Saturday, February 3, 2018

Through the Trees

Okay, my interwebs friends, get a drink and settle in - this might be a long one.  We're going to talk about alcohol ink.

That's part of a To Do pile I'm working my way through.  What you see is a stack of cradled wood boards; as a size reference the top two are 4" x 4" and the bottom one is 8" x 10".  The sides have been painted to match the image on the front.  Here are the finished pieces I sent out in a Christmas box:

Those were my prototypes.  It's funny that I love this art form so much - I'm an instant gratification person, and these art blocks have a zillion steps and take forever to finish.  Hence that To Do pile.  Here's how it works:

The background for each piece is alcohol ink on Yupo paper.  I should run next door and take a picture of my AI work table but that would require some effort so it's not gonna happen.  Maybe tomorrow.  I should take pictures of each of my art "stations", they keep multiplying.  But I digress.  Yupo paper.  It's not actually paper, it's "100% recyclable, waterproof, tree-free synthetic paper".  Tree-free paper - that's good.  It's plastic.  Made from polypropylene, it's perfect for alcohol inks which work best on a non-porous surface.  Alcohol inks are dyes that are basically suspended in alcohol; when the alcohol evaporates it leaves translucent color behind.  Unlike water based inks, they are not re-activated if you get them wet but they ARE reactivated if you sprinkle them with alcohol.  Isopropyl alcohol, not vodka.  (Fun fact - Sharpies are alcohol based.  You can make homemade alcohol ink with Sharpies.)  In the picture above the circles were made by dropping a different color of ink onto the already inked Yupo - it pushes away the color beneath as it spreads out.  I loved those circles so much I put that image on my Christmas card.

After I have several sheets full of fun colors and patterns, I pick one I want to use as a background, then custom mix acrylics to paint the sides of the cradled board to match.  A lot of artists who use cradled boards leave the sides as raw wood but for me that's an unfinished look.  So I paint the sides, wait for them to dry, then "glue" the Yupo to the face of the board with gel medium.  This process involves a palette knife, a brayer (or a stainless steel water bottle for those of us who don't have a brayer) and a stack of heavy books plus 15 pounds of barbell plates to weight it down while it dries.  Yep, more drying time.  Then I pick another sheet of inked Yupo that works with the background and cut out my trees.  We're almost done, right?  Nope.  But we are done next door.

Now that we're over in my kitchen, I use a glue stick to adhere the tree pieces to the background and let that dry under a stack of cookbooks.  Then I tape the sides of the cradled board with painter's tape and prep for resin.

Now, another side note.  When I started my '78 Series the end product was supposed to have a resin finish but, as I mentioned in a previous post, it's a fiddly process that requires a level surface and a dust-free environment.  I have neither.  Good lighting also helps, and I don't have much of that either.  Two other things that up your chances of success are warm temps and low humidity.  I keep the thermostat set pretty low next door in the winter, hence our transition to my kitchen counter.

Here's why I love resin as a top coat:

Isn't that shine yummy?  It's a glass-like finish.  I use Art Resin, which is a two part epoxy resin that is non-toxic with no VOCs and not much of an odor.  Some epoxy products are HORRIBLY STINKY and very toxic (if there's a skull and crossbones on the label just walk away).  Art Resin also contains a UV stabilizer and HALS - hindered amine light stabilizer - to keep it from yellowing over time.  It's also food safe, just in case you want to lick it.

So back to the kitchen.  I start with parchment paper to protect my counter; cured resin peels right off the parchment but would become a permanent part of the counter itself, like the drip on my dining room floor that I constantly think is dog drool.  I mix the resin for three minutes, pour it on, clean up my tools, use a butane torch to pop the air bubbles that formed during the mixing process, then cover the piece so dust doesn't land on it.  You have about a 45 minute window of working time before the resin has cured to the point where it's too sticky to futz with.  During that time air bubbles will continue to appear out of nowhere and work their way to the surface of the resin.  It is imperative that you babysit the piece.  I check mine three or four (or five) times looking for bubbles before I finally walk away, and the downside to constantly checking is you create more opportunities for dust to land in the curing resin.  Hopefully, 24 hours later, you end up with something like this:

I LOVE this piece.  Good thing, too, since I can't sell it.  No matter how well you babysit your resin, shit still happens.

Yep, that's a dog hair.  And there's this piece:

Cool.  I love how the background looks like an abstract landscape.  But I don't love this:

See that?  Air bubbles.  Here's another one:

It has a pimple.  That piece was a total experiment - the background is tinfoil.  I use a jelly roll pan lined with tinfoil as my work surface and one day I loved the pattern left behind on the foil.  I didn't know if it would work - some interesting wrinkles happened in the gel medium step - so I cut my trees out of Yupo that was in the questionable pile.  Turns out it worked fine, except for the pimple.  Luckily I can fix the bubbles with a little light sanding and a second layer of resin, but the dog hair is right on the surface of the Yupo so it has to stay.

Here is the metallic pink Valentine that looks so much better in person:

Seriously, you just need to come to my house to see how glorious the color is.  And here's what else is on my dining room table right now:

There are four more that still need resin plus a funky new one curing in the kitchen.  And I haven't mentioned that there's still ANOTHER step before they are finished:  I put two coats of a matte varnish on the sides to protect the acrylic paint.  I  like the contrast between the super shiny resin and the matte finish of the varnish.  The downside is the varnish takes two weeks to fully cure.  It's dry to the touch in a day, but full cure time is two weeks.  So all in all, each piece takes a good 16 days from start to finish.  Not exactly instant gratification, eh?

Everything about this process has been a fascinating learning experience, from figuring out what tools make the coolest patterns in the alcohol ink, to which painter's tape is best for taping the sides (there is a difference - learned that the hard way) to seeing how some of the inks react with the resin.  That last one is a bit of a crap shoot, and you don't know if it will happen until after it does.  Like this one, which I photographed right next to the piece of Yupo I cut it from:

Crazy, right?  It reacted within ten minutes of me pouring on the resin.  I'm adding an additional step to my process pre-resin, which is actually two steps because it's two products that seal the ink and also add another layer of UV protection.  Will this keep all the ink from reacting with the resin?  Who knows, but it can't hurt - I wish I saved the rest of that purple Yupo so I could do a test.  Will it make a 16-day process into a 17-day process?  Why yes, yes it will.  Good thing I love this stuff.

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