Focus on… mixed media

22 May 2020
Image: Winter Grasses by Cas Holmes taken from her book, ‘Textile Landscape: Painting with Cloth in Mixed Media’
Learn about the fascinating and beautiful world of mixed media as we talk two mixed media specialists, Cas Holmes and Nikki Parmenter.

Wondering what mixed media is, what types of fabrics you might use and what makes it such a wonderful embroidery technique? You’re in for a treat with interviews featuring two mixed media specialists! 

We start by talking to Cas Holmes who goes back to basics and shares her top tips for creating mixed media art. Next, we talk to Nikki Parmenter who shares how she got into mixed media textiles and her ‘recycling’ approach, along with sharing her most important piece of equipment. Whether you’re new to mixed media or wanting to refresh your knowledge, this is well worth a read. Enjoy!

Getting to know mixed media maverick, Cas Holmes

Cas Holmes mixed media specialist

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What is mixed media? 

Generally, mixed media is defined as an artwork in which more than one media is used. The application of mixed media elements through cloth and paper in textile art provides one of the most versatile surfaces for manipulation. Textiles, as part of the mixed media tradition, allow for surfaces to be embellished, manipulated, stitched and turned into something new.

What kind of threads and needles are best to create mixed media art?

The idea behind mixed media is that it’s a mix of materials and techniques. I tend to avoid shiny, stretchy threads. Polycottons have good strength. A variety of needles work for this style of art, however they do need to be strong enough to get through the layers of materials, such as jeans needles.

Let’s talk mixed media materials… what inspires your material choices? 

I use a mixture of paper and cloth and avoid poor quality, brittle paper as I need a surface that’s strong enough to handle several layers of other materials. 

Top tip! Start with a few pieces in your own stash and use them differently – don’t buy anything new.

I also find using materials from the area in which my work was inspired is more effective. They come from disparate sources and are chosen because of the specific and often fragile connections they have to the place they were found. I recommend ‘auditioning’ different elements of your artwork before gluing and stitching to find the most desirable positions for your materials.

Cas Holmes mixed media winter grasses

Winter Grasses by Cas Holmes.

Why choose mixed media as a style/technique?

I’m not sure I chose mixed media as a style, rather, I discovered it suited my practice and mindset. I’ve combined textiles with painting and drawing for over thirty years after obtaining a degree in fine art. 

The combination of techniques provides an enjoyable challenge and interesting substances can be used. Mixed media allows me to work in a ‘liminal’ space – a place where the media, tradition and technique normally defined as the domain of ‘fine art’ (painting), can combine with ‘craft’ (stitch) processes.

What are your key hints and tips for creating mixed media textile art?

  • Note your ideas in a journal or sketchbook
  • Sample and test your materials and media and list the things that are important to your work under headings such as colour, mark making, line, texture, surface, etc.
  • Don’t worry about being exact!
  • Set yourself simple goals – e.g. learning how to use cut stencils while exploring acrylic painting on different cloth surfaces, or applying dyes to a selection of stitched cloth surfaces to find out how it behaves
  • Always follow health and safety guidelines – check where your materials come from and always read labels
  • Be open to discovery and never be frightened of giving it a go

Cas Holmes is a mixed media textile artist. Her fourth book ‘Textile Landscape: Painting with Cloth in Mixed Media’ was released by Batsford in September 2018. Find out more:

Getting to know mixed media specialist, Nikki Parmenter

Nikki Parmenter mixed media specialist

Nikki Parmenter has always been interested in art, leading her into textile artistry as a full-time career. She responds to mythology and symbolism.

Hi Nikki! So, what can you tell us about yourself?

From an early age I’d sit at the dining table with my basket of crayons. My Grandfather, George Wain, was the art master at the local grammar school and a successful author, illustrator and pioneer of early home cinema and l’ve obviously inherited my artistic streak from him. I was lucky as l was taken to art galleries, museums and cathedrals around Europe, which gave me a broad cultural awareness. 

My enthusiasm for the arts resulted in me enrolling on an art foundation course, followed by a first class BA honours degree and an MA in fine art, specialising in painting. l undertook a teaching qualification at Goldsmiths College, London (l had the luxury of having no fees – those were the days!). I taught for thirty years at Poynton High School, in the posts of art teacher and head of art. 

In 2016, l left full time work and am now positively relishing the fact that l can plan my own agenda, including supply teaching and developing my own work through exhibitions, talks and workshops. I’m a member of Prism Textiles, Cheshire Artist’s Network and the Wirral Society of Arts and Glossop Embroiderers’ Guild. I have a husband, two grown up children, three dogs and a house full of artwork and related “stuff” which is not clutter but creative potential! 

Nikki Parmenter mixed media mythology symbolism

Mixed media artwork by Nikki Parmenter.

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That’s a great way of rethinking ‘stuff’! How did you go from teaching art to a career entirely based around textile art?

Throughout my teaching career l continued to produce my artwork, creating mainly paper pieces. I’ve always been interested in different times and cultures, mythology and symbolism and l based my imagery around these themes. 

At the suggestion of my husband (a sculptor and ex-head of the Art School at Tameside College), l progressed from using paper to cutting compositions from plywood and MDF. This proved to be an interesting development but l felt that the wood was a somewhat inflexible material to use. A chance encounter with Maggie Grey’s book “Bonded Fabrics” triggered my fascination with manipulating textiles and the purchase of my first sewing machine.

Over the years I’ve developed a mixed media/ textiles/recycling approach to my work, while still exploring my chosen themes. I’ve turned into a magpie collecting all manner of materials, including unusual items such as hose pipes, car wheel trims, plastic tubing and much more, as well as more conventional media. I enjoy the challenge of incorporating unexpected materials into my work. 

Nikki Parmenter mixed media fish

Mixed media artwork by Nikki Parmenter.

You certainly set yourself some tricky tasks! What would you say is your most important piece of equipment?

That has to be my sewing machine, on which l have recently starting honing my free machine embroidery skills. However, l also couldn’t manage without my embellishments, soldering iron, glue gun, sketch hook and pencils… and many more! 

Do you sell your work?

My work is often made on a large scale and as it can take several months to complete each piece, I’m reluctant to part with them! As a result, the walls in my house are adorned with colourful images and the garage houses some of my earlier pieces. I don’t have a particular favourite piece, but am always striving to make sure that each project is more successful than the last. 

Nikki Parmenter mixed media bird

Mixed media artwork by Nikki Parmenter.

In terms of advice for creating your own mixed media work, l would encourage you to “go for it!” and tackle a piece on a larger scale with different media. I also have a saying “more is more,” as l am prone to work on every square centimetre of the image surface!

You can find Nikki on Facebook as Nikki Parmenter Artworks.

Enjoyed learning about this embroidery style? Explore more from our ‘Focus on’ series:

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