I often get this question from people learning alcohol ink art. I completely understand the frustration that one can go through while making bigger paintings as inks go completely out of control. Here are some useful tips:
Give yourself time: Don’t put yourself under the pressure to make large paintings as soon as you start learning the art. It takes time, practice and patience to learn the control of fluid inks. First, aim to achieve a greater level of control and practice with the techniques you want to try on a larger surface.
Double the surface size: Once you get comfortable working on a certain size of surface, make it double the size and then get comfortable with that size and then again make it double. For instance, if you are working on A5, move to A4, then A3, then A2 sizes, and so on. Make at least 10 paintings in each size, or whatever it takes to make you feel confident enough.
Start small and build on that: When working on a larger surface, it is difficult to pour a lot of alcohol at once and then dry it. If you focus on only one area, the other will go out of control or evaporate before you reach there. So, I recommend starting with a small, controllable pool of alcohol + inks and then moving forward from there as you slowly cover the whole surface. Once you get more control, you can start with bigger ink pools.
Ensure you have a leveled work table: While working on larger paintings, you want things to be in your control as much as possible. If the table is even slightly tilted, the inks will keep flowing in that direction and you will just end up controlling the alcohol pool instead of focusing on the painting. Also, make sure that your paper is completely flat, any curves or rounded edges will create problems while working. If needed, tape the edges of the paper to the table.
Composition matters: People look at larger paintings from a distance and so it should have a clear flow or focal point that will make the painting appealing. To achieve this, you must start with some planning, so that you have at least a faint idea about what you want to achieve. I sometimes draw a few lines/curves/directions on the paper before I start with the inks so that I can maintain the general flow I want to get. Or think of the composition in my head before I begin.
Get rid of muddy colors: When we use various colors in a large pool of alcohol, we often end up with a mixture of colors that become sticky or lose their vibrancy. When this happens, it is best to get rid of that ink pool by wiping or absorbing the excess with a paper towel. Start fresh with new drops of inks.
Don’t be afraid of reworking and layering: Often, we make certain areas that look beautiful or we end up with effects that we don’t like. I have seen learners not wanting to correct the areas that they don’t like because they are afraid that they will spoil the good parts. This is part and parcel of working with alcohol inks and you will find yourself in such situations in almost all the paintings you make. Just get over your fear of reworking or layering and do it with confidence.
Study abstract compositions: Even with all the planning, you will have to make quick creative decisions on the move. Every now and then, you will have to stop and decide what to do next. This will get better with practice and analysis of compositions that you like. I often take a photograph of the stage of painting I get stuck at and then draw over it digitally to figure out what to do next.
Look at the painting from a distance: When the painting is lying flat on the table, we may miss out on elements that are not working well in the composition, so it’s always a good idea to put it up vertically and observe it from a distance. This will give you more ideas on how to improve the composition. Looking at the photograph of the painting also helps.
Keep your cool: Although alcohol inks work faster than other mediums, making larger paintings will take time and maybe a few sittings. Take breaks, stretch your neck and back, start with fresh eyes the next day. Don’t stress if it is not going as planned. Have confidence and move forward with a cool mind.