A TECHNIQUE DRIVEN Blog dedicated to mastery of surface design techniques. First we dye, overdye, paint, stitch, resist, tie, fold, silk screen, stamp, thermofax, batik, bejewel, stretch, shrink, sprinkle, Smooch, fuse, slice, dice, AND then we set it on fire using a variety of heat tools.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Adventures in Ink

I am delighted to be the guest blogger here today.  However, I must begin by saying that I am no expert on inks.   I was invited to share my paltry experiences when I opened my big mouth (or is that typed with my big fingers?).  I have played around with Tsukineko all-purpose inks for a couple of years now.   My main influences were mentioned in the post below, "March's Technique." 

I have one other influence not mentioned in the previous post: Patt Blair.  Patt gave me permission to link here with her blog to show her color wheel.  She has done amazing work with these inks and she teaches classes, sadly though, never anywhere close to me.  
 I made this color key so that I can tell at a glance which color I need (try to ignore the mistake on number 33).  There are a couple of popular methods to using the inks.  They are very thin -- as in watery -- so it's possible to use a brush and get some nice watercolor looks.  I've been a little frustrated that they don't blend like acrylic paints because they're so watery.  Mixing them with clear aloe vera gel makes them thicker and easier to use with a brush.   
I used inks mixed with gel to paint this.  I traced the dragon from a Dover book with a thin pencil onto white cotton and used a brush to apply the ink/gel mixture.  I really like this method because it allowed me to mix colors on a palette like paints, but the inks don't change the hand of the fabric like paint does.   The only thing wrong with this was that I had to put it away for a while.  I forgot about it and when I remembered it, the ink/aloe mixes had dried out in the little bottles I used.  Maybe better bottles would have prevented this.  Or maybe a better memory...
My next big project was this portrait of my daughter.  I made a line drawing from a photo and covered it with a piece of very thin plastic from a dry-cleaning bag.  Then I taped it to the back of plain white cotton.  I referred to the color photo and used the "Fantastix" applicators to apply the inks.  It has a very "sketchy" look to me.  I started with the lightest colors and slowly went darker, layering the color.  I haven't really mastered smooth blending from one color to another with these applicators.  The background isn't finished; I am probably going to use textile paint because it seems to be the most efficient way to cover a big space. 
I mark my applicators with a Sharpie so I know what color I have used them for.  The color doesn't really rinse out of them, but they seem to work okay even after the ink has dried on them.  So I use a different one for each color.  And I store them in a  container with the point side down.
At the suggestion of Quilt Rat, I made up some samples using aloe gel painted on fabric,  then I blended the color over.  I allowed the gel to dry on the bottom two before painting on the ink.  I heat set (which is important with these), then hand-washed in the sink with Synthropol.  I left the picture large so it's obvious where the color flaked off.  The best blending was attained with a thin coat of aloe, then painting the ink onto the wet gel.  And the color stayed on the fabric.  
I made up these two samples using the same picture for comparison of the techniques.  The one on the left was done with the "Fantastix" applicators and the one on the right was done with a combination of techniques all using clear aloe vera gel and a series of paintbrushes.  There are things I like about each.  I find that the pointy "Fantastix" are really good for fine detail.  I had to wipe them on a scrap to get rid of the excess every time I dipped into the ink.  But they work really well for tiny details.  I like the more watery look of the background on the right.  I used gray for the upper part of the petals and I mixed the blues and yellows with the aloe on my palette, then painted those colors.  For the greens, I painted the background generously with aloe and painted ink on top of the wet gel.  
Here are the finished postcards with their stitching.  

Another thing to try with the inks would be to mix them with textile medium instead of the aloe vera gel.  The aloe is probably cheaper, but I wonder if the mediums might be more versatile?    It would be fun to experiment with all the different viscosities


  1. Nice article Karen.
    I'm wondering if the textile medium would end up giving a heavier hand to the fabric?
    I love tinkering with all the possibilities out there; would hand gel work the same as the aloe?
    Love the dragon!


  2. Hi Anne.... Karen sent me this link so I'm glad to hopefully shed a bit of light on your question. The metallics and white ink in the line are opaque and can if densely painted add a bit of surface tension you ask about. But... all the inks shown on the color wheel and black,grey are 'transparent', can be thinned with water, etc... and add NO surface tension....no stiffness. It's why I like them so as I heavily quilt and want none of that stiff top happening. As to your last question about hand gel... I don't know but suspect it just might work. Patt Blair

  3. This is great. I am glad to see others have similar ideas as I have. I too made a chart of colors so I could quickly see what color I wanted. Also, I numbered my Fantastix applicators and have one for each color I have. Good tip about putting them in something with the tip down. I am new at inks and as I like to batik with wax and gutta, I think I will try batiking with ink for my ink project this month.

  4. The most important thing is how much FUN we have playing and experimenting with all the wonderful supplies that are out there. Some terrific tips there Karen!!!!
    Hand gel...you mean the sanitizers???? Nope they don't work like the Aloe ( I've tried before) LOL
    Textile mediums will change the hand a bit (depends on the brand)

  5. Someday I will make a mess with inks and dyes.... in the meantime I will live vicariously through your fun! Are you going to finish the dragon?

  6. Karen, I love your tutorial. I've worked a bit with the Tsukineko inks, but you've given me new ideas!

  7. After seeing your dragon, I thought I'd give the inks a try. I drew a detailed design I'd been wanting to do for awhile. I tried using the ink and aloe but couldn't get the dark colors (like your dragon's tongue). I had trouble with the inks bleeding and couldn't get the fine detail that I wanted. I've had good success with textile paints and am wondering if the inks are worth the trouble. Any suggestions?

  8. Great post Karen. So much great information.

  9. Beth! I wonder if it's the gel. I used very thick clear gel from a tube that I bought at Walgreen's drug store. I have tried it using some antique thin green stuff from Trader Joe's and didn't have nearly as good luck with it. I forgot about that (sorry) I didn't know if it was the age of the gel or the fact that it was so runny.

    For fine detail, I think I would use those Fantastix applicators. They're not my favorites -- I am much more comfortable with a brush -- but you can get really nice detail. They're just not nearly as good for blending.


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