Alcohol Ink Art Techniques: Getting the Flowing Airy Wispy Effect

by Stephen Hans

Perhaps the most iconic form of the burgeoning alcohol ink world is that of the silky flowing lines that seem to blend into the air as it sprawls across the white page. We have everything you need to get started on this look yourself. With these tips, soon you will be creating your own beautiful works of alcohol ink wisps almost effortlessly. 

What You’ll Need To Do It

alcohol ink art studio

The key to this style is first and foremost working on a light, ideally white background. White waterproof paper is a great choice for this style. Then, you will want to select a color palette to use of just 1-3 colors. The colors are meant to merge and interplay so choose colors that will merge well. For some ideas, from the T. Rex Starter Pack we recommend a few different color combos to try: Dragonfruit Pink / Glacier Blue, Amethyst Purple / Deep Sea Blue, Shiraz Red / Space Black, or Sunshine Yellow / Jurassic Green.

Next, you will want to get a container to dilute your inks in. Little cups work great, but we are partial to good ol ice cube trays. Easy and cheap. Next, you can then get either 91% isopropyl alcohol or you can use our included clear blending solution as the diluter. The 91% isopropyl alcohol is cheaper but the clear blender is far more smooth in effect but more expensive. For the purpose of keeping it affordable, we will instruct using isopropyl alcohol. You will also need droppers to apply the diluted solution. We like to buy big packs of pipettes for that. And finally, to move the air around, you will want a blowdryer or a bike pump handy.

The Basic Principle Behind This Look

alcohol ink painting tips

Now that you have all the supplies squared away, here is how to use them to this effect. The basic principle here is that you want a puddle of diluted ink applied to the paper to start with. As it moves around with the blowdryer or bike pump, the alcohol evaporates, leaving wispy airy colors. With all that alcohol evaporating you will want a well-ventilated area or other safety measures in place before you get started. Here is more details on how to accomplish this:

Dilute the Inks

Alcohol Ink mixing

Alcohol inks are extremely pigmented. So that’s why you can’t just apply it directly to the page to get this look. It needs to be diluted as a means of spreading that pigment around in varied gradients of pigment density. The alcohol is merely a carrier. It’s a lot like watercolors, the more diluted you make them, the more transparent they get and the more creative license you have to control it.

We recommend you fill up one ice cube tray compartment about 75% of the way with alcohol and then drop in about 5-8 drops of the color of ink you want to work with, depending on how pigmented you want it. If you are using a lighter color, like yellow or orange, do closer to 10 drops. Repeat this for as many colors as you are planning on using on the piece. Also, pour one compartment of just alcohol. Set aside one plastic pipette for each compartment. 

Get Ready to Make a Splash 

This can get kind of messy. So protect your work surface with a plastic tablecloth. Be ready to have some splashes hit your clothes possibly, so maybe wear an art apron or clothes you don’t mind risking. Since using a blow dryer or bike pump is part of this technique, the paper will want to blow away on you. That’s why it is recommended to tape the corners down to secure the piece. Of course, that can be a bit of a downer since the tape may interfere with the art. So try to plan to secure it down in a way that is out of the way from where you plan to paint. For example, if you want a diagonal line of wisps, tape on opposite corners. You can also go the intentional method and tape all the sides of it so that when they are peeled off, they create crisp intentional lines and leave an edge. 

Time to Get Painting

Use the pipettes to suck up a full pipette of your blended color, and slowly squeeze out a puddle into the basic shape you want. Want a flowly line across the page? Draw one with the pipette. It will get blown about so remember to start small. Want a beautiful burgeoning circle in the middle, put a blot down. The initial lay down will look very pigmented, but as you blow it around and use alcohol to dilute it, it will dissipate so don’t worry. 

Keep in mind that the natural state of alcohol is to evaporate, so you do need to work reasonably quickly. Use the bike pump or the blowdryer to move the liquid around in the direction you want the effect to go. As you do it you will see the drying effect start to happen. The best way to learn this technique is to practice it hands-on. You will get a feel for what it wants to do and how it happens. As it starts to dry and take its final form, you may want to make little tweaks to it. That’s where our clear blender comes in. You can use it to clean up the sides or put little drops in into the main body to create a thinner effect or an opening for the white background to shine through. Sometimes you get little run away squiggles of ink on the paper, and you can use the blender along with a silicone stylus or paintbrush to soften and reintegrate those spots.

Extra Credit Effects

Now that you have learned how to get a couple of colors out on the page and you are seeing what it looks like as it dries, you may be wanting to add a little extra pizazz to it. Here are a few ideas for that…

Using auxiliary alcohol ink markers. Use only alcohol-based markers like Copic (if you want to be super fancy) or the more affordable and adorable Colorona set. Take out one of those markers and apply small accent lines of color where you think it is suited. Just draw on a few rough lines, it doesn’t matter what shape it is. Then, use a drop or two of the clear blending solution to get it to “puddle” up and then you can move it around where you want it. This lets you get in a tiny bit of accent color without blending a whole new solution in an ice cube compartment as described above. It also gives you more variety and control over the exact color you want. You can also do this for an extra amazing effect with a metallic alcohol ink marker. Metallics are a whole other article and we will get to that soon. In fact, we hope to carry it ourselves soon here at T Rex Inks. 

Getting dot embellishments with a silicone brush or stylus. Think of this as a next day kind of a project. Leave out your ice cube tray so it evaporates a lot and leaves a highly pigmented residue. Get a variety pack of silicone tools that are often used for clay sculpting but work great for this. Then, dip your blunt ended stylus into those colors and softly touch them to the paper and make circles with it. Using a swirling motion you can even create overlapping dots on it. It is a tedious but relaxing technique. 

The T. Rex toothbrush flick. T. Rexes have short arms so painting is not easy for them, thus the toothbrush flick method. This one is very messy to use though, so be prepared. Dip a toothbrush into 91% isopropyl alcohol or into one of the accent colors in your ice cube tray palette. Gently tap out most of the moisture back into the compartment. Then, aim the brush bristle down at the part of the painting you want and using your forefinger (glove it if you want to avoid stain) flick the bristles gently onto the paper. The result will be a very organic looking effect of bubbles that spray in the direction you aim the brush at. if you use too much liquid in the brush, the bubbles will be very big and drastically alter your painting, but if you use very minimal ones, it will have a small lovely effect. 

Welcome to flowy alcohol ink art! We are happy you are here and we can’t wait to see what you create! Tag us on Instagram so we can see what you made and maybe even repost it in one of our lineups @TRexinks.