When combining several different media in a painting there is the complex issue of what works best with what, and in what order, to avoid ‘mixed mess’ rather than mixed media!

Discover ways to ensure best results with top tips for mixed-media painting from Robert Dutton.

Autumn Afternoon, Watendlath, Borrowdale, Lake District, mixed media on Canson Moulin du Roy Not watercolour paper 300lb (640gsm), (51x56cm)

'Watercolour, gouache and Unison Colour soft earth colour pastels were all I needed to complete this plein-air painting. I worked upright from an easel to let the fluid paint washes run and quickly worked into them with the pastel and gouache layers. Colours are bright and clean and the contrasts between the rich darks and pure white paper add the necessary contrasts. I particularly like the background sky – I went straight in, wet-in-wet with a large Pro Arte hake brush loaded with bright pigments'.

Before you begin

  • Be positive.
  • Let go and allow your ideas to flow.
  • Allow the media to interact and watch what happens without fiddling.
  • Make sure you have a basic understanding of colour mixing and drawing.
  • Remember that planning and preparation are the most important aspects of mixed media.
  • Be prepared to take advantage of any happy accidents that occur.
  • Invest in quality materials if you can.

Types of mixed media

Mixed media can be divided into three specific areas:

  • Water-based media - watercolour, water-soluble pencils, gouache, inks, acrylic paint, acrylic spray paints, acrylic markers with auxiliaries
  • Dry media  - hard and soft pastels, Conté, charcoal, graphite and various pencils and graphite sticks
  • Oil media - oil paint, oil bars and oil pastels.

Rock Pools Towards the Sea, mixed media on Canson HP watercolour paper 140lb (300gsm), (56x76cm)

'Metallic paints and inks are great to work with. Their shimmer gives a dynamic to your mixed-media paintings. I added Winsor & Newton watercolour ganulating medium to bronze metallic ink, which split the inks to create tantalizing marbling effects'

Watch as Robert paints a bluebell wood using mixed-media painting techniques

Why not paint more spring flowers and follow Soraya French as she paints a carpet of snowdrops using acrylic, ink and pastel?


  • Combining several media does need some thought and planning to ensure a successful outcome. Some media resist each other whilst others merge and blend to create other unusual effects.
  • As a rule of thumb use a dry media at the closing stages of a mixed-media painting. They are great for enhancing surface texture, adding accent colours and blend into one another very easily. Dry media are also really useful for softening hard edges of a wash or to create broken colour effects to enhance surface texture and detail.
  • Wet paint layered over pastel (fixed or not) muddies and dulls the pigments so care must be taken to avoid paintings looking dull and lifeless if you adopt this approach. It takes practice to apply washes over pastel but soft diffused and smoky effects can be created with expert handling between the media.
  • Dry media can be added to create a graphical aspect and become part of the layering process. These tend to be indelible media such as oil pastel, indelible ink, soft pure graphite, Derwent Lightfast pencils (oil based) and so on, which will resist water-based media applied over them. In this way the drawn marks become a valid part of a mixed-media painting.

Robert’s ten top tips for mixed media artists

  1. Experiment with your media to find out what works best for you. Trials not tribulations are very much part of the discoveries to be made with combinations of media.
  2. Let the paint run, mix and in effect do its own thing, rather than fiddle with it. Great things happen when you leave the paint alone.
  3. Learn about colour and acquire more than just basic drawing skills. Put both into practice as often as possible – they are key to being confident and successful with mixed-media painting.
  4. Do your research. Watch videos, join art classes and mixed-media art holidays. Having an open mind to different styles and skills will help you to develop.
  5. Invest in quality art materials. Cheaper brands very often lead to disappointing results, which can result in a lack of confidence.
  6. Do vary your painting sizes by working both large and small scale.
  7. Be willing to revisit a subject again and again until you feel comfortable with it. Familiarity will bring content, not contempt.
  8. Experiment with different surface textures of paper, canvas and board. I will focus more on different surfaces later in this series.
  9. Learn from your mistakes.
  10. Keep an open mind. ‘Traditional’ painting skills are important to acquire but don’t feel you have to follow all the rules. Learn them first before breaking them.

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What do you use for mixed-media art? Discover successful media combinations: