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The Teresa Sharpe Tattoo Challenge Painting Tutorial Part 4

Did you miss parts one, two, or three? Read them now!




alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

Going very slowly, and building color in thin layers, I began to lay in my shadows. I also blocked in her clothes, adding a pop of blue for variety. Variety is important when making art, but it’s hard to find the balance between Unity and A Bunch Of Awesome Stuff To Look At. If you’d like to read a tutorial about the dynamic tension between unity and variety, hit me up. If I get enough responses, I’ll make one!


alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

Things are starting to look good. We’ve finally left The Ugly Stage (unless you count my feet) but we’re still not home yet.

A lot of artists ask, ‘How do I know when a piece of art is done?’

I don’t know, but I can tell you when I stop. When there’s no longer anything on the canvass that looks so terrible that I have to keep going. That’s when I stop. You’ll have to find your own truth.


alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

In this step I’ve lost a lot of what the previous image had going for it. I also added drops of yellow to the white in the background.  I got rid of the white in the background because I felt it was distracting from the focal point. I chose yellow to get rid of the white in the background because yellow is the compliment of purple, and right now the background is a relatively neutralized purple.

Pro Tip: Complimentary colors almost always look good together.

I also added shadows to her clothing and softened the shadows on her throat. Then I defined the back of her hair a little more. That’s a move I wish I could take back.


alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

I decided that the piece of hair which overlapped the crow needed to be taken out. It was too confusing. While the first round of crow erasing was drying, I began defining the back of her head with white acrylic paint. This is a cool technique that I learned from Schiele and Mucha.

egon schiele painting

A painting by the artist Egon Schiele

In this painting, Mucha uses a thick brown line to define the outside edge of his figure while leaving the inside lines thin.

In this painting, Mucha uses a thick brown line to define the outside edge of his figure while leaving the inside lines thin.

See how the thick lines define the figures and help separate them from the background?


teresa sharpe portrait in alcohol inks

After a few more hours of poking and prodding, I ended up with this. There are parts I like and parts I don’t, but that will always be the case. You’ve got to push through that Ugly Stage, but you don’t have to make it perfect. In fact, most of the time it’s better if you don’t try.

If you enjoyed the tutorial you can support my art by:






It would mean a lot.

Thanks for stopping by,


The Teresa Sharpe Tattoo Challenge Painting Tutorial Part 3

Did you miss parts one or two? Read them now!



alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

With the background starting to look a little better, I decided to attack the hair. I wanted to use cool colors so that it would contrast with the warm stuff around it, so I grabbed a bottle of ink that looked like it was purple and started squirting. One of the huge problems with alcohol inks is that you can’t tell what they’ll look like once they’ve been applied to your paper. The bottles are color coded, but the color coding totally sucks. The color matches are completely off and don’t account for the “some-areas-have-more-ink-and-block-the-paper-while-other-areas-have-less-ink-and-let-the-white-show-through” nature of the medium. I usually solve this problem by squirting a little on the page to see how it looks. Another thing to consider is that when one color of ink touches another, they begin to blend. The result of these collisions can be predicted if you know enough about color theory.

If you’d like me to write a tutorial about color theory and how it applies to alcohol inks, hit me up. If I get enough responses I’ll make another tutorial.


alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

I decided pretty early on that I didn’t like how the purple and pinks looked against my red background so, using the Self Moistening Art Brush with Alcohol Blending Solution loaded into the handle, I began to lighten the colors, hoping it would make the painting look better. In this instance, I used my painting like a palette, grabbing newly moistened ink from the places I didn’t want them and painting the pigment onto areas where I did. This is the third technique for applying color.


alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

Lightening the colors ended up looking terrible, so I stopped and started painting her hair orange, hoping this will be a better choice. It was. I liked it better, but now the piece had officially entered The Ugly Stage.


alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

The Ugly Stage happens to every piece of art. It’s that moment when things are beginning to get locked in, but for some reason nothing works. You have to fight through The Ugly Stage. This is the longest and most painful part of any work of art, but you have to bite and claw and scream and kick until you get through. It’s the only way to learn.

How did I deal with this Ugly Stage? I began by turning the terrible pink and purple parts orange. I did this by applying orange alcohol ink directly on top of the pink spots. Alcohol inks can wake themselves up, so if you know enough about color theory you can blend them directly on the paper. Pink is just red with white in it. If you add orange (which is just yellow with red in it) you will end up with a different shade of orange. It’s also important to know that if you add orange to purple (which is really just blue and red) it will neutralize and create a warm, rich brown.


alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

So that’s what I did.

After a lot of slow work with plenty of breaks to let the inks dry between layers, I wound up with this. We’re still solidly in The Ugly Stage, but things are starting to get better. At this point, I hate the hair, but I can’t figure out why. So I take a break…



…to buy some comic books! Believe it or not, taking breaks is an important part of making art. Remember, it’s more important that you see what’s wrong with a painting that what’s right. If you can’t identify the issue, take a break. Then come back to it with fresh eyes. With enough breaks, you can figure out what’s wrong with any piece of art.


alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

When I came back to the painting, I realized what was wrong. The hair was too nice. I had been too careful. There was fear in my lines and areas of color. So I messed them up. I attacked the places I liked the least with blasts of Alcohol Blending Solution and stabs from my Art Brush. I dribbled orange ink all over the place using the Direct Squirt Technique, then watched it spread like psychedelic fire. I stopped thinking about how winning a free tattoo from Teresa Sharpe and let myself have fun. The painting is still in The Ugly Stage, but it’s starting to look better. A lot of the reason it looks better is that I began to loosen up.


alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

Next came the Super Scary Part.

It was time to paint the face. If I was following Proper Painting Procedure, I would have painted the face first, then the bit of Teresa’s hair on the side of her head, then her earring. That’s because the bit of hair and earring are on top of the skin. Remember, it’s usually a good idea to paint the things that are furthest away first, but I was just too scared. So I eased into it. That’s OK. Sometimes you have to ease into it.

To paint the hair I outlined the area with my brush…


alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

…then filled it in using the Direct Squirt Technique.

I also decided that I needed more separation from the background. When I began the piece, the game plan was to make the background warm and her hair cool, but that didn’t work. So I tried the opposite. I added a bunch of blue which turned the red to purple. Do you think I made the right choice? Why or why not?


alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

Next came the bird. I outlined the lines with my brush, then, once the lines were dry, went back over them, using the ink from the lines themselves to fill in what they were surrounding.


alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

Next, I filled in her earring using the Pigment Stealing Method. To do this, I stole pigment from the background by waking the area up with a little blending solution, then dipping my brush and smearing it into my working area.

Again, I should have left the earring for last, because it is the object which is closet to the viewer. But I didn’t. I was still too scared to paint her face. Maybe next time I’ll have more courage.


alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

After a lot of long, slow work, allowing the piece to dry between layers, I finally reached the crust of the pizza. I had no choice but to begin painting the face. We’re still in The Ugly Phase, but it’s time for the Moment Of Truth.

Will the painting survive!?


The Teresa Sharpe Tattoo Challenge Painting Tutorial Part 2

Hi! My name is Nathan! Did you miss part one?


Would you like to see more of my artwork?



adirondack alchohol blending solution

This is Alcohol Blending Solution. It works sort of like water in traditional watercolor pieces, but it also has properties unique to this medium. It’s amazing stuff, but expensive as hell. Two ounces will set you back $10, which is insane if you’re trying to work big. That’s one of the reasons I’m making this tutorial. I want to help increase the interest and popularity of alcohol inks so that the price of the supplies goes down.


See how the top of the Alcohol blending solution bottle is the same as the top of the ink bottles? Alcohol blending solution can be applied using the Direct Squirt Technique. But you have to be careful. If you’re touching an area where alcohol ink has already been applied and you stop squeezing, it will suck ink back into the bottle and contaminate the rest of the tube. See how the stuff on the right is a different color than the stuff on the left? That’s because I sucked up a bunch of ink over time. Now those sucked-up pigments influence the colors I’m working with. Total drag.


self moistening art brush

For this next alcohol ink technique, fill the handle of your Self Moistening Art Brush with Alcohol Blending Solution. I do this by squirting a bit into one of the compartments of an old ice cube tray, then I suck the fluid into the handle. Ice trays make great palettes for both alcohol inks and water colors. Try it!


alcohol ink portrait on yupo paper

Once the handle of your Self Moistening Art Brush is full of Alcohol Blending Solution, drip ink directly onto the bristles. If you get too much, wipe a little off on a paper towel or rag. Once you’ve achieved the consistency you like best, outline the area you want to fill in. See the difference in the two edges? The top was done with the Self Moistening Art Brush. The bottom was done using the Direct Squirt Technique. The Self Moistening Art Brush creates straighter lines, but with less-vibrant color. Is there a way to combine the two? Can we get strong lines and thick color?


alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

Hell yeah we can! Once you have established the borders of the area you want to fill in, apply more ink using the Direct Squirt Technique!


alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

Then spread the ink around. Go slow and guide your pool of ink with the brush, but don’t get too close to the edge you’ve painted in! The ink is attracted to itself and will slowly (over the course of minutes) pull itself towards the line you drew, then stop along the edge. See the difference in edge quality between the two methods? Neither is correct. They are both tools that you can use in your arsenal. The Direct Squirt Technique is better for areas where you’re trying to stay loose. The Brush Method works better when you need to tighten up. Alcohol ink is, by nature, a messy medium, so don’t get too technical with it. Allow the inks to flow. Don’t worry about messing up. You’ll get better results if you relax and have fun!


alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

Using a combination of Self Moistening Art Brush lines and Direct Squirt techniques, I filled in the rest of the background.

When painting, you usually get better results if you paint the background first, then fill in the stuff up front later. If you have multiple figures, paint the ones closest to you last. I could explain why, but this tutorial is already going to be really long. If you’d like more painting tips let me know. If I get enough responses, I’ll make another one of these tutorials.

A note on composition: I began this painting thinking it would have a warm background with a cool figure sitting on top of it. The blue lines were added to reinforce the focal point, to guide the viewer’s eye towards the place I want him or her to look. In this case, that’s Teresa Sharpe’s right eye. That was the original plan. In the end, it didn’t work out. Composition is important, but you always have to be willing to kill your babies, even if you took a long time making them and they look nice and such.

With the background done, it’s time for a self-critique. For artists, it’s more important to see what you’re doing wrong than what you’re doing right. If everything about your painting looks good, you’re dead, artistically speaking. You will never be able to grow as an artist if you think your shit doesn’t stink. Real artists know they will never be good enough. Take that to heart. You will never be good enough. Learn to love that about yourself.

So what’s wrong with this painting? Well, for starters, I fucked up the hair. See that big red triangle up top? It’s not in the original image. Getting the shape of someone’s hair correct is important to achieving a likeness, so don’t take it lightly. That means that sometimes you have to erase.


pinata color blending and clean up solution

How do you fix mistakes on yupo paper? Can you erase alcohol inks? Sort of. By carefully squirting blending solution on the offending area, you can ‘wake up’ dried inks. Once they’re all wet and crazy again, you can wipe the paper sort-of-clean with rags or paper towels. See what I did to the smeared area behind my hand? The problem? You will never get the paper back to white. I usually use Adirondak inks and blending solution because that’s what the lady who taught me to paint with them uses, but the art store where I buy my supplies carries a different brand. I tried them out hoping they would work better. They work exactly the same. When using alcohol inks you have to protect the areas you want to remain white. This requires a bit of planning. Before you begin, say to yourself, ‘Is there any part of this piece that I would like to remain white?’ If the answer is ‘yes’ protect that area with your life. It’s as easy and as difficult as that.


alcohol ink portrait of teresa sharpe on yupo paper

The next thing I didn’t like about the background was the green bit in the bottom left. So I grabbed the paper, held it upright, and squirted blending solution on the area, being careful to stay away from the edge of my figure. Then I let the newly awakened ink drip all over the cardboard I use to protect my hardwood floors. It kills me to have to erase like this. Alcohol Blending Solution is expensive. This one mistake probably cost me $1 to fix, which ads up, especially if you’re working at medium to large sizes.


erasing with alcohol inks

Next, using the same Direct Squirt Technique, I tried to get rid of the blue compositional lines. They just weren’t working. So I hit the area with a little squirt, and let the color begin to run off.


erasing with alcohol inks

After the initial, assault, I hit the area again. See how it’s been pushed back even further? This is about as white as I’m going to be able to get this area. That’s why it’s important to decide ahead of time what parts of the piece you want to be white. you won’t get to take it back later.

Enjoying yourself?


The Teresa Sharpe Tattoo Challenge Painting Tutorial Part 1

alcohol ink portrait of the tattoo artist teresa sharpe

This is a painting I made of Teresa Sharpe using alcohol inks. The purpose of the painting and this tutorial is three fold:

1. To teach people what I have learned so far about making portraits with alcohol inks.

2. To promote my podcast. It’s called ‘My Friend’s Divorce’ and follows my adventures trying to make it as an artist on the mean streets of New York. You can listen to it by pressing play below!

3. To try to win the ‘Paint a Portrait of Teresa Sharpe’ contest. The grand prize is a tattoo from the artist herself. I’ve always wanted one of those! So here we go:

IMG_1833My process usually begins with a drawing. Drawing is the foundation of painting. You don’t have to be a good draftsmen to be a good painter, but it helps. I execute the drawing with water soluble colored pencil because the lines erase more easily than graphite when used on yupo paper.

What is yupo paper? Good question! It’s like paper, but made out of plastic, at least I think it’s made out of plastic. They sell it in opaque and translucent varieties and you can buy it bundled in convenient pads or big sheets. For this painting I started with a giant sheet of opaque yupo, and cut it down to 17″x 17″.

If you dribble alcohol ink on yupo paper, the liquid pools up and gets all squiggly and wild. It’s sort of like painting with watercolors, but you get incredibly vibrant effects. Be sure to put down lots of cardboard or newspaper to protect your surfaces. This shit gets messy!

What are alcohol inks? Another good question! I think they’re the stuff inside markers, but sucked out and loaded into expensive little tubes. They’re primarily used for crafting, but a bunch of artists have begun making fine art with them. The person who taught me how to paint with alcohol inks is named Wendy Videlock. Wendy is a poet and an artist. She lives in the mountains of Colorado, and I think of her as a sort of surrogate mother. Where’s my actual mother? Find out by reading my hilarious memoir!

colored pencil sharpener

How to sharpen colored pencils. Have you ever seen those sharpeners with two holes and wondered why? Here’s the answer: one side gives a long lead and is perfect for graphite. The other is for colored pencils and gives a short, stubby result. The stuff inside colored pencils is soft and breaks easily. You’ll waste a lot of time and money sharpening colored pencils with a traditional sharpener. Invest in a good combination unit and be sure to replace it often, as the blades get dull fast! Why didn’t they teach you this in art school? Because art school is a joke. Avoid it at all costs.

direct squirt alcohol ink technique

There are lots of techniques for applying alcohol ink to yupo paper. In this tutorial I use three of them. The first is the direct squirt technique. It’s pretty easy, just put your bottle against the paper and squeeze, then cross your fingers and hope the ink ends up where you intended.

alcohol ink portrait on yupo paper

Here are some lines I drew using the direct squirt technique. Benefits: Thick, rich color. Downside: lack of control.

self moistening art brush

Which brings us to the Self Moistening Art Brush. Self Moistening Art Brushes are awesome! You can load Alcohol Blending Solution into the handle and use it to get more control with alcohol inks. What is Alcohol Blending Solution? Because of the way the Internet works, I’ll have to break this tutorial up into multiple parts. But don’t worry! I’ll tell you all about Alcohol Blending Solution in part two!


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