Gorgeous, Juicy, Fluid Alcohol Inks…Just Brillant!

alcohol ink original painting called Serenity

Alcohol inks…what are they and how can you use them? I use these fabulous waterproof, dye-based inks in many of my paintings as they are permanent, transparent (because of this property, you can layer the inks) and highly infused with pigment. The colors are extremely vivid, dynamic and lively. When I first read about the alcohol ink medium and saw examples of what it could do, I knew I wanted to explore its properties and what it had to offer me as to the method I prefer to use when I paint. When using alcohol ink, I like to have more control over the paint which can be difficult to do with this medium. I call this process, lyrical-stippling (small dots), a technique I developed. I attempted the abstract look of these inks but really was not interested in this particular style as my personal creativity is more stylistic than abstract.

Alcohol inks can also be used on any non-absorbent surfaces such as glass, tiles, polymer clay, plastic, ceramic, canvas prepared with gloss varnish (which I have done successfully) and other surfaces, depending on the ‘look’ you want to achieve.

These inks can be diluted and blended with isopropyl alcohol, either 70%, 91% or 99%. The 70% might include oils that you wouldn’t want on your painting surface or other materials that may be harmful to whatever effects you are attempting to accomplish.

You can either pour the ink directly from the bottle or use a pipette to use the drop method. You will get a more fluid, abstract look if you use the alcohol ink this way. It just depends on the style you are trying to attain. Because of the ink’s transparent properties, you can add more layers. This gives the painting more depth and colors overlap nicely. Let each layer dry before adding more layers. You can also blow the ink around while using a straw or drag the color around. There are so many different tools you can use, so just experiment with it!

There are also alcohol ink markers, which is what I use to get a more controlled look. There are a lot of different brands out there such as Spectrum Noir, Copic, Yosoo, Artify, Ohuhu and others. It will be your personal preference as to what you will like. I think I’ve used just about every brand made and I do have a few favorites. The markers come with different types of points; they are dual tipped and some have a brush-like point and a chisel edge. I really don’t care for the chisel edge and prefer the markers with both ends having different sized points.

The substrate I use most of the time since I discovered it is a cradled, non-porous, extremely smooth surface, which is very similar to the Yupo (a synthetic, flexible, plastic-like substrate made of polypropylene) brand, but is already mounted (cradled). The cradles are built by hand with premium grade 13-ply birch plywood and made in the USA, another great reason I love this type of surface. These museum series claybords as they are called, have a pH neutral, acid-free clay coating and are sanded to an extremely smooth finish (the width on the sides of the cradle may vary from 3/4″ to 2″). I paint the panel with acrylic on all sides and back with a color that compliments the painting and use a sawtooth for hanging (you can also use framers wire and screw-eyes to hang but I prefer the sawtooth method unless I’m painting a large piece).

I spray the finished piece with a clear protective coating that will not disturb the alcohol ink and you will not need glass. I then use a thin layer of acrylic UV polymer varnish for a final layer of protection.

I hope you enjoy the world of alcohol inks as you explore it. Happy painting!

alcohol ink painting by Dee Van Houten