If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I enjoy painting with alcohol inks. I discovered this fun medium a few years ago, and haven’t looked back! There is a learning curve, and you need to know what substrates to use, and how to get the inks to flow, or not, if you want more control. So, I thought I’d write this post about demystifying alcohol ink painting! I’ll share with you what I’ve learned, to helpfully shorten your learning curve.
WHAT ARE ALCOHOL INKS
Alcohol inks are a liquid, alcohol based pigment dye. The colours are very vibrant, and they are very fast drying. Alcohol inks come in small bottles, usually 0.5 ounces. Just recently Ranger/Tim Holtz have released a select number of their colours in larger 2 ounce bottles.
SUBSTRATES FOR PAINTING
The best substrates to use as a base for your alcohol ink painting is a slick, non porous one. Below are a few different ones, and the various ways they work with the inks.
- Ceramic glazed tile – make sure that the tile has a slick, glazed surface, otherwise the ink will absorb into the tile. Tiles are great to work on, especially for beginners, because any mistakes can be easily wiped off with isopropyl alcohol. After wiping clean, the tile is ready to use again, and again. They also can be readily found in many hardware/home building stores, in different sizes and shapes.
- Yupo – is a synthetic paper like substrate, available in individual sheets, packages of sheets, or pads. Yupo is also available in Regular 140 lb. weight, Thick 144 lb., and 104 lb. Translucent, and only in white. Found in art stores and craft supply stores, it’s available from 2 suppliers; Legion and Ranger. I have found that Yupo doesn’t *quite* wipe back all the way to pristine white, when wiping back darker colours. There is some staining left behind from the ink pigment. This should be kept in mind if you’re doing special work.
- NARA paper – Nara is another brand of synthetic substrate. It’s also available in different weights, sizes and shapes! I’ve found it to be almost identical to Yupo, except that it does wipe back closer to white (or exactly to white, with lighter colours) than does Yupo. I’ve found that Nara paper is difficult to find where I am in Canada, but it can also be ordered online directly from their manufacturing facility in India.
- Canvas – yes, you can paint on canvas with alcohol inks! But the important first step is to prime your canvas, in order to minimize the inks being absorbed into the canvas. Use an acrylic base primer, and add at least 2-3 coats of primer, allowing to dry between coats. Your ink still will absorb a bit, but definitely not as much as with an unprimed canvas!
- Metal – alcohol inks can easily be used on metal, as it’s definitely a non porous surface! It may require more layers of ink to get the true colours to show, if you’re using a darker metal.
APPLYING THE ALCOHOL INK
This is where the fun really starts! There really is no wrong way to apply the ink; it’s your art, to create how you want. Here’s a few ways, to get you started.
Direct from Bottle – this is the easiest, most obvious way to apply the inks. The alcohol ink bottles have a removable cap, with a small dropper opening. The bottles are made from rigid plastic, but they can be lightly squeezed.
- Alcohol Ink Blending Solution – is specially formulated to blend the alcohol inks. It promotes movement of the ink, but also lightens the colour slightly. The more Blending Solution used, the lighter the colour. It can also be used to lift off the inks from unwanted areas of your substrate. The formulation in the solution includes a bit of resin, which thickens the ink slightly, and can make it ‘tacky’ if you build up the amount used.
- Isopropyl Alcohol – many people use this as a substitute for blending solution, but it’s actually quite different. Isopropyl alcohol thins the inks, but does not lighten the colours. You should only use a 91% – 99% solution of isopropyl alcohol; anything less than 91% will contain too much water, and won’t dry.
- Brushes – you can use any type of synthetic brush that you would normally use for acrylic painting. When applying the inks with a brush, it’s easiest to first pour a few drops of ink into a palette well, and then pick up the ink from there. As the ink sits in the well it will start to dry out – that’s the alcohol evaporating. Simply add a drop of either blending solution or isopropyl alcohol to the palette well, or dip your brush in it, before picking up the ink.
- Felt Applicators – Ranger makes 2 different shapes of felt applicators; round and rectangle. Use with the available coordinating applicator tool. Simply attach the felt pad to the Velcro top of the tool, and then apply the ink directly to the felt pad. If desired, add the blending solution or alcohol to the pad as well, and then apply directly to your substrate. It’s fun to try out different methods with these, like swiping, pouncing and stippling.
These are just a few of the ‘regular’ tools you can use to paint with your inks. Try out lots of other items that you find around your house – Qtips, straws, bubble wrap, plastic wrap, sponges, etc.
SAFETY WHEN USING ALCOHOL INKS
Close, prolonged use of alcohol inks can become toxic. Be sure to work in a well ventilated area, and/or have a fan going. Wearing a respirator with filter is a good idea, and protect your hands from staining with nitrile gloves.
WHERE TO BUY SUPPLIES
Most fine art stores, and many craft supply stores carry alcohol inks and the tools & substrates for using with them. Below I’ve given links for specific items, but you can also just click on these store names, and browse at your leisure. SCRAP ‘N STAMP, BLICK ART SUPPLIES, JOGGLES INC., SCRAPBOOK.COM
ABOVE ALL ELSE – HAVE FUN!
Creating art is about having fun, freeing ourselves from constraints, and enjoying the process. I hoped that I’ve helped with demystifying alcohol ink painting for you; please leave any comments or questions you may have. I’ll be happy to do a follow up post to answer any questions.
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