When Vodka and Watercolor Mix

Who knew there is more to art than just wine and cheese exhibitions! Click here to learn more or read an excerpt below.


Artists who add alcohol should use a clear liquid like grain alcohol, vodka or gin. Liquor that’s 64 proof freezes at 10 below zero, and 84-proof liquor freezes at 30 below zero. Artists sometimes add up to 20 percent of 84-proof liquor to their watercolors with decent success.

Not all pigments behave alike when in contact with alcohol. Consequently, if a color is composed of two pigments, one of those pigments may bleed into the alcohol while the other may not, resulting in a separation effect. Also, you may notice difficulty in lifting colors whose dyes are more soluble in alcohol because the alcohol enhances those dyes’ staining properties.

That led us to ask if watercolorists get to have all the fun, so we inquired whether you can also mix vodka with water-mixable oils.

Answer: 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 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, 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.