ALCOHOL AND INK

I would like to share my experience with an alcohol and ink method I mistakenly stumbled upon in graduate school.  My students and peers have become very interested in this method, so I'm sharing in the hope to benefit any artist who is hoping to incorporate new and exciting methods into their own work.  The funny thing is people have been using this method for a while, but the way I discovered it was in the midst of a nervous breakdown.  

One day in 2012, I was trying to finish an art project that dealt with painting on polypropylene paper called, "Yupo” paper.  I procrastinated like always, and I was scurrying around trying to finish a decent looking painting.  The thing is, towards the end of my project, I had totally ruined nearly every sheet of my Yupo paper.  I was down to my last sheet, and all I had to show for my attempts was a big mess.  I was out of time.  The project was due in the morning.  I looked to the other side of the room.  There was a bottle of 91% Isopropy alcohol.  I figured I could use the alcohol to clean off the acrylic ink to potentially salvage at least one more sheet.  The second the alcohol hit the ink, there was a very intense reaction.  I mean it was almost holographic looking in the light!  I couldn't believe it was happening.

I felt I had hit the jackpot.  I was absolutely fascinated by this and over time learned many ways in which to manipulate this effect.  After trying a few different types of liquid ink I decided that the best ink for what I wanted to accomplish was Liquitex Acrylic Inks.  This is due to the high concentration of pigment in this particular brand of ink.

Side note: inks that have titanium dioxide in them will separate differently in alcohol than inks without it, thus creating a "clumping" effect.  I found Cerulean Blue and Titanium White to be the biggest culprits.  Titanium dioxide is used both for lightening certain shades of ink, but is most commonly used for creating pure whites in inks and paints.  The clumps are surely the metallic component of titanium dioxide that sticks to the paper once the other components are dispersed.  It's complicated, but once you witness it you’ll understand my explanation.  

I also decided that the best alcohol to use is 91% Isopropyl alcohol.   I learned that I couldn't get the same reaction with 70% or 99%.  The ink didn't diffuse enough with the 70% alcohol, and it broke apart too fast with the 99% Isopropyl Alcohol.  

The best and only real paper option for this method is Yupo paper.  It's basically made from flattened polypropylene pellets (oil based pellets) so it won't absorb pigment easily, allowing the ink to travel or disperse with more fluidity.   

A good way to get started is to apply ink drops of Liquitex acrylic ink* on the surface of the Yupo Paper.  You will want to be on a very flat surface.  Also, since you are working with liquid ink you should work on a board or any surface you don't mind having stained. Once drops are placed an inch or two apart around the paper try pouring a small amount of alcohol on top.

*Starting with primary colors is the best bet because you can get an understanding about how the colors will mix, and create many other colors as the inks diffuse into one another.  The image shown above is a product of just a few different ink colors.

You will see at this point there is an intense reaction.  Once the ink and alcohol is about half dry try misting the ink with a spray bottle from a few feet above.  You can then see how I achieved the texture in the above image.  Also, in the image above once it was dry enough for the ink to not roll off the page I picked up the paper and tilted it to achieve that "sunlight effect."  

Here is another example.  Remember the story from earlier?  The first image and this next one were the final pieces for the project using Yupo paper.  So, needless to say you do not need to practice this forever to make some really interesting stuff.

Below you will see what can happen when you simply rotate the above image counter-clockwise and invert the colors with Adobe Photoshop.  The results in this certain situation were equally as spooky as they were fascinating...

From the beginning it was really nice to have a break from the neurotic behavior I usually exhibit as an artist.  It's a controlled chaos that was a very different experience for me as an artist.   You could use this method to create some awesome traditional pieces.  Below I will show you a few images in which I applied this technique in later works.  In the next three pieces you can see how I digitally manipulated the results of this method, with the fourth and final piece being digitally untouched.

I hope you find this blog post useful.  If you have any questions please feel free to contact me.  You can do so via the top navigation menu. Thank you very much for reading!