of colors, and my favorites are white, fawn, and kraft. I use large sheets for bigger artwork, or I tear it into smaller sizes, which gives me beautiful deckled edges. I often float my work in a frame to reveal all the details up to the very edge of the painting.


CANVAS: I like using professional-grade stretched canvas with 1½-inch (3.5 cm) deep sides so I don’t have to frame my artwork. If you paint the sides of the canvas, your artwork will look great hanging on a wall. Use student-grade canvases with caution because the stretcher bars may be weak and the canvas may warp or rip over time, especially if your work is layered. I always add a coat of gesso to my canvas before I begin painting to ensure the artwork will last—just in case someone wants to keep my work for a hundred years or more!

BOARDS: Cradled wood boards are one of my favorite surfaces to work on because they’re sturdy, not flexible, and can hold layer after layer of mixed media. I always tape the edges of the board before painting to preserve the wood for hanging. I use unfinished wood boards and prepare the surface with an even coat of clear gesso or matte medium, which allows the wood grain to show through. I also use white gesso as a base, spreading it unevenly across the surface with a brayer. This allows the wood to show through in spots, especially the edges.

Here’s how to prepare a cradled wood board:

1 | Tape the edges of the board with painter’s tape or clear packing tape to preserve the natural wood sides.


2 | To allow the wood grain to show through as you paint, prepare the surface with clear gesso or fluid matte medium. This also seals the surface.

If you wish to use white gesso as a base, squeeze some directly onto the board and use a brayer to evenly cover the surface. Allow the gesso to dry completely before beginning your painting.


ART JOURNALS: Do not discount the power of an art journal. Working in an art journal lets you try ideas without worrying about producing a finished product, and you can also keep a history of your ideas and progress. Some artists don’t see the point of art journaling because the art in it can’t be sold. That ignores the joy of creating just for the process, and it skips a vital step: practice.

I highly encourage you to invest in an art journal so you can use it for the warm-up lessons in this book and refer back to your previous work. Don’t skip the warm-ups because this is how, over time, you will learn to master color. Any type of art journal will do, but these are my favorites:

  • Strathmore® Mixed Media: This spiral-bound book lies flat or can be folded back. I often use this style of journal for color collecting.
  • Bound journals with heavy art paper: My preference is the Stillman & Birn Epsilon Series, which has smooth bright white paper. The paper isn’t as heavy as watercolor paper, but it’s strong enough to hold all my layers of paint.
  • Discarded books: I love turning old catalogs, storybooks, or cookbooks into art journals by adding a very light layer of gesso to each page before I begin painting. These art journals are not precious, and original printed book pages lend new ideas and a certain type of freedom to explore without risk.
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