View Full Version : alcohol with acrylics–effects & washes

02-25-2006, 08:57 PM
Hi. I'm interested in using alcohol to acheive effects in acrylic paint (splatter effects.) Can anyone tell me the difference between using rubbing alcohol vs. denatured alchohol? Why would you want to use one over the other?

Also, I've read that you can mix alcohol with acrylic paint to acheive very thin washes. But again, I don't know which kind of alcohol to use.

I just purchased a can of denatured alcohol, so I'm hoping that it will work just as well as rubbing alcohol. Any reason to use one over the other?


02-25-2006, 09:13 PM
I can't answer from experience, since I haven't tried it myself. But in the airbrush forum they talk about using vodka for thinning acylics for spraying. I have an air brush video and the guy was using ammonia containing window cleaner I think to create spatter effects. He dabbed it on with a rag or sponge and it would create sort of craters. Guess I should try that sometime, it does look interesting.

02-26-2006, 06:59 AM
I once tried thinning acrylics with 97%vol. alcohol - it dried way too fast for my purpose. So I don't know if it's good for doing a wash, unless you work really fast.

Maybe a lower alcohol content does a better trick.

02-26-2006, 11:00 AM
for some forsaken reason I seem to remember a way of splashing a bit of alcohol on a wet acrylic surface (especially thinned) and it creates a rather handsome affect (pitted maybe). Can't seem to find the book where I read about it but will keep searching today and see if I can find it.

02-27-2006, 09:12 AM
I use both denatured and isoprophyl (rubbing). My preference is for the isoprophyl because it is easier for me to control. The denatured more easily can eat right through acrylic layers which is only sometimes desirable for me.
I've not tried glazing with isoprophyl....I don't see how it would work as the alcohol tends to push the acrylic away like a resist. But what do i know? I normally glaze only with golden's acrylic glazing liquid, and then I'll pour the alcohol into that which causes the acrylic to disperse and run together. To facilitate that, I tend to use water with the acrylic, and then that gives the alcohol more freedom to move without too much bloom.

Be careful with denatured, because when it eats through the layers of paint, it tends to make a mess that is really hard to sand off. In fact, about the only thing I use denatured for is to clean up the mess I make with the isoprophyl (as in, soak a paper towel with the denatured and attempt to rub off of my surface the clots and bumps that may have happened in a previous pour.).

Hydrogen peroxide and denatured alcohol make an awesome highly textural effect - takes a long time to dry, though.

02-27-2006, 11:10 AM
Alcohol is one of the few substances that can dissolve dried acrylic paint. The degree of success depends upon the color and thickness of the paint. Some colors are staining colors and will not be removed completely. If you plan to use it to thin your paints, be careful since the alcohol weakens the binding power of the acrylic medium. If you use too much alcohol in thinned washes, you may find that your dried paint will be lifted off the painting surface by later brush strokes.


02-27-2006, 11:30 AM
Alcohol has two negatives (in the case of doing washes. for other effects alcohol is great)

1) it evaporates much faster than water

2) even a small amount of alcohol will destroy the binders that make your paint stick to canvas (or whatever substrate you use)

Water only has one I can see
1) Too much can damage how effective the binders are

I am by no means an expert, but I would make a list of pos/neg for your options and see which is going to give your work the most longevity and enable you to work efficiently.

Jeff Rage
02-27-2006, 11:40 AM
Awesome, I was going to ask about what stuff would not mix with acrylic.

02-27-2006, 11:47 AM
i just thought of something else.

liquitex, even if you do not like the paint, has a great little book that describes all the chemical properties and uses of acrylics and mediums. You usually see it for about 5 dollars at your art supply store, but you can download it from the Liquitex site for free. More answers to help you might be in there.

It has been a while since I looked at it but I remember it being filled with all kinds of technical stuff like this.

a. ladd
02-28-2006, 11:28 AM
Leon Golub used to use an alcohol lift technique on dried acrylic layers for that distinctive "tortured look." It would make in interesting contrast to the usual sanding and distressing, though maybe you'd have to varnish/seal it afterwards.

Jeff Rage
08-16-2006, 09:33 AM
OK, help me out, here. I'm trying to use alcohol to created a "tortured" look. I've tried both denatured and isoprophyl (rubbing) alchol, on both dried and wet paint, but it doesn't seem to do anything. What could I be doing wrong?

08-16-2006, 08:48 PM
Jeff, when I work with alcohol, I use paints that are at a very liquid state (golden fluid acrylics with water added to the consistency of coffee cream). I lay the canvas on the ground so that I can work horizontally and then pour the paint onto the canvas and get it set in a pattern that I think will work. Depending on how I apply the alcohol, the paint with the water will resist mixing with the alcohol, forming giant runs, pools, splatters. Most of the time I have to let the canvas lay flat overnight in a studio equipped with a dehumidifier (which also happens to be really bad for a computer - strong odor + exceptionally dry air can take out a harddrive).

I don't find the alcohol to have that great of an effect on paint that is much thicker as the alcohol is unable to push the weight of the acrylic away from itself.

Lady Carol
08-16-2006, 09:49 PM
Can anyone tell me the difference between using rubbing alcohol vs. denatured alchohol? Why would you want to use one over the other.
I think they will give essentially the same effect.

You can download the Liquitex handbook from the Information Kiosk at the top of the page in the forum.

a. ladd
08-17-2006, 10:11 AM

Maybe you used varnish or lots of binder medium/gel?

It seems that you can liquify and lift almost any acrylic surface using enough elbow grease & alcohol (alcohol on the canvas, that is - unless you're Francis Bacon! :-) :wink2: )! Maybe let it sit momentarily on a horizonal canvas to get the action going.

Acetone will also do the trick, if you're into hazardous techniques.

Also, Clayboard makes a little fiberglass brush to do subtle lifting and toning of their inked board. This will also lift out small areas of paint too -even to the point of making a hole into the canvas if you want! (can't get more "tortured" than that!)

Just make sure you seal the finished stuff with medium or varnish, (just in case your work goes to a museum someday and the janitors are too busy sweeping up after the Pollocks and Kiefers to tend to yours).

Jeff Rage
11-24-2006, 11:51 PM
Jeff, when I work with alcohol, I use paints that are at a very liquid state (golden fluid acrylics with water added to the consistency of coffee cream).
I want to try this with Cadmium Red, Orange, and Yellow. I was going to try Golden Fluids, but unfortunately their Cad Red and Yellow are Hues with a II rating for Lightfastness.

Can I get a similar consistency using Ultrecht Cad Red and Yellow (heavy body acrylics with a I rating for Lightfastness), mixed with Golden's Glazing Fluid, Flow Release, and/or water? Or would the Golden Fluids be better?