Very Accidental Art

I’m almost inclined to say that it’s impossible to get really bad results with alcohol ink. I’m referring to the fluid sort of alcohol ink art that’s created mostly by dripping and dropping puddles of color and letting them create random designs. But I have had a few colossal failures while working with Yupo paper.

When it comes to glazed tiles, however, well, yes, it’s almost impossible to get a bad result, and this is why I’m so hooked on tiles. That’s odd to say. Do you recall how I once wrote that I wouldn’t want to use good tiles for alcohol ink practice? Yes, I actually said that. Of course, I didn’t know then what I know now, and that makes a lot of difference.

Let’s start with the tiles themselves. I bought a set of tiles on Amazon. That was a big mistake, really. I don’t recall how much I paid, and no, I’m not going to go look it up. Suffice to say, I paid more than I needed to. Thankfully my husband didn’t chide me for my impulsive Prime purchase. He simply pointed out that I can get glazed tiles at any home improvement store for about ten cents each. He’s in and out of those stores quite frequently, so he’ll be sure to pick up a nice supply for my art studio.


There are two different types of tile: ceramic and porcelain. Porcelain tile is thick and consequently more expensive. If you’re wanting to have fun with alcohol ink, you can get the ceramic tiles.

Tiles come in two varieties: glazed and unglazed. For alcohol inks, you need to use the glazed tiles.

While white tiles are the least expensive, you can make beautiful art from all colors of tile. I can’t wait for my husband to bring me some black tiles, gray tiles, or beige tiles.


Of all the art projects I’ve done in the studio recently, alcohol ink has definitely been the most fun. It takes little time to set up. I have a large sheet of cardboard on the floor — yes, I love sitting down on the floor to play — and I’ve found it convenient to set my tile on top of a small jar. This way extra alcohol and ink can drip freely.

Ever since I started using the tiles, I really look forward to trying new things with my alcohol inks. I’ve done the “puddle drops”. I’ve tried the “swipe or scrape” technique — and failed miserably at it. I also had problems with the “brushing” method on Yupo paper, yet even then, I did come away with an expressive abstract image that I liked.

Today’s alcohol ink project began with an attempt at creating “subtractive” art. The idea is this. Create an alcohol ink background — as simple or as complex as you like. Allow it to dry. Then dip a cotton swab or other tool into alcohol and use it to remove areas of ink. It’s a variant on reverse drawing in that you’re taking away — subtracting — rather than adding marks or shapes to create an image.

I began by using alcohol as a base. Recently I realized that the alcohol I was using here in the studio was 70% isopropyl alcohol. I noticed that other brands were 90% isopropyl alcohol. So when I finished off the first bottle, I bought the “higher” concentration. My initial report? I don’t like it as well as the 70% solution.

From my experience so far, I like using a blending solution rather than alcohol as a “base” for my inks, but being a bit of a cheapskate, I use alcohol most of the time. There is a huge price difference. The blending solution is about $4.00 an ounce. Alcohol? The 32-ounce bottle I purchased from Walmart was less than $3.00.

I planned my colors — orange, yellow, and green — and I dropped ink into the alcohol. It didn’t blend and move about in the way I was accustomed to, so I picked up the tile and began moving it around to help the ink flow. You know me! Clumsy, clumsy. I dropped the tile, and sure enough, it fell ink-side down on the cardboard.

When I picked it up, I looked at the accidental design the fall had created. Somewhat like pressing plastic wrap against ink or acrylic, the fall had “kissed” the cardboard and left an interesting pattern. I set it aside and allowed it to dry.

Several hours later I came back to the project, wondering what sort of tool I might use and what sort of design I might want to create with the alcohol removal process. A flash of brilliance came! Sheer genius!

Note: Flashes of brilliance and suggestions of genius are misleading little demons. Don’t listen to them.

Why not use a stencil as a guide? I’ve done a similar technique in art journaling, never mind that I wasn’t very good at it. Seriously, folks, how hard could it be? Put the stencil over the tile. Use a sponge dipped in alcohol. Gently rub.

Yeah. Right.

First, my stencil wouldn’t stay in place. Second, I had way too much alcohol on my sponge, so instead of a lovely pattern, I just ended up with another mess. Par for my course. But, you know what? I liked it!

Alcohol ink, you see, is interesting. The colors are interesting. The patterns formed — even ones formed entirely by accident — are interesting. I haven’t yet sealed this piece, but the process of sealing adds a bright note to these tiles. I was happy with this little accident.

And then I coudn’t resist trying the same thing again. I thought I’d learned a lesson from my previous attempt — no stencils — so I set out another tile, chose the colors I wanted to use, and created another background.

Again, the ink didn’t move about as freely as I would have liked. Again I tilted the tile. I was careful this time. I didn’t drop it. But I was not pleased with the initial shapes of the ink. So I dropped on another layer. I still wasn’t pleased. I went to the sink and poured alcohol over the tile thinking I would remove the ink and start over.

But these colors were too dark — and the ink too thick — to remove. I gave up that idea, looked at the tile and added a few new drops of ink in strategic places. I set it aside to dry.

Later, I pulled out an old paintbrush, grabbed the alcohol, and sat down with my tile, ready to create a “subtractive image” of some sort. No stencil. Just drawing by hand.

I tried. The ink didn’t budge. I pushed harder against it, and finally I was able to remove a bit of ink — right down to the white tile. Pieces of the dried ink “flaked off” here and there. This was not what I’d intended at all! But, again, alcohol ink is interesting. Even when I don’t get what I think I want, as often as not I end up with something that is interesting to look at. So, I kept at it, removing bits of color here and there. Finally I shrugged and called it done.

Not a thing of stunning beauty, but, well, it is interesting. Imagine having this colorful tile on your desktop. A perfect place to set your drink of choice. And, by the way, this is exactly what I’m doing with it.

NOTE: Many thanks to Spencesgirl for telling me about cork adhesive backing for coasters. I went to Amazon, ordered them, and they are perfect!

So far, truly, making coasters is the only use I’ve found for any of my alcohol ink creations, and no doubt a lot of friends and family will be getting colorful 4″ square tiles for Christmas and birthdays.

Will I try this subtractive method again? Sure, sometime in the future. For now, I’ll just chalk up my miscues to experience and move on to the next technique.



    1. For me, practice becomes the “real thing” when I feel it’s ready to go on display. You’re right about the green — it does have a spring feeling about it!


  1. These are beautiful 🙂 The creative process has no accidents just awesome discoveries ! I’ve been playing around in the digital world but it is not the same, maybe safer since you can undo anything with the push of a button if you don’t like it. I remember I have some tile in the garage, maybe I’ll try it 🙂

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