Sara Ulyatt discusses the enjoyment of working with alcohol inks and demonstrates a simple abstract landscape using just two colours.

As a fluid artist I work with several different media, from fluid acrylics, acrylic inks to alcohol ink and watercolour. 

They are all fairly difficult to control and it’s often a balance of manipulating the products and being led where the paint wants to take me, often with fascinating results.

What are alcohol inks?

Alcohol inks are highly pigmented fluid inks that are diluted with alcohol – that is isopropyl alcohol not vodka!

They are great fun to work with, if somewhat messy and as I mentioned a little difficult to control. On the plus side a little does go a long way and you only need a few basic supplies to start.

Top tips for working with alcohol inks:

A white ceramic tile is a great surface to practice on and has the added benefit of being able to be wiped clean.

Hand sanitisers or wipes that contain alcohol are great for cleaning up your hands and bottle nibs.

It's advisible to work in a well-ventilated room or use a respirator.

What do I need to get started with alcohol inks?

You will need:
  • Two or three small bottles of alcohol ink – there are various brands available each with their own unique characteristics, a little goes along way.
  • Isopropyl alcohol (91%-99%). This is available in large bottles from Amazon which can be decanted into smaller spray bottles - a tiny funnel is very handy for this.
  • Small spray bottle
  • Gloves and an apron (it will stain your fingers!)
  • Synthetic waterproof paper – yupo or similar or any non-porous surface
  • Kitchen roll
  • Fine liner bottle
  • A cheap fineliner brush
  • Varnish
  • UV spray

How to protect your finished ink work

Alcohol inks do not hold up well to sunlight so they need to be protected with a spray varnish, be careful to choose the right one as some will reactivate the painting and cause it to run. 

I use Ghiant H20 water-based varnish or Krylon Kamar varnish followed by a good UV spray.

Experimenting with alcohol inks

As you practice and become more confident with how the inks react you can add more colours, there are some beautiful vibrant colours available to play around with along with different alcohol based markers.

You can also use your alcohol ink creations as a background for acrylics as I did with the silver birches above.

Demonstration: Abstract landscape using just two colours

Before you begin note that different brands of ink will disperse differently when diluted.

I used Jacquard Piñata Mantilla Black for this demonstration, which, when diluted, creates shades of brown. Another brand, however, will create blues and purples.

Order Jacquard Piñata inks here