Summer Sailing

In the past year, I have been experimenting with a new medium (at least for me): alcohol ink, which is essentially ink pigment that is suspended in isopropyl alcohol rather than in water. The colors are extremely vibrant, and they react wonderfully with the alcohol itself, creating patterns that are not usually found in watercolor or regular ink. The alcohol inks require a slick surface, so usually I use either yupo paper, which is really a plastic paper, or smooth surfaces gessoed wood panels.  Last fall when I returned from a trip to Santa Monica, California, I was inspired to paint some sailboats that I had admired from the beach. I love to watch them even though I don't know how to sail, (but it is on my bucket list).  To paint these images, I decided  to try using the alcohol inks.  I started with several small 5" x 7" paintings on cradled wood board to experiment with colors and techniques.      

Then I decided to try a larger format for the sailboat paintings and made several on 24" x 36" cradled smooth finish board.  And when I had an open studio at the beginning of June, I featured these paintings along with other new ones that I had painted this year.


One of my friends and co-workers, Joanna, liked the sailboats but wanted something slightly different, so she commissioned a painting from me. She wanted a single boat using the portrait rather than landscape angle and she wanted the lovely aqua blues that I had been using--and clouds.  I decided for this long proportion of the portrait it would be most interesting to have the sailboat tipping at an angle so that it would run diagonally across the picture plane.

The first step was to pencil in drawing and then mask the sailboat and the clouds (basically what I wanted to remain white) with liquid frisket. Then I painted in the aqua blues and darker ultramarine blue of the water--aqua in front and ultramarine in the distance. I tip the paper so that the ink essentially runs across the paper (with the help of a bit more alcohol).

Next, I painted in the sky with the darker at the top and moving to lighter and light shades of blue until I reached the line of the water, using ultramarine, cerulean, and then ocean mist (copic ink which I get at Dick Blick).

Once these were dry I lifted the masking from the cloud area and used Tim Holtz cloud blue, which has a lovely gray and pink under tones and ultramarine blue. I use a lot of alcohol and a cotton ball to make the round shapes of the clouds. The trick is to save the white areas, but as I didn't do a great job in saving enough white, I added some opaque white ink from Jacquard to lighten some areas, again softening the edges with a cotton ball.

The final step was to remove the rest of the masking that was on the sailboat and begin painting it.

Alcohol ink is hard to control, and I wanted the sails mostly to be a light white/grey, so I mixed a tiny bit of black into the white to paint the sails and then blocked in the lines with black ink that I immediately erased with alcohol. This stained the yupo paper but left a nice gray color. For the boat itself, I used some ink, but mostly watercolor as it is easier to control. Finally I finished the robe lines with an ink pen and painted in a red flag at the top. 

Prints of the sailboats are available here.

If you are interested in commissioning a sailboat painting or any other subject email me at

Have a great sailing summer!

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