When Vodka and Watercolor Mix | Urban Sketching

Now that I have your attention (ahem), I can tell you that I’m not talking about drinking cosmopolitans or martinis–I’ll save that for a different blog post. This is in regards to using vodka as an additive to your watercolor. Word on the street is that you can add a little vodka to your paint so that it doesn’t freeze when you’re urban sketching and painting en plein air.

Urban sketcher Shari Blaukopf has considered this, as you’ll see below, so I thought I’d share this tidbit from Bradley Lance Moore, who addressed the issue in The Artist’s Magazine. He advises, “Alcohol is an effective antifreeze for watercolor, and if you use the alcohol judiciously, your work should remain archival.” (Read more about using alcohol as antifreeze here.)

I discovered Blaukopf’s urban sketches in Archisketcher: A Guide to Spotting & Sketching Urban Landscapes by Simone Ridyard, in which many artists are featured, sharing their art and their insights. Here’s what Blaukopf had to say about urban sketching in Canada.

Urban sketches by Shari Blaukopf | ArtistsNetwork.com

St. Joachim in Winter, Pointe-Claire by Shari Blaukopf (Pin this!)

My Neighborhood by Shari Blaukopf

Living in Montreal and sketching in all seasons means I spend at least half the year drawing from my car. Palette balanced next to the gear shift, water bottle in the cup holder, sketchbook propped against the steering wheel–this is my normal setup from November until April. Sometimes it gets pretty cold, but that means I sketch faster, and with watercolor you want the washes to be fresh looking. There are usually only one or two days in the winter when the temperature is so low that the paint freezes on my brush and I’m forced to finish my sketch at home. Some people have suggested adding vodka or gin to my water container, but I have yet to try that. I never thought I would love painting winter scenes so much, but on a sunny day when the shadows on the fresh snow are purply-blue, there is nothing more beautiful.

Urban sketches by Shari Blaukopf | ArtistsNetwork.com

Yellow House, Pointe-Claire by Shari Blaukopf

I live in a residential suburb, close to several older towns (Lachine, Pointe-Claire and Sainte Anne de Bellevue), on the shores of Lake St. Louis–my favorite places to park and sketch when I can’t get to downtown Montreal. Pointe-Claire has a village center with a main street, a windmill and lots of historic houses. There’s also a boating club where I’ve sketched so often that I’ve been given the code for the gate, even though I don’t even own a boat.

Sketching architecture has never come easily for me. If I’m working in pen and watercolor, I always do the diagonals in pencil first because I will inevitably mess up the perspective if I go straight to pen. I suppose I did learn about perspective in art school, but my approach is more intuitive than scientific. I see flat shapes rather than volumes in space, so things don’t always line up, and I am always in awe when I have the opportunity to sketch beside an architect whose drawings are dead on. I guess I’ll just have to keep practicing those vanishing points. ~Shari Blaukopf

I love her dedication to the craft! If you’re feeling inspired, get your copy of Archiscketcher here so that you can refer to urban sketching examples and ideas again and again. And if you want to enjoy a Cosmo while you browse it, I won’t tell anyone. 😉


Cherie Haas, online editor
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Recent question from a reader: Can you also mix vodka with water-mixable oils? 

Answer from Bradley Lance Moore, contributor to The Artist’s Magazine:  “Manufacturers do not explicitly recommend adding alcohol to their paints. But, if you are solvent-sensitive to mineral spirits and the like, experiment with the alcohol, but don’t add more than 20% or so.  It may help water-mixable oils to “flow” to a point, but from my experience, the paint does not always dissolve well into ethanol. The paint appears to soften, which may be enough for your purpose, but can become a bit gummy. When using water-mixable oils in very cold temperatures, I think it is best to use turpentine or mineral spirits as your “antifreeze”, not alcohol.  Additionally, 84 proof liquor freezes at -34.44°C (-30°F), whereas Turpentine  freezes at -59.15°C (-74.47°F), and Mineral Spirits at -70°C (-94°F).  Also, don’t use any acrylic-based mediums in freezing temperatures. Alkyd mediums may be functional, but traditional oil-solvent mixtures are likely easier to work with.”

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2 thoughts on “When Vodka and Watercolor Mix | Urban Sketching

  1. Starrpoint

    I recently learned to use Vodka because I like to travel with my artwork. I use it with both water media and colored pencil. So far it works well. You can always get a shot of vodka someplace, but you can’t always get other mediums. and it is so much easier to fly and get a shot someplace than try to explain the denatured alcohol to TSA agents that even view watercolor paints and pencils as toxic.