watercolor & alcohol

I’m sure that some day I’ll stop writing about all the experiments and studies I do with watercolors, but today is not that day.

I’ve been reading up on watercolor and came across the techniques where you sprinkle salt or drops of alcohol on wet paint to create texture-rich effects. I read an article about alternative watercolor mediums that suggested adding some alcohol to painting water to lower the freezing point for artists who paint outside in very cold weather. This got me thinking about the alcohol-based prismacolor markers that I’ve used for years. The markers produce very smooth color and the alcohol evaporates quickly enough that the paper doesn’t wrinkle or buckle. I wondered what it would be like to use straight-alcohol instead of water with watercolors. I wasn’t sure if it would work at all, but I love experimenting, so I gave it a try.


Still working from the 66 color try it sheet, I tried to pull up paint from the dried watercolor paint dots and had varying success.

Suprisingly, some of the colors wouldn’t budge at all, while others seemed not to mind the alcohol and mixed with it readily. Some of the stubborn ones were English Red Ochre, Burnt Tiger’s Eye Genuine, and Zoisite Genuine, and the easiest to mix were the cadmiums. Many fell somewhere in between including most of the Quinacridones. The one that surprised me the most was Cascade Green which is a mix of two pigments, one blue and one green. The green stayed put while the blue soaked into my brush!

Painting with the watercolor-alcohol mix was, in a word, weird. It feels almost like dry brushing, but with a wet brush.The alcohol soaked into the paper very quickly, along with whatever pigment I managed to scrape up. There was a little bit of working time, but not much, and overall no matter how easy or difficult it was to get color on my brush, the results were relatively light and washed out. Some of the colors that appear more saturated are a result of overlapping and repainting some areas. When I added a little more alcohol to paint that was on the paper, it might spread out a little more, but not as much as I could achieve if I’d been using water.

I wasn’t expecting the result to be the same as working with water, but it felt a lot stranger to work with alcohol than I thought it would. I was most surprised that I had such difficulty lifting the dried paint samples in the first place.

There might be scientific reasons that are unknown to me to explain why alcohol and watercolor don’t work together, or don’t work well, but in any case, I’ll have to try out using alcohol as a painting medium again when I get my tubes of paint. Maybe I’ll have more luck starting with wet watercolors?

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