I am often asked if I teach classes on how I incorporate alcohol inks into my current work. I’m not really interested in teaching at this point, so I’ll share a small tutorial on what I do. I take a lot of work in progress photos and I have one piece that’s well suited for this tutorial. It’s called Crystal Surge.
Before I get into the meat of construction, I’ll mention that “traditional” mosaics are generally not built the way I build my current work. I’m pushing the envelope of “mosaic”. You can read more about how I feel about this in my blog post: what is mosaic.
All my work is built in its frame using MDF (medium density fiberboard or Masonite) as a substrate. MDF needs to be sealed on all sides and edges to prevent warping. I usually paint the front side black just so I don’t see the glaring white of the sealer should any of the substrate show through. I then glue mirror to the substrate.
Mirror, it turns out, has been the impetus for a whole new style of work for me. By having the mirror as a substrate, the light bounces through and around the finished pieces, rather than just across the surface. The reflection and refraction of the light within the piece becomes a vital contributing participant in the work rather than a passive effect skimming over the top of the tesserae (tesserae is mosaic jargon for the material used to make a mosaic; stone, glass, marble, etc.,).
This is how the first layer looks. I cut and glue pieces of plain mirror to the mdf and leave a large area of the substrate showing for reasons I’ll explain later. Normally I cut a piece of mirror to cover the entire substrate and build upon that, but this piece is a little different. The orange plant shapes are also mirror, but they’ve been colored with the alcohol inks. At this stage of the game, I use either clear silicone adhesive or Lexel adhesive. Either works, just depends on your preference.
Alcohol inks are transparent alcohol based inks that dry quickly on a non-porous surface like glass or mirror.. There are also some opaque and metallic type alcohol inks available. If you want to experiment I suggest going to Michael’s and grabbing a three pack in colors you like (about $9). If you’re not near a Michael’s craft store, the inks can be purchased in three packs or individual colors online. My favorite online source is Blockheads Paper Arts (Blockheads has closed their online business as of June, 2013 – I’ll let you know what I find in the future).
Working with alcohol inks is relatively easy once you get the hang of it – and sometimes the inks surprise you with glorious new discoveries. In a nutshell, you drizzle out a few drops of ink on the mirror, move it around, blend with other colors or effects, and let it dry. If you’ve used alcohol inks on paper or other porous surfaces, you know that the ink is sucked into the surface instantly. Because of this property, you can’t use a paint brush to move the ink around. The brush sucks up the ink and you have nothing left to blend or move. For that reason I used a palette knife, a “shovel” type exacto knife, or in a pinch, another piece of glass to swirl and blend the inks on the glass. There is also a blending solution made for these inks that extends the working time.
I’ve discovered it’s helpful to have a “sample board” of my colors. I used a clear piece of glass and added one drop of each color. When they were dry, I labeled each color and hung it on my wall for future reference. It helps to know that grabbing a bottle called “Lake Mist” is not going to get me a blue or gray ink, it’s going to be army green . . .
Back to building my artwork now that you know about inks. I ink the bottom mirror in shades of green and the top mirror in shades of yellow, blue and purple. The inks dry in 15 minutes or so (a fan pointed at the piece helps speed this up). Longer is fine, however gluing into wet alcohol inks is a new adventure with some surprising results – play around with it.
After the first mirror layer is dry, I cut two pieces of textured clear glass to glue over the mirror I just inked. I also begin laying the unglazed black porcelain and black stained glass in the chevron shape on the right side. I like the way the unglazed porcelain looks next to the sparkle of the textured glass. The “traditional” rigid placement of the black tiles juxtaposed against the fluid shapes of the glass and mirror appeals to me as well. When I glue glass to glass or glass to mirror, I use Mac Glue. It dries crystal clear with minimal bubbles. A little goes a long way. It’s a solvent based glue (no smell, though), that doesn’t change the properties of the dried inks.
The next step involves cutting and gluing more textured clear glass over the orange plant shapes that run through the black chevron shape. They will run up to, but not over, the textured glass already in place.
I look at it for awhile and mull the possibilities and realize this isn’t enough. One of the reasons is that the more glass one layers on top of mirror or other inked glass, the less intense the color becomes. With the inks, I can add another layer of the same color (or add something completely different) to each additional layer of glass. Color theory knowledge is critical to figuring out what the end result will be. In this case I want the orange to be more intense, so I cut more clear textured glass that runs the full length of the orange plant shapes, ink them on the underside, and glue them across the whole piece.
Ink them on the underside? Yes. I wanted the pure shimmer of the clear textured glass to prevail. The inks add another layer between the viewer and the glass and I didn’t want that in this instance. I do ink on the top side of the glass sometimes. Usually only on flat glass, but again, not always. Experiment – it’s the only way you’ll know what you like.
Here’s another fun thing to know about the alcohol inks. If you don’t like the way the ink has turned out on a piece of glass, you can wipe it off with rubbing alcohol (I use 90%+ alcohol). Beware – it will take off all the ink in which it comes into contact – whether you intended it or not.
I think that about covers the tutorial other than the fact that the frame for this piece used to be a light oak. After gazing at it awhile I decided I didn’t like it so I painted and glazed it to make it darker. This is how it looks today.
Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that this is the second incarnation of this tutorial. The first disappeared without a trace a few hours after I created it. If I left something out or there’s something more you want to know about this process, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me. I’m always willing to share.
Thanks for sticking with me!
Now go CREATE.