Monday, December 28, 2015

Getting Started with Alcohol Inks

Some of my most popular projects posted to the blog have been alcohol ink projects. I've been playing around with them for several years now (and completed dozens of projects on all types of surfaces) and feel fairly confident that I can share some advice for folks who are considering trying them out for the first time.

So what are alcohol inks?

They are alcohol based dyes that can be used to dye any number of different surfaces but often work best on smooth/nonporous surfaces (like glass, metal, plastic, glossy paint, etc...). The ink is a lot like the ink used in permanent markers (think Sharpies). It's permanent once it dries as long as it doesn't come in contact with alcohol based liquids (though just like permanent markers, some very smooth surfaces like ceramic, will smear even once dry). Alcohol Inks are often stamped or dripped onto surfaces and can create a translucent stained glass effect when used on clear surfaces (like glass and plastic). The most popular brands are Ranger Adirondack and Jacquard Pinata. 

So what do you need to get started?

Alcohol Ink. Alcohol ink is sold in little bottles with small nozzles for dripping the ink. The Pinata inks come in a large set with nine colors all in one box for $18-20 (and less popular colors can be purchased by the single bottle). The Ranger inks are mainly sold in sets of 3 (metallic inks are sold in sets of 2). They are usually priced $8-12 a set. I've purchased a few sets on Amazon when their prices dipped and also picked some up at Michael's and Jo-Ann's using 40 or 50% off coupons. As alcohol ink becomes a more and more popular art supply, more brands and products have become available, but Pinata and Ranger are still the easiest to find. Another popular source of alcohol inks are alcohol based marker refills. Copic markers are a well-known artist quality alcohol-based marker, and their refills have become a popular source of alcohol ink (because they come in so many different colors--358 last I checked). Copic refills have an msrp of $8.99 per bottle/color and are available at art supply stores. You might have a bit of sticker shock when getting started with alcohol ink since the bottles are so tiny, but they last a really long time (like several years and dozens of projects kind of long). Alcohol inks are located near the stamping supplies in most craft stores.

Of the two easiest to find brands, the Ranger inks come in a lot more colors (66+ vs. about 20) and are a little easier to work with than the Pinata inks for beginners (the Pinata inks are a bit thicker and more concentrated and harder to find at craft stores). My favorite set or Ranger inks to recommend to beginners is named "Dockside Picnic" and comes with a shade of bright watermelon red, lime green, and a bright sky blue. "Summit View" is another good set that would pair nicely with Dockside Picnic for a beginner. It includes a bright yellow, bright orange, and bright purple. 

A work surface. I use a craft mat to protect my table from the ink. These mats are great for stamping on too and allow for an easy-to-clean work surface and can be reused over and over again. If you're not sure you need to spend the extra money for a mat, parchment paper would be a good inexpensive substitute, but you might want to use masking tape to make sure the edges don't roll up while you're working. Do not use wax paper as a work surface--the alcohol ink will soak through it.

Blending solution. Ranger has a blending solution that's used for thinning/mixing the ink and cleaning up after your mistakes. Pinata sells a cleanup solution and extender for thinning. But rubbing alcohol works almost as well as the expensive solutions. I've used both 70% and 90% rubbing alcohol. The 90% variety is usually only available in stores that have pharmacies (I got my last bottle at Target in their pharmacy section), and it works just slightly better than the 70% rubbing alcohol. If you can't find the 90%, the 70% variety works just fine. If you get a bottle that has a nice flip-top cap with a tiny nozzle hole, be sure to save it--not all bottles come with nice caps, and the caps fit on pretty much all of the rubbing alcohol bottles. I did a series of posts testing the different thinning solutions solutions that you can check out here: Thinners with Stamped, Dripped, and Blown Ink.

An applicator and felt. An applicator has a felt surface that you drip your ink onto to stamp onto your surface. Ranger makes an applicator too. I was too cheap to buy one of these when I first got started (they usually sell for $6-8, but I have seen them on sale on Amazon for under $4), so I made my own with some scrap wood and some hook and loop tape (velcro). I was even able to customize it with a layer of craft foam under the velcro. It works great. I've also seen homemade applicators with little wooden handles or knobs and one person just attached the felt to a large binder clip to use as a stamp. Whatever method you use, you'll need some light-colored acrylic felt. I pick up squares of white felt at Michael's or Wal-mart and cut it to size for my applicator (but you can also buy them pre-cut). 

Canned air. This one seems silly, but canned electronic duster air is awesome for blowing your ink around on your surfaces. It works great when you're trying to work on curved surfaces (like Christmas ornaments) or when you just want to get your ink to spread out. Some folks swear by using straws and your own breath to get a similar effect, but I have never had much luck with that unless the ink is thinned down a ton with rubbing alcohol or blending solution. After you've gotten used to the way the inks move, you can try a hair dryer on low or a heat gun to blow around your ink to get a softer pattern.

With those above items, you can create all kinds of projects. Some other tools that might be helpful: eye droppers or pipettes for dripping rubbing alcohol or blending solution onto your projects, vinyl gloves if you hate getting ink on your hands (most of it does come off with rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer though--I rarely wear gloves), water pens (brushes with a water reservoir that you can fill with rubbing alcohol) or small paintbrushes for painting with alcohol ink, and cotton swabs for cleaning up small splatters.

So how do I use them?

To start, prepare your surface. Clear your table and put down your craft mat or parchment paper. If you don't like the smell of rubbing alcohol, you may want to open a window. The alcohol inks smell like alcohol--it doesn't bother me, but if you're sensitive to it, make sure your area is well-ventilated.

Next, grab your applicator and put some felt on it. Make sure to have a few extra pieces of felt cut to size set aside (I've done some projects with just 1 or 2 pieces of felt, and others I've used depends on the look you're going for, how big your project is, and the colors you're using).

Figure out what you're going to ink. I have decorated glass (like vases, votive candle holders, glass pop bottles, glass Christmas Ornaments, glass craft gems, etc..), porcelain and ceramic (like tiles), metal (like tins, photo frames, galvanized flower pots, washers, etc...), plastic (like plastic Easter Eggs, transparency film, switch plates, shrink plastic, plastic charms, etc...), and painted surfaces (like terra cotta pots, a painted wood picture frame, etc...). But really any smooth surface will work. I've even inked pillar candles. And you can use alcohol ink to dye fabric like silk flowers. So your only limit is your imagination. In the photo below I'm testing out alcohol inks on white duct tape as an experiment.

Now it's time to select your colors. Drip your chosen alcohol ink onto the applicator. You don't need much. You can choose to combine the colors as little or as much as you like. If you want it to mix more or want to thin the colors a bit, you can drip rubbing alcohol or blending solution on your applicator felt too.

Then stamp your selected surface. The first pass will usually spread out and look a bit like watercolor paint. Each different type of surface you stamp on will spread differently. If you like the watercolor look, finish covering your surface in color and you're good to go. If you want a more stippled look, after you've covered the surface in color, you can come back and stamp over it again until the colors separate more. Depending on the size of your project, you may need to add ink to your felt or think the ink out with some rubbing alcohol as you go. If you notice that the colors are starting to blend together too much (sometimes they get muddy or brown colored if they blend together too much), put a new piece of felt on and re-ink and keep going. Sometimes it even helps to wait to let the colors dry for a few seconds (they dry quickly) and then come back over the ink with your applicator.

With the duct tape, I went over the piece several times with colors from the two sets I mentioned above (Dockside Picnic and Summit View). The color didn't spread quite as much as it would on a super smooth surface like glass or ceramic tile. In the end, the experiment failed because the colors cracked and flaked when I peeled the tape up from the craft mat, so unless I figure a way around that, I've nixed duct tape from my list of possible surfaces to ink for the time being. The only way to find out if a surface works is to try it out.

If you don't have your applicator yet and want to try your inks out--or if you're looking for a more free-form look, try dripping your ink onto your surface (like with this vase). Experiment with dripping rubbing alcohol or blending solution onto the alcohol ink directly from the ink container and try blowing it around with canned air. If the ink is really thinned out, you can even give a straw a whirl. The really great thing about alcohol ink is that if you don't like what you've created, it's usually pretty easy to start over, just wipe it off with some rubbing alcohol. The smoother your surface (like glass or ceramic) the cleaner your surface will be to start over.

On Sealing. When your alcohol ink project looks the way you want it to, set it aside to dry. Alcohol inks will dry to the touch in seconds (unless you used a lot of ink), but may take longer to fully set. If I'm planning on sealing the project, I usually try to let it dry for a day before I use any kind of sealant on it. You can seal the surface with an acrylic sealer (some folks swear by a layer of Krylon's Kamar Varnish and a layer of UV Resistant Acrylic Sealer on top to reduce ink colors fading) or a layer of mod podge (Mod podge doesn't react with the alcohol ink and is easy to work with. It even comes in a dishwasher safe version.) Sealing your alcohol ink projects is recommended for very smooth surfaces like glazed ceramic tiles and for any jewelry or other pieces that will be regularly handled or may come in contact with alcohol based liquids (like perfume, hair spray, hand sanitizer, margaritas, etc...). I've left many decorative pieces stamped on glass, paint, and metal, without sealing them if I knew they'd just be sitting on a shelf, and they've all held up very well...that being said, when in doubt, seal it.

When you're all done, rubbing alcohol can be used to clean up most small spills and any ink that you get on your hands, but be careful not to let it set and dry too long on surfaces like your kitchen table (I have a couple small drips that I haven't been able to clean up because I didn't see them right after I was done with my project).

Now you know all you need to to get started! Try out some ink projects and let me know how they work in the comments below. Happy Crafting!

For more information on getting started with alcohol inks, check out the beginner series of posts about stamping here: Stamping on Ceramic Tiles and Stamping on Multiple Surfaces with Multiple Colors

Post Updated 15 May 2019

Monday, December 21, 2015

Floral Christmas Centerpiece

Happy Christmas Week! Here's wishing you all a great week of wrapping, baking, crafting, packing, preparation for the holidays. This week I made a fairly quick project out of a floral arrangement that was given to me a few Christmases ago but was not really my taste and starting to fall apart a bit.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of what it looked like before. I was a bit excited to tear the thing apart. I grabbed any floral accessories that I had that might fit a Christmas arrangement and piled them on the table with the parts from the original arrangement. It used to be all blue and green, but I ditched most of the blue and any of the overly rustic looking greenery and replaced it with some red roses and ornaments. 

I replaced the floral foam with some fresh foam, stuck some of the tall pieces in the back and then trimmed the 3 roses to be different heights and stuck them in the foam...then it was just putting the pieces back in until I liked the way it looked--lots of trial and error in floral arranging--and since it's all fake and foam--no big deal, just move it until you like it.

The red makes it feel quite a bit more festive than it was before, so I'm glad I took some time out of my hectic pre-Christmas schedule to rework this arrangement.

Merry Christmas from Sarah Jane's Craft Blog!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Dremel Engraved Plastic Ornaments

There's a post floating around with plastic ornaments engraved with a dremel. They are beautiful. These--are not. For starters, she managed to find plastic ornaments that are white underneath. All of the ones I had in my stash were made of gray plastic. I also only have one engraving tip size for my dremel--but I figured I'd give it a whirl. 

It's really hard to get anything resembling a smooth line. The dremel wants to shoot right off of the ornament. After ruining a couple red ones, I was left with some small gold and silver balls. I opted for a quick starburst/asterisk design as I thought I could manage it given how excitable the dremel was on the surface of the ornament. The starburst was easy enough and would probably look good no matter what color the plastic is underneath the paint. Just be sure to work on a covered surface to catch all the little paint/plastic filings.

Clearly this is one of those "as seen on pinterest" projects that is way harder than it looks. But my little starburst ornaments still look good hanging from the tree.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Retro Christmas Pin Refashion

This week is finals week at the school I teach at, so I'm just sharing a really quick project before I get back to grading finals. This summer my Grandma past away. She had lots of costume jewelry--especially pins and broaches. This beauty was one of the unclaimed after everyone took whatever they wanted. Now, I like a bit of Christmas kitsch as much as the next gal, but it was a bit over the top--I mean the charms hanging off the wreath are bigger than the wreath--but I could tell it wouldn't be hard to fix it.

The dangly bits on this pin were just attached with jump rings, so all I needed was a pliers. I pulled each of the rings attaching the charms to the wreath apart and now I have one wreath pin and 3 charms. The charms on their own are kind of cute, and I can't wait to find a new purpose for them, but for now I have this lovely retro wreath pin.

It went from kitschy to almost understated (if there was such a thing in a Christmas pin). I can't wait to wear this over the holiday season.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Popsicle Stick Button Snowflakes

Last week I made some cute Christmas tree ornaments with my stash of popsicle/craft sticks, this week I'm making some button snowflakes. Last year I made some starburst ornaments using a similar method, but this time, instead of decorating my sticks with paint and glitter, I used a hot glue gun and buttons.

I started with 4 popsicle/craft sticks. Glue them into a starburst buy layering them and putting down a drop of hot glue (or you cute use white glue or wood glue too).

Next I grabbed my box of white buttons. My mom rescued these lovelies from my Grandma's house when she moved into an apartment and got rid of most of her stuff. My mom was nice enough to gift them to me (yay cool old buttons!). There are all kinds of buttons in this box, but I saved the real mother of pearl buttons for another project and focused on different sizes and shapes of white and off white plastic buttons.

I glued a larger button in the center and then alternated sizes and colors and finished off the end of the stick with a slightly larger button.

Be careful to glue the buttons on straight (that one crooked one in the picture is driving me nuts). After I finished covering up the sticks with buttons, I glued a gold cord onto the back of each of the snowflakes, and now they are hanging on my tree.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Craft Stick Christmas Trees

My mom gave me a giant box of popsicle/craft sticks a while back, so I have been trying to come up with crafts that use them ever sense. Last year I made a great giant snowflake for our door and some starburst ornaments, so this year I'm making Christmas trees.

You'll need 3 popsicle/craft sticks for each Christmas tree (and a 4th if you decide to use popsicle sticks for the trunk). I laid out 9 sticks on a paper plate to paint.

I painted them a shade of dark green with some craft paint and a foam brush. I thinned the paint by wetting the foam brush before loading it with paint and then painted both sides of the sticks. After they had dried, I touched up the edges of each one.

I also cut about an inch off of both ends of another three sticks (so 6 one inch pieces) and painted them brown. I tried to take a picture of this step, but they turned out blurry--so you'll have to use your imagination. I cut them with a pair of diagonal pliers, it didn't cut all the way through, but far enough that they could be broken off fairly cleanly. If someone knows of a better way to cut popsicle sticks without heavy equipment, let me know in the comments. 

After all my painted sticks had dried, I laid them out into my triangle pattern and warmed up the glue gun. You could also use white glue (like elmers') or wood glue for this step, but the hot glue dries in seconds. If I were doing this project with kids, I'd probably just use the elmer's and some binder clips to hold the corners in place.

I made tiny dots in the corners of my popsicle sticks so that they wouldn't ooze all over the place and quickly placed the sticks.

Then I gathered a bunch of festive colored buttons. Most of the buttons I used were from an inexpensive bag of craft buttons I bought at Wal-mart (and used to make a button ornament a couple years ago). I did select a few (like the star buttons) from my stash of saved buttons. 

Then I glued buttons randomly along the sticks as "ornaments." Be careful not to burn your fingers as you're placing the buttons (the glue likes to seep through the holes in the buttons). Apparently I also forgot to take a picture of applying the one inch trunk sticks to the tree. The trunk will magically appear in the later photos. I just lined up the 2 one inch sticks and glued them with my hot glue on to the center back of the bottom stick.

Then I cut some green cording and glued it to the back of the ornament. I put a dot of glue down and then set the knot into the glue, pushing down on it with a craft stick, then I added a bit more glue on top to secure it.

I continued the process with my other two sets of sticks and made myself a trio of cute Christmas trees. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Shrinky Dink Snowflakes

It's that time of year again--time to start crafting Christmas ornaments! I decided to give something a little different a try. A while back I used #6 clear plastic from cookie containers and take out containers to make homemade shrinky dinks. I decided it would be fun to make ornaments using this process. Snowflakes seemed like a good idea since they are clear-ish in the real world.

So I gathered up some supplies--a craft knife (I used an xacto brand craft knife, the box cutter also in the picture didn't make the cut--literally), a scissors, a cutting board, my #6 plastic sheets, and some print outs of snowflake templates that weren't too intricate. I picked some from a Google search that used all straight lines, and then I blew them up in Word so they were about 5 inches wide. I knew from experience that this plastic shrinks a lot so I wanted a pretty big snowflake.

I first cut my plastic out to the shape of my snowflake, and then I followed the lines with my craft knife. It didn't cut all the way through in most places, so it was just scoring the pattern.

Once the pattern was scored, I could very carefully snap the cut pieces out of the plastic. I found that bending with the cut and not against it made it much easier to snap out. Any place that the plastic didn't want to pop out, I cut again by dragging the craft knife over the area.

Once the snowflake was all cut out, I cleaned up any edges that tore when I was removing the plastic and punched a hole using a regular hole punch so that I could hang a string from it after it shrunk. If it isn't perfect at this point, don't panic. The shrinking will hide a lot in the way of slightly crooked cuts.

I cut out 5 snowflakes. 3 Large ones and two slightly smaller ones out of some thicker plastic. The thicker plastic ended up having to be cut out mostly with a scissors. It didn't work well to score it and then snap it off with the thicker plastic. When they were all cut out, I layed them on a foil lined cookie sheet and popped them in a 350 degree oven for 2 minutes. If they are curled up, leave them in the oven for another minute before pulling them out.

The snowflakes all shrunk a ton--almost 1/4 the original size. The snowflakes cut out of the thicker plastic didn't shrink uniformly and ended up all wonky. But the three larger snowflakes turned out great! I was worried that the intricate cuts would curl up or something would go catastrophically wrong, but for the most part they turned out perfectly. If you don't want to waste your time cutting out flakes that shrink up crooked, you might want to test shrink some of your plastic to see how it goes.

After they had cooled, I decided to decorate a couple of the snowflakes with some nail polish. I tested several colors on one of the wonky snowflakes and decided on these two inexpensive varieties: a silver fine glitter polish from Sinful Colors, and a multi-colored gold tone glitter polish from Sally Hansen.

The most intricate of the snowflakes I left without adornment and the other two I painted with the glitter polish to give them a little shimmer. It was pretty minimal like I wanted after one coat--if you want more bling, try adding additional coats.

Lastly I used some gold cording to string up the snowflakes through their tiny shrunken hole punch holes. The holes were just barely big enough for this thin gold cording. Now these ornaments are ready for when I put up my tree in a couple weeks.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Printable Thanksgiving Banner

I needed a little something to decorate my mantel for Thanksgiving. It's always easy to find Halloween and Christmas decor, but Thanksgiving is often left out. Well, time to show Thanksgiving some love. I found the printable banner/garland on the At Second Street blog that read "Give Thanks." With just a little bit of tweaking, I had a great banner for my mantel.

I printed out the letters (which print 2 to a sheet) on some cardstock. All I had was white, so that's what I went with. The inspiration website used some brown card stock. I used to have some off white card stock with speckles that would have worked perfectly, so just use what you've got. I cut the letters out with a scissors leaving a 1/4 inch border of white along the edge.

After the letters were cut out, I cut a slit along the brown border on each side towards the top with a craft knife to run some ribbon behind each letter to string it up. I'm sure there are other ways to do this, but the slits allow you to move and adjust the letters to suit your needs. I used some narrow brown ribbon, but you could make just about any kind of ribbon work.

I strung up all of my letters by running the ribbon through the slit and passing it behind the letter and out through the slit on the other side.

After I strung up the letters, if felt like it needed a little something else. So I went looking online to find some fall leaves that had some dark brown in them and that could be cut out with a white border around them to match the letters. I found these fall leaves. I made them a smidge bigger and printed out two sets of leaves on cardstock. I cut slits along either side of the stems to string them up between the words. To angle the leaves, I placed my leaves on top of the ribbon on my cutting board at the angle I wanted them and then poked a hole above and below the ribbon just along the stem. Then I flipped the leaf over and used the craft knife to connect the dots.

I had to unstring "Give" to get my leaves on the middle, but I think they really jazzed up the banner. I'm pleased with how it turned out, but the slicing and stringing took a bit longer than I expected, so it's a good thing that the whole project cost just a dollar or two in paper and ink.

Monday, November 2, 2015

French's Fried Onion Container Lives Again as a Holiday Gift Container

If you follow the blog, you know that this isn't my first (or second or even third) time covering a French's Fried Onion Container with mod podge and tissue paper, but I had an empty container and it was just begging to be covered, so here it goes. This time, I found some adorable holiday tissue paper that I had floating around in my stash and created a cute holiday gift container. Wouldn't this work out perfectly for gifting some treats to a co-worker or neighbor? Be sure to run it through the dishwasher so that your cookies don't end up tasting like onions and you'll be good to go.

To make this gift/storage container, you'll need an empty French's Fried Onion container (snip off the plastic shrink wrap label and wash it out), some cute patterned tissue paper, a jar of glossy mod podge, a foam brush, and a scissors (and a paper plate or wax paper to set gluey brushes or the drying container on would be a good idea too).

Cut your tissue paper into a rectangle that will cover the container with a small bit of overlap on the ends. If you are using particularly thin tissue paper, you may want to cut a second rectangle and put on two layers. This tissue paper was fairly sturdy, and I've done this a few times, so I went with one layer.

Glue your tissue paper onto the container. I like to start my seam on the side and paint a section of the container with mod podge at a time. I line my top edge up as straight as possible and leave just a smidge to hang over the bottom edge. After you've glued on the paper, let it set long enough that you won't tear the paper by handling it or applying glue. If the paper is thin, let it dry all the way (30 minutes to an hour). I let this paper just sit for a few minutes before moving on. Also, make sure your fingers aren't covered in glue before this next step, if they are, you'll probably snag the paper and tear it.

So after washing and drying my hands and letting the glue set for a few minutes, I spread a nice thin layer of mod podge over the top of the paper to create a sealed and covered container.

This striped reindeer pattern is adorable, and the container serves as a nice first holiday craft of the season. I can't wait to fill it with Christmas goodies.