Cumberland Painter Learns To Control Alcohol Ink

By Trevor Keller | November 13, 2019


Jan Killian has always loved nature. “I was the kid that somebody would find a bug in our house, ‘Oh, there’s a beetle here,’ and I’d yell, ‘Don’t kill it!’ and I’d be running over and I’d grab it and I’d put it outside,” Killian says.

Killian is a full-time artist who runs Woolyfrog Arts studio in Cumberland. She incorporates her passion for nature and animals into her work. “I paint wildlife,” Killian says. “I love painting birds and frogs and turtles.”

While there are many artists who paint wildlife scenes, what sets Killian apart is she paints with alcohol ink, a dye-based ink in an alcohol solution. “It’s like painting with water basically,” Killian says.

That’s because once the ink leaves the brush or marker, it runs like watery ink from a bottle would. This makes it extremely difficult to control on canvas or tile. Most artists who paint with alcohol ink create abstract paintings where fine detail is not as important. Killian taught herself how to harness the ink to produce more realistic looking animals in bright, whimsical colors.

“It was such a challenge, and I just love challenges,” Killian says. “Finally, just through my own determination, I figured out a way to control it.”

Killian likes to start each painting by getting the details on the animal’s eye just right. “If I can get that eye perfect so it draws people in, you can basically do anything else you want with the rest of the painting,” Killian says.

Killian showcases her work at art shows around the Midwest. She also holds regular classes to introduce others to alcohol ink painting. Even with years of practice, she concedes each painting is still a fun challenge. “I do my best to wrangle it, to get control,” Killian says.

“It just depends upon the subject and the detail and how the ink is flowing that day because it definitely has a mind of its own.”

Trevor Keller

Trevor Keller

Trevor Keller is Executive Producer of “Wisconsin Life” for PBS Wisconsin. He loves photography and is always looking for a new Wisconsin park, trail or scenic overlook to explore.
2019-11-13T21:39:24-06:00Tags: |

Sign Up Form

Sign Up for Our Bi-Weekly Newsletter

Get your favorite Wisconsin Life stories, meet the crew, and go behind the scenes.

Our Favorite Collections

Storyteller Rodney Lambright II's comic series about the rich relationship between a single father, his young daughter and his retirement-age parents.
For the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we discover how Wisconsinites experienced the war both at home and on the battlefield.
Ice, cold and winter are an integral part of what it means to live in Wisconsin. "Ice Week" explores the many ways that ice defines us.
Food plays a central part in many holiday traditions. This series honors the foods and meals that make the day.
Escape winter with a look at some of Wisconsin's favorite sports and games.
"Living the Wisconsin Life" is an online series exploring the little things that make living in Wisconsin fun, interesting and meaningful.