Alcohol inks and stains

How to make alcohol ink sprays and stains

Through the years I've purchase a variety of inks to use in my art practice from alcohol to tar and water based inks. The traditional India ink with its dark rich blacks work wonderfully for calligraphy and I've even used it in a diluted form to create monochromatic art work such as the piece below - 'Come out of your shell'. 

Although there is a wonderful variety of colors of readymade inks I wanted to experiment with additional colors. That's when I started by making my own handmade alcohol inks. They were inexpensive and I've found I use them in my daily practice of making art. I find that I'm more inclined to produce work when I can start the creative process by simply spraying my paper or canvas with a little ink. Its like a Rorschach test where you ask "what does this look like" and in my case my imagination is free to go with it. It also doesn't hurt that I have a destination in mind and it's usually associated with aquatic and ocean themes.


What You Need:

Crayola, Sharpies, Bic Mark or off brand Permanent Markers
Denatured or rubbing alcohol (the higher the percentage of alcohol the better)
Container to hold the mixtures as well as a small glass Jar in which to create the mixture
Plastic spray bottles or dropper bottles to store your ink in
X-acto knife
Plastic sheet, newspaper or other material to cover the work surface

To make the alcohol inks:

  • pickup packs of inexpensive, felt tipped alcohol pen markers (they don't have to be brand name and sometimes you can find great bargains at the dollar store. You can also purchase colored inks in small bottles or use food coloring and dilute them or try mixing your primary colors - but test a little before you commit as they can become muddy quickly when mixed. i.e. yellow and blue to make a green, red and a blue to make purple and red and yellow for orange.

  • find some small spray bottles or use recyclable glass jars with tight fitting lids, or even recycle pill bottles (be inventive in your recycling effort here) - I found a bunch at Shopko for about 50 cents. There are small packs of three I found at Michaels craft store that are quite small but work for their fine misting capabilities.

  • A small can of denatured alcohol, or rubbing alcohol - I found some at the hardware store. (Denatured alcohol or methylated spirits is ethanol that has additives to make it poisonous, extremely bad tasting, foul smelling or nauseating, to discourage recreational consumption). Please keep all these materials away from children. It is also one of the best glass cleaners I've found.

  • Using needle nose pliers pry the nib tip from the marker. Wear gloves as the dye can stain your fingers. Pry the nib carefully and make sure to keep the tip pointed upward as not to spill the contents. Pour the contents into one of the small containers or bottles and add the felt tip as well (its full of ink). Add equal amount of the alcohol and shake up the mixture and voi·la (vwäˈlä/....there is). I've also used the small amount of left over ink from a Espson ink printer cartridge - a bit messy to take apart but the ink is intense.

  • If getting the nib tip out of the marker use an xacto knife to cut the tip off the marker. I like to use a sheet of plastic in case any dribbles out and then I can scoop it up into the bottle using a spatula.

This ink is a good substitute for some of the pricer inks found at craft stores and depending on the color can be quite brilliant and can saturate the substrate very nicely. Some of my most brilliant pinks came form permanent marker I found at the dollar store and cut apart to make ink. 

This piece is titled "Children of the Gods" and is an example of how I've used homemade alcohol inks. I've sprayed some ink as well as used a brush to create washes. 

Children of the Gods