Stepping Stones is a monthly column that breaks down seemingly daunting tasks into simple, manageable “steps” that any art educator can take and apply directly to their classroom. Stepping Stones will explore a variety of topics and share advice for art-on-a-cart teachers and those with art rooms.
MIXED MEDIA MANIA
by Heidi O’Hanley
Creating artworks with multiple materials are some of the most memorable projects a student can treasure. There’s so much experimentation in the process, and opportunities to integrate other ideas within the project creation.
Mixed media is defined as an artwork created with more than one medium. Common mixed-media projects are altered books, artist trading cards, collage (assemblage), quilt art, and inter-media. Many mixed-media techniques are experimented with in the upper grade levels, but can also be used as early as pre-kindergarten.
When I think of mixed media, I think of STEAM because there is a great opportunity to tie in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to the finished artworks. When coming up with a mixed-media project, there are a few things to keep in mind when designing and executing the lesson. I must confess that some of the tips to be shared were learned by experimentation.
1. Browse your materials. Some of the most common mixed-media projects require the simplest of materials, such as crayons to watercolor, or Mod Podge® for assemblage. Take the time to go through your collected materials and research what art medium can work with others. I recommend browsing art education blogs with lesson ideas or visiting websites of art supply companies that list multiple mixed-media lesson plans.
2. Experiment with what you have. If you have a wonderful idea using multiple materials for your students’ finished products, know what works together and what doesn’t. This is where it is always best to create your finished example before executing the lesson. It’s good to learn first hand what materials can be water resistant or bleed colors when wet.
Document what steps are involved in the process. Are you incorporating technology? Do you plan on having students create beginning designs of their products before executing the final piece? Are there precise measurements involved? Practicing these steps and performing your experimentation will help you execute the lesson with better ease.
3. Explore multiple techniques. Assemblage and resist are two of my go-to techniques with younger grade levels. My younger students are always interested in the magic of crayons or oil pastels resisting watercolors or tempera paint. It is also fun to assemble multiple images or drawings and add more elements, such as paint, gel markers or even air-dry clay for 3-D pieces. My older students enjoy altering materials, like playing with torn paper, adding images in collage, or painting over found objects.
4. Know there will be successes and failures. In my 11 years in education, I have had a few lessons that have been tossed out or heavily modified. One of my most memorable examples was when I started my “stained glass” tissue paper project with sixth grade. I wanted to create a glass effect using tissue paper on clear vellum, and applied black glue to trace the images, which made the glass designs stand out.
When I first started the project, I learned that regular glue was not the glue to use to apply the tissue paper. After many projects dried, the vellum and the tissue paper peeled apart. I also learned that with using the black glue, projects needed to be dried flat and not on the drying racks, or else they would leak. I learned that Mod Podge did the trick and created a shiny effect with the tissue paper. If you start a project off from scratch, you will find out what works after playing with new materials with your students.
5. Organize the chaos. Working with multiple materials can be fun and exciting, but when you work with different media (especially when you’re on a cart), you need to keep a stricter eye on the creativity in the room, especially if you have limited amounts of items to use. I always need to keep this in mind when using feathers, beads, pipe cleaners or other embellishment materials.
Students want to cake their projects with every bead available, but when the last class is ready to start their project, you end up running out. Make sure to divide the materials available with all your classes. There are some projects where I encourage students to pick up their own embellishments, which makes the product more exciting and personal for the maker. Also, when working with an abundance of materials, allow for additional cleanup time with younger grade levels.
6. Enjoy your students’ amazing products! When the artworks are completed, have the students reflect on their process. You can achieve this through artist statements or critiques. You can also have the students talk about the steps used in creating their artworks. In an open critique, ask them how they felt about the process and finished product.
Enjoy your mixed-media projects with your students. They are some of the best artworks to make with your students.
Arts & Activities Contributing Editor, Heidi O’Hanley (NBCT), teaches art at Brodnicki Elementary School in Justice, Illinois. Visit her blog at www.talesfromthetravellingartteacher.blogspot.com.