a few years ago i bought some tiles for our kitchen and could not figure out how they were made. the colors and patterns mixed together in a complicated way that seemed beyond the ability of traditional paint or ink. my friend sandra, a walking googlepedia of craft knowledge, took one look at them and said, "oh, those are alcohol inks. ceramic tile. easy. fun." i filed this away in my future creative explosions folder and forgot about it until i dashed into michaels last week for glue, took a wrong turn and wound up in the adirondack ink aisle instead. i took this as a sign, bought six bottles of ink and the alcohol blending solution, and ran over to home depot for ceramic tiles. sixteen cents each!
then i went home and hit the bottle.
so easy, so fun, just as sandra said it would be. the results are nearly immediate. alcohol ink dries very quickly on non-porous surfaces. start with a thin layer of the alcohol blending solution, spreading it evenly with a toothbrush. (this diffuses the color, brings out the saturation and extends the drying time.) then squeeze big drops of one color on the tile and watch it do the weirdest stuff ever.
then just experiment with the color layering. adding another color to a wet layer will blend the two together, while adding color to a dry layer will create a distinct, bright color separation. try drawing directly with the tip of the bottle on the tile, moving the ink around with q-tips, and blowing it around with a straw. you'll get all sorts of interesting effects. every single one will be a surprise. and yes, once in a while a tile will wind up in a big muddy mess that just seems unfixable. don't throw it out. just squirt the thing with a coat of the alcohol blending solution, wipe it off and start over. this alcohol is very forgiving. when you're happy with the outcome, ink the sides of the tile for a more finished look.
i'll also emphasize that you must varnish the tile when you're finished with a waterbased (not solvent-based) sealer and let each coat dry completely in between, as much as it tortures me to write that. i am a very impatient person and despise waiting, but there is no room for a cavalier attitude here. you must varnish that thing or the ink will scratch off. after four or five coats, you can back it with felt for a coaster, glue on a hanger and show it off on the wall, display it on a mini easel or even use it as a backsplash tile in your kitchen.
if you have any questions, ask away and i'll do my best to answer! please let me know if you try this - i'd love to see!
Update April 2013: I am totally overwhelmed by how many people have come to check out this tutorial! Thank you all so much! I wish I had the proper sealer to recommend -- I've found many workarounds, but I know there's still a better solution out there -- maybe some sort of clear lacquer? If you have any other questions about fun with alcohol (though I have shared all I know in this post, so you know as much as I do now about it!), startling discoveries or want to share projects you've made using this technique, send me a note at artsyville (at) gmail (dot) com. I finally had to turn off comments a while back because it was being shared so much (yay!) I was getting so much spam (boo!). Thanks for visiting Artsyville :)