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February 05, 2020
Alcohol ink is an art-making medium that has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. It is an alcohol-based, acid-free and highly-pigmented medium that is very reactive with itself and that dries very quickly. It can be mixed with pure isopropyl alcohol, watercolours, and even set on fire to create stunning effects.
Alcohol ink is an extremely versatile and unique medium. Unlike many forms of art-making where control and expertise in the medium are necessary, alcohol ink’s unpredictable nature requires you to let go of your sense of control and just have fun!
If you’re a perfectionist like me, the first few forays into alcohol ink art creation can be a frustrating experience; you can’t just place colour where you want it to go and expect it to stay! However, it can also be a freeing and eye-opening exercise into creativity, imagination, flow, and the playful side of art.
Alcohol inks can be used in many ways – on watercolour paper, ceramic substrates, canvas, and even three-dimensional objects – but one of my favourite ways to use alcohol ink is on Yupo paper.
You may be asking yourself, "what is Yupo paper?" Yupo paper, pronounced “Yoo-Po”, is a new kind of synthetic paper made out of polypropylene. It has a plastic-like feel to it and has an incredibly smooth texture. Yupo paper is waterproof and tear-resistant, making it a very durable substrate for art-making.
Yupo paper can be used with many mediums, the most popular being watercolour. The smooth, plastic-like texture of the Yupo causes watercolour paints to react differently than if you were painting them onto a traditional surface, such as cold-pressed watercolour paper. The paint does not soak into the paper, and therefore the colours mix and flow in organic and interesting patterns.
Since Yupo paper is not absorbent, it will not buckle or warp when water or liquid mediums are applied to it. However, please note that when heat (ex. from a heat gun) is applied to Yupo, it will warp, as it can be prone to melting.
The reactive properties of alcohol inks combined with the dynamic texture of Yupo paper can create amazing results and help any artist create a free, loose and dynamic piece of art.
First things first: put your perfectionism on the backburner. Don’t worry about how the final result will turn out at first; you will eventually learn how the medium reacts and behaves to the point where you will be able to better control it, but even then, this medium demands a freedom and looseness that other mediums do not.
Both alcohol inks and Yupo paper are such fun mediums to try that I encourage anyone interested in honing their art skills to sit down and just play with them for a while! There are so many different combinations of inks, alcohol and tools to try, and you may get a new and interesting result each and every time, so sit back, relax, and play!
Use pure colour: One way that I play with alcohol ink on Yupo paper is by taking pure alcohol ink and dropping it straight onto the page, no fuss, no muss! For this, I like use the Piñata brand ink that comes in dropper bottles. There are a wide variety of colours, so the possibilities are endless!
Use an old paintbrush: You can move the ink around to create the shapes you desire by using a paintbrush. I recommend finding an old paintbrush for this, as sometimes the alcohol ink can damage the bristles. Damaged or broken brushes can also be great tools to recycle for this purpose, as the frayed edges can create some interesting designs.
Use a straw: Another interesting technique to try is blowing the alcohol ink through a straw. This adds another element of surprise and unexpectedness to your art, which is great if you are practicing letting go! This is also a great way to achieve organic results, and I love using this technique when depicting nature, such as grass, plants or trees.
Add pure alcohol to your colour: You can also add 70% (or higher) isopropyl alcohol to the pigmented alcohol inks to create lighter plumes and concentric circles. This can be bought at most grocery stores or pharmacies.
Use an old credit card or piece of cardboard: Play around with scraping the alcohol ink to create some textural lines. If you wait until the alcohol ink is mostly dry, the ink will be scraped away, leaving lighter, nearly white lines. However, if you create the scrape marks while the ink is still wet, the ink will run into the line and it will create a dark, sharp mark. Old credit cards are perfect for this, as are pointed clay tools or the edge of a ruler. You can find almost anything lying around your house to make interesting marks with, so play around with it and have fun!
Here is an example of a painting I created using the above techniques:
Use Copic or other alcohol-based markers: If you want more colour choices and don’t wish to be limited to the colours available in bottled inks, you can broaden your horizons to include alcohol-based markers and pens. I already own a collection of Copic markers for creating illustrations, so I love using these on Yupo paper as well. Don’t worry – if Copics are out of your price range, or you just want to experiment, there are many brands of inexpensive alcohol-based markers on the market that you can explore. Markers are excellent because you can overlap your marks and the alcohol will still react, but there’s a bit more control when using a brush nib as opposed to a dropper. You will also use a thinner layer of ink this way.
Play with masking fluid (frisket): Masking fluid is usually used in watercolour paintings, but it can also be a great tool when used with alcohol inks on Yupo paper as well! Just be extra careful to not disturb or lift up the masking fluid, as it won’t grip the smooth Yupo paper as effectively as regular “toothed” paper. Create your design, shapes, or texture using the masking fluid, let it dry completely, and then drop your alcohol ink on top. Let the alcohol ink dry completely, then carefully remove the masking fluid. You should be left with sharp, clean lines untouched by alcohol colour.
Add india ink on top of the alcohol ink: If you want to play around with black lines on top of your bursts of colour, you can experiment with adding india ink (or a similar black or coloured ink) on top of your design. I love using a dip pen with different sized nibs to create dynamic lines using india ink. You can also play around with adding india ink to your design while the alcohol ink is still wet, and watch it spread into interesting plumes.
At the end of the day, these are just a few of the many techniques and tools you can explore for art-making using alcohol ink and Yupo paper. With these dynamic and unpredictable mediums, the possibilities really are endless – so play, have fun, and more importantly: let go!
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