Vodka and watercolours


I have read about it here and there on the internet, and wanted to try it, but never got around to it until now – painting watercolours with vodka in low temperatures. I have been trying out all sorts of different tools for winter sketching outdoors, because the watercolours never dry and even tend to freeze up on the page. But while coloured pencils and PITT artist brush pens and whatnot work fine, they all feel like a bleak replacement for watercolours.


So today I took the plunge and went out to try this at Barnhusbron in Stockholm. I passed by Systembolaget on the way and bought a small bottle of the cheapest vodka I could find (must have looked a bit desperate). I filled up a waterbrush with 50/50 water and vodka at a parking lot (very desperate indeed), and painted away as usual. And lo and behold – it works! The colours didn´t freeze on the page, and they dried incredibly fast, at least to a state where you can close the book without smudging the opposite page. Fantastic!

I was a bit worried that the vodka might smell very badly, or that the alcohol would make the colours go through the paper, but no such thing happened. I could detect faintly, by smelling, which of my two waterbrushes I had vodka in, but no smell whatsoever from the sketchbook page afterwards. The sky in my sketch got a funny, almost granulated look, and the paint felt a tiny little bit thicker than usual, but still runny and smooth to work with.

This simplifies my winter sketching gear a bit. A pencil (because fineliners freeze after a little while), a waterbrush or two filled with vodka and water, and a small box of watercolours. Neat.


21,5 x 14,5 cm, pencil and watercolours with vodka and water, on Stillman & Birn alpha series sketchbook.

27 Responses to “Vodka and watercolours”

  1. look out. i left a vodka bottle just like yours in my sketching bag, forgot it and than went into some club with friends – bags were checked at the entrance and they found my bottle of booze. attitude of those friends present towards me changed a bit since than…..

    • Haha, Rolf, that is so funny! I poured some vodka in a little plastic bottle to carry in the bag, so hopefully it will not be too obvious. And I´m not really a club hopper, so I´m hoping that noone will ever search my bag. :)

      • :D I bet the bouncer rolled his eyes when he heard your explanation, Rolf: ‘Oh, I must forgot I had it there. I use it instead of water when I sketch during winter.’ ‘Yeah right, to keep yourself from freezing or what?’

        But seriously, I have to try it too. I don’t particularly like crayons, colour pencils or pens. And Nina, I think the sky actually looks rather ‘winterly’!

      • You are so much better organized than me – even in ‘the case’ you can always hint to this blogpost as convincing explanation…. I am not a club hopper eather (otherwise i would have been prepared and had prechecked my bag) – just this one visit in famous Berghain in 13 years beeing a Berlin resident.

        @ Kaisa – I did not try to explain.

      • and, the drawing is wonderful (I should not forget to say), this muted colors with that strong read. and the sky

  2. I learn something every time I read your blog! I hope I won’t ever have to use this trick, but I’ll keep it filed away, just in case. And what a fantastic result!

  3. Zoe says:

    Great recipe. I shall try it this week as our temperatures have been way too cold for outdoor sketching, and not go into a pub and get caught. :)


    • Great, Zoe! Good luck! I´m guessing you have to try out what vodka-water ratio you need for different temperatures, I just took a chance with 50/50, and it worked fine for -2°C.

  4. Joel Barnes says:

    Wonderful drawing Nina. You’ll do anything to satisfy the sketch habit. Pretty impressive!

    • Thanks Joel! Well, I really like drawing outdoors, so it was a great thing that this actually works. I don´t mind indoors sketching, but it is a bit limiting to ONLY draw indoors for six months per year…

  5. Rob Weaver says:

    And, if you ever start to freeze, you won’t need to wait for one of those rescue dogs to bring you a heart starter!

  6. Cool. I learnt something today. Perhaps any alcohol mixture may work. But vodka sounds better :)

    And a great drawing as well. Very wintry and depressing.

    • Thanks Amitabh! I read that you can use either vodka or gin – I´m guessing that they are clean enough (if you choose the ones without spices or aromas in them) and strong enough. I suspect other types of alcoholic beverages will make your sketchbook pages sticky.

  7. isa says:

    Hiiiipsss ! Bonne idée Nina ! Et beau résultat :)
    je n’aime pas la vodka non plus mais comme cela on y trouve un intérêt …

  8. lilotte says:

    You could use whisky for a more vintage look !

    • Hehe, maybe. But as I answered Amitabh above, I am thinking that more “noble” drinks will make the pages sticky. I think strong and clean alcohol is the thing to go for in this case. Didn´t think I would ever use that last sentence… ;)

  9. Melliott says:

    You’re hilarious AND resourceful. The faster drying time is probably due to the evaporation of the alcohol–I wonder if it will affect your paper or colors long-term? Anyway, great sketches, congrats!

    • I was thinking the same, Melliott, about the long-term effect, but since the page doesn´t smell anything AT ALL afterwards, I´m thinking there is probably not much left of the alcohol in there to affect anything. I hope.

  10. Shari says:

    Hi Nina,
    This is a great idea! My washes just froze in my palette so I will have to try this!

  11. I really like your drawings and photos!!

  12. krys says:

    very good job in adverse winter conditions.
    use vodka is a good idea! congratulations !!!
    I like your sketch blog !!

  13. Thank you, María Cristina and Krys!

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