Acrylic inks are vibrant, strong and lightfast liquids that come in a wide range of brilliant colours, including metallic and pearlescent inks. This wonderful bold medium is suited to painting large, ‘explosive’ flowers, but it is also very versatile and can be diluted with water or extender medium to give subtle and delicate effects.  Mixing inks with water does not affect their lightfastness.  Once the inks are dry they are waterproof and will not move when re-wetted or glazed-over with other colours.  The transparent colours can be built up in layers once the underlayer is dry, so a yellow may be glazed over a red.  The effects can look like stained glass.


Colour qualities

Some of the colours are opaque and will cover the colours beneath.  The brown colours are usually well behaved and easy to manipulate, and some bright colours dominate mixes and are more difficult to control.  Some colours will separate in mixes, especially when added to wet watercolour washes.  Corrections can be made using white acrylic ink, which can be mixed into other colours to make soft, pale colours, however some of the luminosity of the inks will be lost.

I enjoy using the inks wet-into-wet.  You can re-wet drying ink and add other colours.  As the inks dry, interesting effects and colours emerge – with practice some of these can be anticipated, but there is often an element of chance as to the way a colour mix will dry.  I sometimes tilt paintings from side to side. I love the way the inks run and can be unpredictable.  Wet ink can be washed away and blotted if you need to make corrections.


Techniques

Inks can be used wet-into-wet with watercolour.  I use granulating pigments such as ultramarine violet watercolour with inks.  The watercolour paint holds the inks and makes interesting textures (see White Roses below).  I drop or draw the inks into a watercolour wash to allow them to mix on the paper.  I do not mix inks and watercolour together in a palette.

White Roses, FW acrylic inks on Saunders Waterford 140lb (300gsm) paper, 6x4in (15x10cm)
I combined ultramarine violet watercolour and inks.  The inks crept into the watercolour and give interesting textures to the leaves.

Inks can be painted onto dry or wet paper, or can be sprayed with an atomiser.  Inks generally will flow or push into water and you can use water to spread the inks.  I enjoy texture in paintings and I sometimes use salt.  You just sprinkle salt into the ink as it begins to dry (see below).

Salt sprinkled into damp acrylic ink will absorb colour to give a speckled appearance.  It works best if the ink is beginning to dry and only a little salt is used.

Acrylic inks can be used quite conventionally and are wonderful for pen and ink and pen and wash, although they take a while to get used to if you are used to watercolour. You can draw with a twig, a bamboo pen, the dropper in the bottle or a pencil dipped in ink, as well as using a dip pen.  I find white acrylic ink very useful for highlighting and correcting mistakes and for drawing on coloured papers.  I find them convenient and easy to use, and paint with them on location.  When outside I limit the number of colours I use and have several brushes, a different one for each colour.  If I am using dip pens I have a pen in each bottle of ink.

Wild Roses, FW acrylic inks on Saunders Waterford 140lb (300gsm) paper,11x8in (28x20.5cm)
Working in situ, I drew these flowers with the dipper from the bottles of ink, before painting with inks.

Acrylic inks will give effects that are unique to the inks and cannot be achieved with watercolour or acrylic paint. They can be combined with acrylic paint, used with collage and are wonderful for abstract painting.  If you haven’t used acrylic inks before I hope I have encouraged you to have a go and try them.  Experiment, discover their versatility and enjoy using them.


DEMONSTRATION:  Hollyhocks
 
 

Colour mixes used in the painting.  From the top:  Indian yellow and process magenta; scarlet and process magenta; Indian yellow and Rowney blue; antelope brown and Rowney blue; Indian yellow, Rowney blue and antelope brown.