Painting with Vodka



East from Niaqornat, 7″ x 5″ watercolor sketch with vodka

I add vodka to my waterbrushes to help keep them from freezing, a trick I learned from the journals of Edward WIlson. He traveled to Antarctica with Robert Scott in the early 1900s, unfortunately dying there in 1912 on their ill-fated attempt to reach the South Pole. Wilson was a doctor, ornithologist, and artist whose work continues to inspire me.


My flask, an integral part of my cold-weather art kit


Berg off Cape Evans, April 23, 1911 “Last Day of the Sun”, Edward Wilson,
from Diary of the Terra Nova Expedition to the Antarctica 1910-1912

I am very interested in your warm and cool palettes, and I am wondering if you would consider posting about that some time, about your paint and color choices.

It’s been thrilling to read your dispatches from Greenland! Thanks for bringing us along on the adventure.


I’ll be posting on my palette choices soon. Thanks for following my adventure!


Hi Maria, I’m sure this is an obvious question: How much vodka; what’s the ratio of vodka to water? -Thanks!

Karen P

Hi Karen,

In the real cold, I’ve just been using straight vodka! Sometimes I use gin, too. When I do mix with water, it’s typically in the range of fifty-fifty or 3/4 alcohol. Another idea is to bring a thermos with some warm water. At some point, I just give in and use pencil with color notes, then complete the piece under shelter. Experiment and see what works for you! I’d love to hear about your experiences.


It seems a shame to waste alcohol that’s worth drinking.

Would rubbing alcohol be practical instead?

Doug Grosjean

Hi Doug, you have a point there. I think rubbing alcohol would work fine, just be sure to experiment with dilutions. Strong alcohol can damage paper. With gin or vodka, I often do about 50/50.


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