Written by Photography, Video

Experiments with Acrylic Ink and Water

The other day I was drinking a cup of tea in one of those cafés where they provide the hot water, tea bag and milk separately. I let the tea brew before stirring the milk in and was entranced by the smokey effect of the milk being stirred into the water.

Then I went to The House of Illustration for the final weekend of their Designed in Cuba collection of communist posters. Most of these posters were drawn, but in a video interview with one artist he mentioned portraying a nuclear bomb mushroom cloud by taking a picture of ‘Chinese Ink’ added to water and then inverting the image.

Together, I thought this might be fun as a video experiment.

A bit of googling suggested that acrylic ink and water worked best. A few YouTube videos suggested buying or making an aquarium was the best way forward. But they cost money, and I wanted to do something quickly and easily.

In MUJI, I found a nice acrylic plastic box. Some paints were cheaply acquired from Amazon, and I bought a few plastic bits and pieces to try to control the paint at my local discount shop.

I lit the box from above and to the side, placing it on some white board, with more white board behind the box.

The first attempts didn’t go as well as hoped when I realised afterwards that I had not set my camera to 100 fps (to slow the footage down), but had inadvertently left it on 25 fps, which meant I couldn’t slow the footage down. Frustratingly, those first shots appeared better than anything else I subsequently did.

I used some tape across the top of the box to get a consistent paint entry position, and I used a steel ruler in the water to fix the manual focus of my camera before pouring the paint in.

The results of a first and second series of attempts are shown above. I did also try using a GoPro in SlowMo mode second time around, but the quality really wasn’t good enough – there’s one shot from the GoPro above. I mostly used my A7iii.

Do not underestimate how much time you’ll need to clean up the water and box after each attempt. And the box had a nasty habit of condensing over when you used anything but cold water. I got through a number of paper towels and lens wipes to keep the outside clear. I do think that glass might be better for this, since despite lots of cleaning, acrylic paint in water with an acrylic surface probably means staining.

Also, my box is relatively small, and having a larger one would mean I could get further away from the paint entry point at the top.

For delivering the paint, which was pre-mixed with water, I used a couple of plastic bottles – designed, I believe, for dispensing vinegar! I also managed to get one oral syringe, which might have been better overall bet. Getting a syringe in a chemist without sounding like you’re a junkie is interesting…

Finally, it would have been nice to capture some stills as well. I can obviously lift stills from the video but that mostly in HD (my camera won’t shoot 4K at truly high speeds). And pressing a camera shutter cable while releasing at least two paints simultaneously might be a minimum of a two-person job!