How to Get Started With Alcohol Inks
You may have heard the term »Fluid Art« recently. This describes various techniques that use colour in a liquid medium. Many people know acrylic pouring which has become immensely popular over the last couple of years, so if you’re into any type fluid art but haven’t tried alcohol inks yet, or if you’re just curious, this post is for you!
- What is Alcohol Ink?
- What You’ll Need
- First Steps
- Making The Ink Flow
- Other Creative Possibilities
- Good to Know
- List of Materials
What is Alcohol Ink?
Compared to acrylics, which are mostly poured onto a canvas all together and then dry to a permanent piece, the intensely pigmented inks on an alcohol basis can be worked into a painting gradually. The alcohol evaporates within seconds but unlike acrylics the ink can be »revived«. This means that when dried ink comes into contact with fresh ink or pure alcohol you can continue working it, making various techniques possible. But let’s start with what you’ll need to begin this addicting hobby.
What You’ll Need
Most artists choose Ranger Adirondack Inks by Tim Holtz which are available in over 60 colours and as additional metallic mixatives. Another brand is Piñata by Jacquard which are less expensive if you’re a beginner but also behave a bit differently (because they are slightly thicker). Many also use Sharpies or Copic markers. Since all these paints are alcohol based there’s a lot of room for experiments. Alcohol Inks are usually imported to most countries from the U.S. which means that they can be quite expensive, so searching online for a bargain is a good idea.
Blending Solution / Isopropyl Alcohol
To expand your options when working with ink and to use less ink overall you should use a blending solution. It’s made from a mixture of isopropyl and glycerin and lets you brighten and blend your pigments. If you want to give this medium a first try or if you’re on a budget, I’d recommend using 90% (or more) isopropyl alcohol. This is available in big bottles, which is definitely worth it since you’ll use it a lot. Think of alcohol being to inks what water is to watercolour. Why should you use alcohol with a content of 90% or higher? Added water or oils in diluted alcohol can simply cause your painting to look less than what you expected as the inks will react differently. Adding the blending solution to your materials later is good to learn how different liquids behave.
Tim Holtz blending solution
Yupo Paper and Other Surfaces
Unlike work with acrylics, oils or watercolour you don’t actually use paper when working with alcohol inks because they would sink into the porous paper like ink from a fountain pen. And since you want to move, blend and blow the liquids around you’ll need to work on a non-porous surface. The most obvious choices are glass, metal, ceramics or plastic. But if you don’t want to start messing with your china or the spare tiles you keep on the attic (because, who knows?), you might want to start with yupo paper. Yupo is a synthetic paper made from polypropylene and is water- and tear-resistant. It does however kink easily and when handling it, wearing rubber gloves is a good idea to keep the oils from your skin off the surface. To start with, a lighter paper with 85 g/m2 should be sufficient. There is heavier grade Yupo available if you prefer so.
So once you’ve bought your inks, alcohol and a surface you can start exploring. If you buy large sheets you can start your experiments by cutting the sheets in half. If you don’t like a painting you can easily use the back of it. By dripping ink on the sheet you can observe the way ink reacts: individual drops will bloom and expand. And if you add another colour to a circle, see how it rapidly expands, pushing the first colour aside. If you drip near a circle, the new colour will push the old one away. And now if you add alcohol a translucent circle will bloom, pushing all other colours away as well. At this point you’ll be able to see dark edges forming which can add lovely contrast. And now you’ll already be making your first artwork! Have a look at the video below to see what I mean.
Making The Ink Flow
If you start a painting by covering the surface with alcohol and then add some drops of ink, you can shift the liquid by tilting the whole surface or blowing with a straw to create beautiful colour gradients. When using a straw you might notice moisture dripping from it which you’ll really want to avoid. So later buying a blow out bulb is recommended (it will also save you from hyperventilating if you’re so in to the process that you forget everything…). Another easily available tool is a hairdryer. You must, however, set it to the coolest setting possible since you are a) working with highly flammable liquids and b) the synthetic paper might melt and get waves you can’t fix. It’s also important to use a low air setting and slowly move towards the inks from further away to not spray around or blow all the alcohol off at once.
Other Creative Possibilities
Tim Holtz sells a stamp to which you can attach a piece of felt. By adding ink and blending solution directly to the fabric you can stamp backgrounds for cards and other creative artwork. If you dip a paint brush into alcohol you can embellish a finished painting beautifully.
Some artists create amazing realistic paintings or landscapes using alcohol ink – so there’s really no limit to your imagination. The most rewarding way is to simply begin by curiously experimenting in order to study the various characteristics each material has to offer. You’ll soon notice some colours behaving differently than others, that there are various saturations you can play with, that inks react differently with each other and lighter colours can be used to brighten darker ones, etc. The same way you experiment with inks, you can experiment with different tools: various paint brushes, cotton balls, toothpicks, mixing in a palette, blowing, drawing and embellishing with alcohol or other pens, writing…
Good to Know
Since the pigments used in alcohol ink fade in ultraviolet light it’s good to use a spray varnish to protect your work. Many use Krylon and Kamar.
List of Materials
(See my full list of items I recommend for using with alcohol inks)
– Alcohol Inks
– Rubber Gloves
– Isopropyl alcohol (90% or more)
– Blending Solution
– Yupo or any non-porous surface
– Straw (or blow out bulb)
– Hairdryer (set to cold!)