Here is a boring tray and it's cohort cowering in all its naked splendor.

Step 1: The Hook:

“Dahling! Look at what Aunt Gertie left you!”

You look at a drab unhappy tchotchke, a tray. Useful? Not in this sorry state! Your finger taps the tray. The sound of wood opens a memory vault.

Step 2: The Materials:

Remember those ATC (artist trading cards)? A media of bloops, blobs and splits. Aha! Alcohol ink! Pebeo moon and Vitriol! Happy splashes!

Yupo paper. That’s the usual medium. Let’s move it up a point.

Yupo paper is slick and reacts well with alcohol ink. What else has a smooth silky resistant texture?

Clay board/encaustic board!

Ouch, the thought of a huge slab of clay board needing to be sawed into measurable squares is appalling. Not enough scotch tape to reconnect sawed off fingers!


First measure the inner dimension of the tray. Now comes a bit of magic. Encaustic board can be:

6” x 6”

2 1/2” x 3 1/2”

5” x 7”

These are just some sample sizes. There are quite a lot! Blick is one art store that carries this.

Also note the thickness of the tile, 3/4” or 1/8” How much depth does the tray have? Purchase as need be.

Step 3: Then, the Hard Part:


How does one set that stage? Think of Lily Tomlin…show Ms. One-Ringy Ding the door. Grab EdithAnn!

Tim Holz (master ink magician) produces Ranger Alcohol inks with colors and more colors. Purchase and collect your ink bottles slowly. The inks last a long time. The most important step? Close that top! Soon as you are done, close the top!

Between clay board and alcohol ink surprising things happen. Be loose, let things happen. If it doesn’t work, use Alcohol Blending Solution or regular rubbing alcohol, clear it off and try again. Put the tile aside to dry.

Days, weeks whatever down the road. Just store it. Some will look great others, so-so. Have a special space to let them sit. Get a feel for your medium and have fun. The magic day will come when the tray and boards come together and click.

Step 4: Where To?:

Look at your tray and tiles. Which
way says “yes”!? I have a friend,Nancy, who loves puzzles; she picked out the path!

I made mine three tiles across and three down. Once you find the pattern, turn over each piece and mark with a Sharpie: Top row, Middle row, Bottom row; 1, 2 and 3. Whatever.

I have my tiles and tray ready for the make over. It can be grouted, but I prefer to ModPodge the tiles down on the tray.

Of note, you may also want to sand the tray and add a layer of varnish! Then, pop the tiles on, glue them down and you have transformed a sad little tchotchke into something new and happy!

Step 5: Here Is a Taste of What Working With Alcohol Inks Can Do:

Tonight, I’ve chosen four colors: Citus, Espresso, Poppyfield and Gold. Shake each ink bottle well. Splink from a dropper. If fussy, invest in some vinyl gloves. A box of 50 may make your sales clerk wonder if you’ve entered proctology school. No way! But, this amount will last quite a while and save you money. So, smile at the clerk and walk out!

It begins as a plain white square.

The ink sets out, each in their own pool. Muddling, muddling. Drip. Drop. Smear. Blend.

In the end, the white square has turned into a background of color. The green got lost. That’s okay.

Hmm, what now? Black ink! And, a new item to spread the ink: Blemish Extractor…aka, pimple popper. Eeeyew! But it has metal loops on each end. Surprise! It does what I want it to do! I add it to my other tools.

Gold background tile. Blah. Time to add black.

Aha! Poppyfield red on an alcohol ink applicator. Pounce. Pounce. POUNCE!!

Step 6: Samauri of Seven Snows

A story tendril weaves up from the black ink.

“See me?” it asks.

“Yes, I do.” As a writer, I hear/see a story pour out of the tile into my mind:

I see a samurai warrior of seven snows, seven long hard years of fighting.

He is writing a letter to his wife who has fortuitously borne him a son of two summers.

His focus wanders. His enemy slides a long katana down past his collar bone piercing and slicing through his heart stopping at his lap. Blood spatters and sprays softly on the washi (paper), dappling and ruining the sumi ink.

She won’t see this letter, but she will know. As you now know.

Step 7: One Last Step:

Later the next day, I applied Ranger’s Glossy Accents. This keeps the tile from getting “dull”. Be aware that you will really need those gloves, this medium isn’t kind to fingertips! I usually put a few drops in the center of the tile and then spread it out with my gloved fingertip. This will give you a wet looking tile and with gloves on, you won’t see fingerprints!!

Step 8: Benediction:

May you find your splink and your splink find you!!

Splink: A Chinese father, who is very strict, and when poked, makes a strange high-pitched sound. Urban Dictionary British term for crossing the road!