I know what you’re thinking: “Is he going to discuss the horrifying effects of over indulgence with alcoholic beverages on an artist’s work?” While that might be an interesting topic, it’s not exactly what I had in mind. Instead of discussing alcohol’s effect on the artist, I want to discuss how the artist can use it for interesting effects int heir painting.
Since the time of Edgar Degas, pastel artists have utilized many methods for spreading pastel. The underpainting techniques that have developed from these experimentations have lead to new heights of possibility, making pastel one of the most expressive media available today. It seems that artists have experimented with just about every form of liquid; water, mineral spirits and alcohol are some of the most popular. Personally, I have experimented with all of these liquids on various surfaces with diverse outcomes and recommend that you do the same.
Many pastelists swear by the method of wetting a layer of pastel with alcohol. It is to be noted that since many of the binders employed in preparing a sanded grit pastel surface are acrylic polymer based, and alcohol is capable of softening acrylic, surface texture can be potentially compromised. The alcohol being referenced is hardware-store grade denatured alcohol or pharmaceutical grade rubbing alcohol. Denatured alcohol is ethanol and may contain: methanol, isopropanol and gasoline. Rubbing alcohol is isopropyl alcohol and water. Common percentages are 70% and 90% isopropyl. Both are toxic when ingested. Due to the chemical nature of denatured alcohol, prolonged exposure to skin is also not recommended.
In the past, I had avoided Wallis paper when using alcohol for underpainting, because a couple of years ago, the paper’s binder had changed and with an application of alcohol, it would begin to soften. This winter, I decided to experiment with the process again to see if there was a potential benefit from this slight softening of the surface grit. With experimentation—and an open mind—new doors of underpainting possibilities were opened. While the prolonged application of alcohol can have an adverse effect on the surface consistency, a quickly brushed application onto a lightly applied pastel underpainting makes the pigment adhere to the surface, producing a nearly permanent image. Once dry, pastel can easily be applied without mingling with the under layer, or mixed-media techniques with watercolor can be applied without disturbing the initial alcohol/pigment underpainting. The rapid drying nature of the alcohol also produces a more fragmented, loose brushstroke appearance that is an interesting effect to which to respond.
Rubbing alcohol and denatured alcohol will both embed the pigment into the softened surface, but with differing effects due to their chemical makeup. While a good high-proof vodka or gin may produce a similar effect, but I would save those for other creative endeavors. Possibly something that involves ingestion. Cheers!
MORE RESOURCES FOR ARTISTS