Mixed Media collage art, Mills and Me

Over the last couple of years I have started to create mixed media collage art.  In the last few months I have started to evolve them in a different, less literal direction. This blog post reflects on this new start point.

Mixed Media collage art, mills and me

Although my mixed media works are based on my experience of Place, they are no longer a literal visual enactment of it.  Exposure to different media and opportunities to use different mark making techniques and ways of thinking has enabled a less rigid mind-set. I want to progress with more interpreted, organic works that enable a portrayal of the feel, the emotions, the ‘sense’ of place that goes beyond the literal scene.   This thinking is enabling a different and more experimental and iterative approach to my subject matter. The focus now, is in trying to create processes that enable me to show and share those feelings!  The finished pieces will certainly have ‘my’ feel of the place, from shapes, lines and patterns, to texture and colour, albeit without portraying a literal scene.


So far this year, I have attended two workshops that have helped me to start to develop my approaches to painting. The first was a weekend course with Annie Luke Turner in Grasmere and Kendal. Sketches were created in the field and taken back to the studio to develop into semi-abstract mixed media pieces. The tuition and approaches taught were inspiring and freeing. They really helped me to start explore sketching in different ways to my usual, literal and illustrational ways and to think about what my experiences could look like in a studio piece! Check out my blog post: what’s in a sketch, that talks about my different sketching approaches.

mixed media collage art, mark making
mixed media collage art abstract mark making

I also attended an Emily Ball Seawhite Course with Julian Brown entitled: Colour, Rhythm and Abstraction. This course started the process of teaching me about acrylic paints: looking at luminoscity, rhythm and balance in painting. Learning more about layering paint and the use of various mediums, was a particularly useful aspect. It is early days but it started me thinking about how I use the paint and collage together.

mixed media collage  layering

These are just start points, but they have been instrumental in my early progress. I’m also trying to develop understanding through looking to galleries and favourite art pieces and artists for inspiration.


Like many artists, I like to work in series. The lessons learnt from one piece can be explored and used in another. I believe that it enables a more substantive and less ‘goldfish bowl’ approach to my work. It also fits with my preference for detailed preliminary investigations and studies to fuel a body of work. I find this to be more meaningful. My very first series (which I have only made a start on), with this more abstract approach, is focused on Industrial cotton Mills. I’ve chosen mills for a number of reasons, the key ones being:

  • I’m fascinated with our Industrial Heritage and its history. As an urban sketcher, I have spent some time, looking at and sketching mills in and around Manchester. They are a strong symbol of that heritage.
  • My studio is based in an old Grade II listed Cotton Mill in Mossley providing an immersion and a convenience in studying Mills! Woodend Mill was a combined spinning and weaving mill. It is one of a few standing examples of this combined approach.
  • I am in love with the strong shapes, lines, patterns and textures that can be found in these incredible places. Such rich pickings for sketching and collage creation-mixed media paradise!

Mixed media collage art -Process

I start by creating sketches (including collage sketches) on location (covered in a recent blog post here). I then use these for initial inspiration, when I am back in the studio.

mixed media collage sketches

The studio start point so far has been the application of collage followed by layers of acrylic paint; pattern making; mark making and so on. I collect collage papers from all manner of places and supplement with my own papers and stamp print approaches (using bought stencils, handmade stencils and stamps etc). The slightly disconcerting thing for me is that I don’t start with the end in mind…because I don’t know what that looks like!

I start, at a place and then let the process take me. It takes a degree of nerve, but also provides a feeling of excitement. Because you respond to what is in front of you, I don’t have an overall detailed game plan. This feels a little uncomfortable (I’m a control freak!), but also, very freeing! There’s a bit of ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ about it. Or in the words of Forrest Gump: “My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” (for life, read painting!).

I am hopeful that the approaches will help lead to more exciting and edgy work; more ‘me’ than would be possible with a controlled approach. Especially given my tendency to overthink and over plan! The trick is to know when a piece is finished! Hopefully, over time, this immediacy followed by editing and tweaking (with a few ‘letting rip’ sessions thrown in for good measure!!), will pay dividends!

Mixed Media collage art- progress

My progress so far has been much slower than I had hoped. This is part to do with the fact that I am also teaching workshops and delivering illustration and reportage commissions (both of which I love, so I am not complaining!). It is also to do with the need to explore multiple aspects of my art production from surfaces to paint, papers and collage! Watch this space for more developments and let me know what you think? does any of this sound familiar?

3 thoughts on “Mixed Media collage art, Mills and Me

  1. I’ve spent part of today catching up with blog posts about your adventures in the making of mixed media paintings. Fascinating! And of great interest to me as I seem to have been following a similar path in recent months, although with less success than you, I think.
    Like you, I go out sketching, often with an urban sketch group, and always seem to come back with a carefully rendered and detailed drawing. I like what I’ve done but I know it won’t lead to anything else. The drawing is complete in itself and I rarely use it to make a painting. Essentially, I guess it’s an illustration of the scene and some have been used in publications that way.
    I’ve been on one of Karen Stamper’s concertina workshops and thoroughly enjoyed it; I even used some of the techniques on work I made in Crete but I seem to have faltered in my drive to become less descriptive, more abstract.
    I’m now working with acrylic almost entirely after years of painting in oils, and have used some collage but still in a somewhat descriptive way. Your progress has reawakened my belief that I can move forward in a similar way and make more personal work.
    All of which is a rather long way of saying how much I’ve enjoyed reading these recent posts of yours and apologising for not paying more attention to what you’ve been doing. Thanks for bearing with me.

    1. Thank you so much for your response Harry. Isn’t it interesting, all this literal vs. more personal work! I entirely agree, that sketches done as a literal scene are ends in themselves and not usable for development work in the studio (at least, not for me!). I think it’s one of those things that have to evolve over time. My first collages were like my urban sketches, just with paper!! then I started to look in all manner of directions to try to evolve more personally and less literally. I am very much at the beginning, but really looking forward to developing more. By the way, have you seen Jane Davies work-she does some great on-line stuff and lots of videos. Worth taking a look. They are really helpful.

  2. Thanks. I noticed your references to Jane Davies and have looked at one or two of her videos today. Unfortunately, the Collage Journeys book is long out of print and only available for around 40 quid. 🙁

Comments are closed.