How to draw with mixed media

Learning how to draw with mixed media is no easy feat, but it can be hugely rewarding, not to mention fun experimenting and combining various materials for original mixed media art. And it makes a great addition to your design portfolio.

The illustrators of the Golden Age, the Symbolist painters and the Pre-Raphaelites have all passed through my imagination and influenced my art. There’s a wide palette of emotions in these images tinted with lyricism and sprinkled with symbolism. I like the ornamental friezes of Heinrich Lefler, the movement of Rackham, the poetry of Dulac, the lights of Doré, the softness of Waterhouse, the strength of Böcklin and the great classical topics of Alma-Tadema.

Art influences

Art Nouveau, Art Deco and the Arts and Craft movements quickly filled up my influences, taking things into an ethical dimension, a reflection about art and crafts. All these painters and movements pushed me toward the creation of a studio in a 1900s’ spirit, an old binding press facing a beautiful lectern. I grew to be a lover of old techniques, collecting books of oil paintings. My old house in Brittany provides a convenient atmosphere: ancient, lyric, relaxing.

I’ve been working with graphite and gold leaf for many years now, creating bright ornamentations or golden backgrounds. This approach enables me to create the illusion of depth, despite the two dimensional canvas. I like to add a natural touch, a bit of a wild world, symbolised by the petals that I fasten on paper. This combination of paper, graphite, gold and hydrangea petals pleases me and makes a lot of things possible.

This combination of paper, graphite, gold and hydrangea petals makes a lot of things possible

Every year, the Gallery 1988 organises a show that features artwork inspired by classic cult films. When I was asked to participate in this exhibition (Crazy 4 Cult, held in Los Angeles), I choose to illustrate The Neverending Story in a Golden Age spirit. I hadn’t seen the movie in many years, and I was surprised how it affected me and the strength of its message.

Gold leaf will perfectly suit the Auryn pattern, and I will explore the fantastic landscapes of the book with graphite, because Falkor the Luckdragon is already becoming obvious to me. This image will demand lots of work on nuances supported by different graphite techniques, especially on landscapes because they need a specific depth. An important consideration will also be needed on this golden pattern of the Auryn, the double ourobouros that I’m keen to depict.

This symbol is at once of great interest and evocative. I have in mind to unfold it, to open it to see what it’s hiding there…

01. Start sketching

How to draw with mixed media: start sketching

Producing rough sketches enables me to visualise on paper the image I’ve mentally built up. It’s an interesting step that highlights the limits of my materials. In contrast, there are no limits in my mind: I can change shapes, colours and proportions of objects. It’s now time to choose an idea and confirm that my intuition is correct.

02. A word on composition

How to draw mixed media: a word on composition

Composition is an art unto itself, a domain where you can play with shapes and guide the viewer. Everything must serve the idea. You have to give the illusion of life on a two-dimensional canvas. To check that the composition is working, I use gold paint to indicate where the gold leaf will eventually placed. This saves time – and money! – later on.

03. Prepare the paper

How to draw mixed media: prepare the paper

Because I plan to use a graphite wash technique, I need to stretch my sheet of paper to prevent it from crinkling. I soak the back of the paper, then flip it over and fasten it with strips of kraft. As it dries, the paper will shrink and take its final dimensions.

04. Generate a detailed drawing

How to draw mixed media: generate a detailed drawing

My art process always involves developing an initial sketch, which will be loose, enabling me to develop the composition as I see fit without any limitations. I organise the primary elements, and this gives an impulse, a movement, to the scene. I use pencils ranging from 3H to H.

05. Establish an atmosphere

How to draw with mixed media: establish an atmosphere

I create an atmosphere using a graphite wash. This stage has two functions: it helps to get me into the topic, and it defines the lighter areas of the illustration. I prefer to retain the white of the paper in my art, in a similar manner to painting with watercolours, and so I use a special type of watercolour graphite.

06. Get into the subject

How to draw with mixed media: get into the subject

I always start the detailing stage by tackling my main subject first, which I shape slowly. I want Falkor to evolve throughout the painting process; I have the idea that he’s living as I paint, growing stronger with each step. I work with pencils, graphite wash and some white gouache, which gives the graphite a light blue tone.

07. Develop the second background

How to draw with mixed media: develop the second background

Based on the appearance of Falkor, I work out the shades of grey I’ll need to create the different background planes in my image. I decide that I need a second dark background to bring out Falkor. It also gives me a larger palette of nuances to help develop the final background. I work on this with my graphite wash.

08. The third background

How to draw with mixed media: the third background

I move on through the planes in my image. The final one is a little odd because it shows the Ivory Tower. I have to create the illusion of a massive construction that’s far off in the distance. I use several dry pencils, ranging from 5H to 2H, and a graphite wash.

09. Create light

How to draw with mixed media: create light

For this step I use oxidised silver leaf, which has a beautiful water-green tone. I use it to give the illusion of reverse lightning. I define two little green moons, which helps me to add depth. These simple geometric shapes enhance my composition.

10. Prepare the ornamentation

How to draw with mixed media: prepare the ornamentation

I draw in the details of the ornamental figures that surround my central medallion. I’m keen to accompany the movement to create a style on its own that also matches the main subject. I like my illustrations to suit the spirit of the Golden Age of Illustration.

11. Gilding and glue

How to draw with mixed media: gliding and gluing

Now that my Arabesque decorative motifs are in place, I apply gold mixtion to one bit of the pattern at a time. There are many different kind of mixtion available, with various drying times. I mostly use the illumination mixtion manufactured by Kölner. I also use the three- and 24-hour mixtions, depending on the pattern I’m working up.

12. Lay in gold leaf

How to draw with mixed media: lay in gold leaf

When the mixtion is finally ready to receive the gold leaf, I cut it meticulously and apply it with a brush. The gold leaf is fragile, and needs to be handled with care. I use a filbert sable brush to place the gold leaf on to the glue. This brush also enables me to remove any excess gold leaf.

13. Make precision cuts

How to draw with mixed media: making precision cuts

Using a scalpel, I define the gold leaf’s outlines. This stage is all about removing the last bits of excess gold leaf and refining the contours of the motif. I use a range of different sized scalpel blades, depending on where I am in the creative process. A good, sharp tool is needed, especially on this step where precision and a light touch is all you can rely on.

14. Enhance the medallion

How to draw with mixed media: enhance the medallion

Very slowly, I gild my pattern, going around my medallion. I maintain a balance in the final pattern by rubbing some parts with an agate, which creates gradations within the gold. I gild some parts of my image early in the process, so that I’m able to create these gradations. Indeed, using the graphite wash obscures my first gilding efforts.

15. Where contrasts are settled

How to draw with mixed media: where contrasts are settled

In this final step, I rely on my gilding work to adjust any visual nuances in the piece. Some parts of my image need to be darkened, while others should be enhanced. In this case, I decide I have to bring out more of Falkor. So I apply white gouache to him using an airbrush. Because the light from the gold leaf is so strong, it needs to be balanced by other areas in the image. Then I step back from the artwork and call my take on The Neverending Story finished.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX How to Paint & Draw bookazine.

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