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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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