My final essay in my English Composition class explores my worldview as an artist. I thought about writing about Film – after all I am a film major – but writing about being a Mixed Media Artist seemed more appropriate. My mixed media journey has introduced me to so many wonderful artists and a few of them shared with me stories of their own journey. A huge thanks goes out to Michelle Renée Bernard of Yesterday’s Trash and Melissa Strong of So Chick Handbags for being so open and willing to share their process. Please visit these amazing artists!
Mixed Media Mama: My Worldview as a Multimedia Artist
It is too bad you have to go to school to become an artist Mama because I was just born one.
Peyton Ross (age five)
A mixed media artist is defined by the unorthodox mixing of multiple mediums into a single piece of art. Although the term mixed media has become quite popular in recent years, like a lot of things, mixed media roots run deep into ancient Greece. As I drip natural beeswax over my own art pieces, I cannot help but feel connected to the artists that used encaustic paint to color and protect the sculptures that marked the graves and decorated the buildings of Athens thousands of years before the birth of Christ.
Mixed media speaks to me as an art form because it fully represents our crazy multimedia lives. In an interview with fellow mixed media artist, Michelle Renée Bernard, she discussed how using mixed media “is a combination of a lot of different things working together in harmony… and that is where my love is”. I find the same relates to me. As a mother, wife, student, business owner and as an artist, I mix various methods and mediums together to form an interconnected and harmonious life. My worldview as a mixed media and multimedia artist consists of living a mixed media life, exploring the movement and nurturing my muse.
MY MIXED MEDIA LIFE
The walkway to the door of Saint Mary’s church is blocked from the morning sun, making it slippery with dew even on the brightest of summer days and icy in the best of winter conditions. Despite this, the hand rail only supports half the walkway. The church sits at the top of a small hill and I know more people buried in the yard than I know living in the community. To the right of the church entrance is a weathered, moss covered, obelisk headstone with an epigraph that reads, “Killed at the Halifax Shipyard”. Legend has it that the man lying beneath the stone was murdered. The story of my great grandfather’s death goes something like this. He was about to receive a huge promotion that would involve moving his family far from Nova Scotia. At the time of his death he was working as a foreman in the electrical department of the Halifax Shipyard. On the morning of May 20th 1920 he was electrocuted and fell 30 feet to his death. My grandmother was three years old when her father was placed beneath the stone in Saint Mary’s cemetery. His wife, my great grandmother, had the stone purposefully engraved with the accusation.
My obsession with my great grandfather’s life started when my grandmother told me the story of his death over a card game of crazy eights we were playing to pass the time. Between bites of crispy handmade molasses cookies and sips of hot tea, my grandmother shared with me how a twist of fate guaranteed my birth. For years, I could not let go of the idea that my grandparents met, my mother was born and then gave birth to me, all because my great grandfather’s death meant my grandmother never moved away from home. I felt, and still feel overwhelmed with responsibility for the life I have, and this idea has shaped much of my creative experience. I do not remember a time when I did not write or want to create something that reached into the past. What really interests me is telling stories using a mixed media or multimedia format. Recently, I read 13 rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro and was inspired by the mixed media aspect of her book. Shapiro incorporated quick response codes so readers could use a cell phone to scan the code and bring up a high resolution photograph of the object she was discussing. I love the idea of taking a traditional medium such as novel writing and mixing in another layer of media to aid the reader. A mixed media artist employs many layers of many mediums and I am inspired by the possibilities of story telling through mixed media art.
Like Shapiro, I find inspiration from real life. In an interview posted on the website for 13 rue Thérèse, Shapiro talks about how she decided the timing was right to tell her story: “I think it was fully formed as a certainty when I came to the United States and the box came with me—because then I wanted to chronicle not only a person lost to history, but also a time and place I had personally lost: my childhood, France.” This is why I continue to go back to the time of my great grandfather’s life. My story does not start with my birth. My story starts with his death.
FROM MONASTERIES TO SOCCER MOMS
The term mixed media was first used by collage artists in the early 20th century. According to the Tate Museum’s website, “The use of mixed media began around 1912 with the Cubist collages and constructions of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque and has become widespread as artists developed increasingly open attitudes to the media of art.”, but studying art history will highlight another interesting form of mixed media that dates well before Picasso and Braque. Medieval manuscripts employ many mixed media techniques – the preparation of the vellum, the coping of text, the illuminating with paint and gold leaf, bring many mediums together to create a beautiful work of art. The craft of book making moved from the monasteries in to the secular realm because artists began to emerge and non monastic patrons began to value the cost associated with the skill involved. Brigitte Buettner shares in Profane Illuminations, Secular Illusions how “French royal and princely families assembled impressive private libraries, collections that were continuously enlarged by lavish manuscripts ordered directly from authors, translators, and illuminators” (75) The importance of the role of artist in our society reaches deep into our past and is often dependent on the support of patrons.
Mixed media, as a mainstream, modern art form received a lot of help from the scrapbooking movement. As avid scrapbookers looked for new papers, stamps and designs, a whole industry build up around them. By the mid-nineties magazines such as Somerset Studio were publishing full color inspiration for the paper and stamp enthusiast. Danille Elise Christensen discusses the wide range of media used in scrapbooking in her article, Look at Us Now: “today’s album pages are often carefully captioned elaborate collages of museum-quality materials. Attention to aesthetic framing is a prominent and increasingly varied feature of these books: ‘hipster’ pages − a riot of pattern, freeform doodling, and multi-media embellishments”. (177) Like the scrapbook, mixed media involves applying layers of mediums, in order to create balance within a composition – the piece is limited by only the imagination of the artist.
NURTURING THE MUSE
As well as living a mixed media life and exploring major movements of the art form, I enjoy following other mixed media artists and their methods in order to nurture my muse. Blogging has given us windows into the creative process of other artists and for me has created opportunities to make new friends. In an interview with Melissa Strong, an artist I met online, I asked her how she defined her creative process, she replied “I gather my ideas together in my notebook and sketch what I am thinking… it all will fall into place from there”. There is a bit of faith that goes into creating a piece, a journey towards the vision. Michelle Renée Bernard shared that “each piece becomes its own emotional journey”. Giving birth to an idea takes both patience and the willingness to push forward toward the final vision.
During a TED talk on Nurturing Creativity, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, discussed the moment her muse presented her with an idea. Gilbert shared that inspiration gives the choice to accept the thought and do something with it or let it go on to another artist. The mixed media mindset only increases the opportunity on how to engage with the muse. An idea comes to me, and I can write about it, or create a paper collage covered in beeswax, or maybe edit a short video, but most likely I will use a multimedia format and do all three. And if the idea does not inspire, I will let go and be mindful that another artist may be waiting for a little inspiration.
Mixed media is everywhere. The classical artist, who prepares the canvas with gesso, uses willow charcoal to create the form and then uses any variety of medium to add color, is technically a mixed media artist. But that is not what we mean when we say mixed media. We are really talking about the main stream art form that is not only showing up on canvas, but in clothing and gift card design, as well as website layouts and television commercials. The techniques of mixed media are available in both the online and offline worlds and there are no limits to the amount of media that can be mixed to create a piece of art.
I love the process of creating and many layers go into my creations. Ernest Hemingway shared his iceberg theory of stripping away all unnecessary text when describing his writing process. The idea that most of the work going into the creative experience is hidden within the final piece has long captured my attention. The viewer will only ever see or read the 10% that floats above sea level, but so much more is below the surface and I love knowing what lies beneath.
13 rue Therese. 13 rue Therese explore page. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.
Bernard, Michelle Renée. “My Interview Answers.” Message to the author. 22 Feb. 2012. Email.
Buettner, Brigitte. “Profane Illuminations, Secular Illusions: Manuscripts in Late Medieval
Courtly Society.” The Art Bulletin. (1992): 75-90 JSTOR. Web 29 Feb 2012.
Christensen, Danille Elise. “Look at Us Now!: Scrapbooking, Regimes of Value, and the Risks
of (Auto) Ethnography” Journal Of American Folklore 124.493 (2011): 175-210. Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 29 Feb. 2012.
Glibert, Elizabeth. Nurturing Creativity. TED. Web. 29 Feb 2012.
Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers. New York: Back Bay Books / Little, Brown and Company, 2008.
Shapiro, Elena Mauli. 13 rue Thérèse. New York: Reagan Arthur Books / Little, Brown and
Company, 2011. Print.
Strong, Melissa. “Quick Interview.” Message to the author. 23 Feb. 2012. Email
Tate. Mixed Media page. Web. 29 Feb. 2012