Technique Tuesdays: Alternative art substrates

Mixed-media artists are known for their creative use of materials and tools. And just as they seek to find the best paintbrush or the most reliable pens for their work, they also take time to experiment with alternative art substrates. What they create on can be as inspiring or exhilarating as what they create, and that can take their art in new directions.

Whether they are reused or reinvented, the alternative art substrates used below will get you thinking about items in your world that you can use for your own creative expression.

  1. In the May 2015 Cloth Paper Scissors Art Lesson: Pastels with a Punch, Jenny Cochran Lee uses deli paper as her substrate. Why deli paper? Lee says she loves that it pulls paint cleanly off of a monoprinting plate, even the most delicate prints. Deli paper is inexpensive, so great for experimentation, and, though it looks delicate, deli paper stands up to all kinds of mixed-media manipulation. Lee usually leans toward bolder colors, but she couldn’t resist the beautiful pastels that resulted from using deli paper for her paper flowers.
Deli papers worked as alternative art substrates for Jenny Cochran Lee in her Cloth Paper Scissors Art Lesson.

Printing and sewing on deli paper offers beautiful results, like this funky flower. (Art by Jenny Cochran Lee, photo by Sharon White Photography)

  1. In the book Adventures in Mixed Media Art, Mary Beth Shaw plays with cardboard as an art surface, adhering assorted elements, sanding it, and using stencils. In some areas, Shaw cuts away the top layer of paper to reveal the corrugated layer beneath, creating windows. The result: a unique, textural collage. Shaw suggests thinking of ways to repurpose supplies, scraps, and products you have on hand to make and incorporate in your art, just as she repurposed used packaging for this collage.
Corrugated cardboard is just one of many alternative art substrates used in collage by artists in Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.

Simple cardboard packaging is transformed into this interesting, layered collage. (Art by Mary Beth Shaw)

  1. Books destined for the recycling bin have long been a popular substrate among artists, but artist Len Davis found a unique way to use them. After discovering a discarded paperback book while on a bike ride one day, he decided the pages were the perfect substrate for his drawings. In the September/October 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, Davis shared his technique for his project, “A Thousand Words.” He drew 100 faces, and literally embedded them in a thousand words—the book pages. Using the pages from the paperback gave him uniformly sized canvases for his drawings, to which he added collage.
Book pages come alive as alternative art substrates for portraits by Len Davis in Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.

Book pages make unique canvases for compelling portraits. (Art by Len Davis, photo by Sharon White Photography)

  1. Regina Lord’s elegantly painted rocks show that the most mundane items can get an upgrade in an artist’s hands. In the Spring 2016 issue of Zen Doodle Workshop, Lord shared her process, suggesting you paint whatever comes to mind, and use the rocks as fun décor accents or gifts. Lord recommends letting the shape of the rock guide you as you paint, using a small, round brush and acrylic ink to render fine lines, swirls, lines, and dots. Long rocks are great for words; round rocks are perfect for flowers and mandalas. Give it a try!
Rocks are intriguing alternative art substrates in the hand of artist Regina Lord in Zen Doodle Workshop.

Rocks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and so does the art created on these alternative art substrates. (Art by Regina Lord, photo by Sharon White Photography)

  1. Lamenting the fact that her colorful journal pages were often hidden away, Julie Fei-Fan Blazer decided to use several of her art journaling techniques on a unique surface that she would see (and use) daily: an apron. In the May/June 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, she doodled, painted, stenciled, and stitched to create a one-of-a-kind creation. One of Julie’s great tips is to use a small Thermofax screen to add one-of-a-kind designs to the apron, enhancing the layers of color and visual texture. Balzer cautions not to make the apron too precious, and allow it to improve over time with the addition of splashes, wipes, and daily wear.
Using alternative art substrates is not unusual in Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. Here an apron becomes a colorful piece of art.

This canvas apron became an art canvas for a variety of mixed-media techniques. (Art by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer, photo by Sharon White Photography)

  1. Kelli Nina Perkins used an everyday object as her substrate, and transformed it into a work of art. In Perkins’ hands, a garment bag was brought to life with her designed and printed fabrics, featuring text, drawings, sayings, and more, in the May/June 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. Perkins took the design further with free-motion machine stitching and decorative hand stitching. She made the garment bag (and shares the technique in the article), but just think of the number of canvas items you already have in your home that could be embellished this way. One standout technique: Create ransom-note text to add a saying to the bag by first cutting out random letters from magazines to form words, and gluing them on paper. Scan the paper and print the images on inkjet printable fabric, then cut the words out and stitch them to the canvas.
A gament bag is one of many alternative art substrates you'll see used in Cloth Paper Scissors magazine..

This plain gament bag went from so-so to so cool in the hands of mixed-media artist Kelli Perkins. (Art by Kelli Nina Perkins, photo by Sharon White Photography)

  1. Looking for unique home décor? Kathi Taylor Shearer chose gourds as alternative art substrates to doodle on, and showed how in “Gourd Doodles” in the Winter 2016 issue of Zen Doodle Workshop. Shearer painted the dried gourds and then added doodles with a Sakura® Pigma® Micron® pen, adding dimension with more black and some shading. Shearer notes that it’s important to keep turning the gourd to facilitate drawing on the curved surface. She also suggests trying doodle designs on paper before attempting them on the gourd. This technique isn’t limited to gourds–try it on your pumpkins next fall.
Gourds make interesting alternative art substrates for doodling for Kathy Shearer in Zen Doodle Workshop.

Dried gourds make interesting alternative art substrates for painting and doodling. (Art by Kathy Taylor Shearer, photo by Sharon White Photography)

  1. An unadorned shoulder bag became an art surface for Tracie Lyn Huskamp in “A Personalized Message Bag” in the July/August 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. Huskamp offers several tips for a successful project. First, Apply 2–3 coats of paint to create a solid surface before adding your sketched design (she created stunning flowers). Using the sketch as your guide, she suggests using 2–5 colors for the design, starting with large blocks of color and leaving the details for later. Also, avoid leaving hard lines between the colors you use, which can make your painting look choppy.
Utilitarian items are often used as alternatice art substrates in Cloth Paper Scissor magazine.s

Everyday objects make great alternative art substrates. (Art by Tracie Lyn Huskamp, photo by Sharon White Photography)

  1. According to Kathryn Costa, mandalas and parasols were made for each other. In “Mandala Parasol” in the Fall 2016 issue of Zen Doodle Workshop, a paper parasol became a canvas for colorful doodling. Costa says the key to success is making sure the pencil markings for the mandala design are consistently drawn around the parasol. She notes that darker colors of Sharpie markers fill a shape easily, whereas lighter colors, such as yellow or orange, may require a second coat after the first one is dry. She also suggests working from the center out to prevent smudging.
Alternative art substrates, like this parasol, offer intersting opportunities for design in Zen Doodle Workshop magazine.

A paper parasol comes to life with vibrant color and mandala designs. (Art by Kathryn Costa, photo by Sharon White Photography)

  1. Bathroom tissue was given new respect in Donna-Marie Cecere’s “Tantalizing Tissue” article in the July/August 2104 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. Yes, you heard it right—Cecere used bathroom tissue as alternative art substrates, creating colorful, textural beauties. After laying a gel medium/water mixture on a stamp, she applied several layers of tissue, removed the compressed tissue from the stamp, sprayed it with inks, and then embellished it, using the embossed areas as a guide. Although the substrate will be stiff at first, it will loosen up as it is handled and worked on. Cecere cautions that the gel medium mixture must be applied liberally for best results, and notes the importance of using a brayer over the last layer, rolling in one direction only to prevent tearing.
Bathroom tissue as alternative art substrates for mixed-media art; art by Donna-Marie Cecere from Cloth Paper Scissors magazine

Who knew that bathroom tissue would make great alternative art substrates? (Art by Donna-Marie Cecere, photo by Sharon White Photography)

Inspired to do some experimenting with alternative art substrates? Here are some resources to get you started and keep you inspired.

Alternative Art Surfaces by Darlene Olivia McElroy & Sandra Duran Wilson

Alternative Art Surfaces by Darlene Olivia McElroy & Sandra Duran Wilson offers more than 35 alternative art substrates for mixed-media art.

Adventures in Mixed Media, Edited by Amy Jones

Editor Amy Jones has gathered a great mix of techniques and projects to up your mixed-media fun in Adventures in Mixed Media Art,.

Alternative Art Substrates

Printmaking Unleashed, by Traci Bautista, offers a plethora of creative ideas for making tools, marks, prints, and more.

Alternative art substrates

The Winter 2016 issue of Zen Doodle Workshop features doodling on a variety of surfaces: gourds, jewelry, metal, and more.

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