Media Mixed: A Photographer's Quick Guide to Moving Beyond the Traditional Photographic Print

Once Yellow House, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

I realize there are many of you out there who have started to grow restless with the traditional photographic print. Many of the recent “digital converts” have been shooting for a few years now, and have a strong desire to sort of “move on” maybe stretch themselves a bit as artists, and are itching to try out a new technique or move beyond the traditional photographic (or digital) print. For all of these reasons and more, I thought I would put together a brief list of ideas, suggestions if you will, that can help you to do just that-move beyond the normal, ordinary world of the basic print, and try out something new.

  • Printing on canvas is great, and a lot of photographers are starting to do it again, thanks to the lower costs of doing it digitally, but, in order to move into the world of more “hand worked” prints, try Marshall’s oils or painting on top of your images.
  • There are many ways to paint on top of photographs, and mix painting with photography. Marshall’s photo oils have been around a long time and allow you to paint on top of your images, but, in the days of the digital age, you are no longer limited to these. You can use any transparent oil paint actually to paint atop of a photo and you can write to someplace like Daniel Smith to get a brochure detailing which of their oils are transparent. They also sell specific oil-based pastels suitable for using on photo canvas. This gives you an interesting look, because it’s a more softer, shaded look coming from the pastel, rather than the more “hard lines” of the photographic image.
  • Decoupage is an often overlooked way of mixing images with paint. If you are serious about combining your oil painting and your images, you might look into decoupage as a way of doing it. Decoupage would allow you to start with a painting, say an oil on canvas, and then add a photo to the mix, rather than doing things the other way around (paint on top of a photo.) There are reasons artists traditionally did not apply oil paint to paper, but instead choose wood or canvas-the paint sticks better. By using decoupage, you can let the paint stick to where it wants to adhere (a canvas or board) and sort of “play” in its natural home, while adding a photo to the mix.
  • With most digital (inkjet) printers, you can print directly onto watercolor paper of some kind. Outlets like provide watercolor paper suitable for direct printing. Once your image has been printed onto the watercolor paper, it’s fairly easy to apply watercolors, either light bodied or gouache.
  • Collage is always a method you can use, and you can combine it with some of the other methods here to get a unique look. You can, for example, print several smaller prints onto watercolor paper and then paint in-between them to get a unified look.
  • Encaustics and transfers are other ways of mixing up your media. Encaustics involve adhering your image to a board (usually a wooden board) and then painting on top of it using a beeswax-based paint made from encaustic pigment and melted wax. This is a fun way to make, essentially, a 3-D photographic print, since you can also sculpt the wax (and sculpt things into the way) as you do it.
  • Transfers allow you another way to move your image from the inkjet world to the watercolor paper or canvas backing. You can do transfers using both acrylic and water-based mediums to get the look you want and you can combine the transfer techniques with traditional painting, once the image has been transferred to the newer surface.
  • Liquid emulsion and emulsion lifts are other ways you can sort of “play with” photographic emulsions to get them to look more unique. There are also other ways of hand working your prints-you can use some kind of solarization process or a technique like Mordancage.
  • Many alternative processes give you a foothold into hand-worked prints. For example, creating a Burkholder negative and printing a cyanotype or a bromoil print, or even printing platinum palladium or lith will give your work a distinctive look and these techniques can give you the opportunity to work in more of a mixed media.
  • A lot of photographers are getting into varnishes. You can see some examples of this by looking at something like Jack Spencer’s portrait series. I’ve never been a big fan of the varnish technique myself (I don’t like to play with toxic chemicals) but it works very well for Jack. There’s also a lot you can do by printing onto different materials, such as printing on silk or fabric directly, and painting from there.

One of the downsides to many of these techniques, besides the time and expense of it all, is that, in the end, you will have a unique print. This can make them harder to show and sell, since you will be dealing with prints one at a time, rather than just going to your “inkjet factory” and spitting out another one. This is both their appeal and their downside in a lot of ways-people are more willing to pay for a handmade unique print, but you cannot show such unique prints in multiple shows at the same time (for example.)

I hope this has given you some ideas for what you can do with your work-how you can move beyond the traditional print and into the world of the unique hand worked image.

Until next time…


  1. Janice / Dancing with Sunflowers
    October 5, 2009 / 6:42 pm

    Hi Carol – Thanks, yes, lots of ideas and I think I'll come back to this list at some point. But the one that really appeals to me is the very last one – printing onto fabrics, and then embellishing with stitch. You can get special inkjet printable cottons and silks for this. Haven't tried so far but it's on my 'To Do' list.

  2. mythopolis
    October 5, 2009 / 8:55 pm

    Don't forget the Warhol special: photo/silkscreen…

  3. Carol
    October 6, 2009 / 5:36 pm

    Painting on silk looks really cool to me. I was recently in a show with some hand painted silk and it was beautiful. We all could not believe how the artist worked with fabric. Amazing, that, really it was.

    And, yes, Mythos. I forgot about silkscreen. Though it's expensive and maybe inaccessible to some folks, it's a great way to move into working with more mixed media.

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