Interview With Kristy Swanson – Alcohol Ink Artist

by | Apr 14, 2017 | Alcohol Ink, Techniques, Textures

A couple of weeks ago members of our community inquired about the techniques of Alcohol Ink Artist, Kristy Swanson.  Kristy creates beautiful transparent, watery effects with alcohol ink.    So I reached out to her and she so graciously agreed to a short interview about alcohol ink art.   Below are her responses and some images of her work.   

She also sells her beautiful work on Etsy at https://www.etsy.com/shop/KSwanArt 


When did you begin working with alcohol ink?

Kristy: I started playing with alcohol inks last year, after having stumbled upon them by seeing works by other artists and wondering what kind of medium they were using to get particular effects. I bought a couple of bottles of Ranger inks, as well as some Yupo paper, and I kind of fell down the rabbit hole and haven’t recovered yet.

What do you love about alcohol ink?

Kristy: Hmmm. I love the way they form shiny ridges and lines when the inks meet. I love the unpredictable-ness of them (though sometimes I hate it, as well.) I’m always intrigued by people who can create these amazing, detailed, realistic pieces with alcohol inks and I wonder how they get so much control. My experience is that I seem to have about 50% control, and the rest is hoping.

What surface(s) do you work on?

Mostly Yupo paper, though I’m experimenting with other surfaces. I’ve used tracing paper, vellum, photographic paper, gessoed canvas, shellac-sealed wood, all with varying results. Ultimately I want to figure out how to combine the inks with encaustic painting, as that’s another medium that I really love. 

Can you tell us a little about your process? 

I do a lot of moving the ink around with air or gravity in one way or another—blowing through a straw, compressed air, hair dryers, painting vertically, tilting the surface around to move the ink, and so forth. Sometimes I will use some kind of implement to move the ink around—brushes, or q-tips, that kind of thing. I also tend to use a lot of alcohol, and I mean a LOT. When I first started playing with alcohol inks, I would buy blending solution and pretty quickly I realized that I went through it so fast I needed to find another way. So, 91% rubbing alcohol is a big part of how I get more watery effects. 
Also, an important part of my process is frustration, and swearing a lot. One time, I just hated the piece I was working on, nothing was turning out the way I wanted it to. So in my irritation, I threw a bunch of ink all over the paper, and splashed, even more, alcohol on it, and blew the crap out of it with a hair dryer. And voila, out of the frustration and cussing, something emerged that I actually kind of liked. My friend loved it, and named it “Effed in Pink”. 

What materials (other than alcohol ink) do you use?

Right now I finish a lot of my pieces by mounting them onto a cradled wood panel and coating them with resin. I am worried about the permanence of the inks, so I coat each piece with Kamar varnish and then UV protectant as well. (Fingers crossed that it works…I’ve seen some people have issues with their artwork fading, and I’d really hate to sell a piece and then find out that it literally disappears over time). 
Outside of alcohol inks, I’m experimenting with acrylic paints and inks, and encaustic painting. Frankly, if I could figure out how to get a similar look out of acrylic inks that I get from alcohol inks, I’d probably gravitate to those, simply to avoid the issue of the dyes fading. That being said, so far nothing behaves quite the way alcohol inks do, and so I can’t imagine giving them up entirely.

About Kristy Swanson

Kristy Swanson is an artist living in the Seattle area. She works with inks, acrylics, encaustic, and photography to explore ideas about transparency, depth, the interplay of color, textures, and shape. She is drawn to abstract artwork, focusing on the evocation of mood rather than the depiction of form. In her non-art life, she works as a therapist and personal coach and gets outside every chance she gets.

Find Kristy on the Web

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The Alcohol Ink Art Community is a community of artists who work with or want to learn to work with alcohol ink as an art medium.

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  1. Anastasi

    Thank you for this funny and excellent write up. I hadn’t thought about adding more alcohol. I also share your experience in frustration with the final result being great. I use alcohol ink on glass, it is even more crazy!

    • Jagjitkaur

      Do alcohol inks work on silk cloth.?what is the difference between alcoholic inks and dynaflow dyes.please clarify.Thanks

  2. Bill Lovell

    Hi love the technique wont to try it out have ordered some materials cant wait. Regards Bill PS could I find a reference to the type of materials you can paint on.

  3. Maria

    Hello, I live in the Sacramento area. Where can I go and learn the alcohol technic? Or the closest place to me. I love, love, love this transparent look.

  4. Anne

    Interesting. Thank you.


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