The Beginners Guide to Acrylic Pouring
Acrylic Paint Pouring is a fluid painting technique used to create art by pouring acrylic paint onto a canvas. Many methods can be used to apply the paint to the canvas, some are more simple and are better for beginners – others are a bit more technical! Here we cover the basics of pouring to get you off to a head start!
The Acrylic Pouring technique allows artists to apply colour in puddles, pools and marble-like patterns. Pouring results in a smooth, glossy paint film that is perfectly even and blemish free. It is particularly popular with beginners as it allows artists to create quick paintings with dramatic, contemporary results.
No matter which technique you opt for, you will need to treat your acrylic paint before creating your pours. Treating the paint makes it the right consistency for dripping and pouring and lessens the chances of your paint films cracking and tearing.
Although the technique may look and seem simple, it can be a tricky thing to master. Especially if you don’t know what you are doing! In this blog post we cover the basics of acrylic pouring, so you know what to expect before you get started!
What Materials Do I Need For Acrylic Pouring?
Before you start, it’s important to make sure you have all the correct materials to hand! There’s nothing more frustrating than beginning an acrylic pour, only to find that you are missing an essential tool.
You’ll need a selection of acrylic paints to get started. The colour is completely up to you but you will need to think about the ‘body’ of the paint that you use. The consistency of acrylic paint will impact the success of your pour.
Soft Body Acrylic Paints and Acrylic Inks
Acrylic Inks and Soft Body, High Flow or Fluid Acrylic Paints are the perfect consistency for acrylic pour painting. Their consistency usually falls between milk (ink and high flow) and heavy cream (soft body and fluid). This low viscosity makes it much easier to blend your colour with pouring medium and requires less medium to get it to a pouring consistency.
Heavy Body Acrylic Paints
Heavy Body acrylics have a much thicker consistency. Although they can be used with a pouring technique you will find that you need more medium to get them to the honey-like viscosity required for pouring. Some artists choose to thin the colour first with a fluid medium before adding pouring medium. You can get away with using a small amount of water to thin your colour before adding pouring medium, but be aware that too much water can increase the chances of your pour failing.
Using thick paint also means it is much harder to mix your paint and medium to a smooth, uniform finish. Too much agitation to get rid of clumps can create lots of bubbles in your pouring mixture. Consequently, these bubbles can mean your poured painting develops an uneven, textured finish. While you can pop these bubbles using methods we discuss later, it is always advisable to negate the chances of these bubbles forming by using a consistency of acrylic paint best suited to the pouring process.
Student Grade Acrylic Paints
Student grade acrylic paints – like Winsor & Newton Galeria, Daler Rowney System 3 and Sennelier Abstract – are not available in different consistencies. Their texture generally falls between soft and heavy body – with System 3 being the most fluid and Abstract being the thickest. They can be used with pouring techniques, but require more medium to get them to a pouring consistency.
You can find out more about different acrylic paint consistencies on our blog.
Acrylic Pouring Medium
Liquitex Acrylic Pouring Medium has a special formula that gives the most seamless results when used with pour painting techniques. Using a dedicated acrylic pouring medium, rather than cheaper alternatives lessens the chance of blemishes appearing as your pour dries. Pouring Medium is self-levelling – so you can almost guarantee a smooth, even paint film. It also expels bubbles more readily, meaning you are much less likely to have tiny air pockets trapped in your finished painting. It is also a little tacky, like syrup or honey. This creates a consistency that is much easier for pouring as it adheres more to the surface so your paint film spreads evenly without running quickly off the edge of the canvas.
Some artists opt for using PVA adhesive (with added water for thicker paints) to give their paints a fluid consistency. However, this does add another layer of unpredictability to the pouring process. It does not give the same syrupy consistency as a proper pouring medium – often causing paint to be too thick or too thin, making it difficult to control your pour. It also does not account for the shrinkage of acrylic paint as it dries. This can cause unsightly cracks and tears to form in your painting. Liquitex make Pouring Medium to the same professional grade as the rest of their archival artist materials. Something that PVA is not. PVA can be great for starting out, but as your skills progress you may wish to move onto pouring medium for a more controlled result.
Canvas, Boards or Painting Panels
Virtually any flat surface that has been properly primed for acrylic painting will be suitable for acrylic pour painting. Some artists prefer to work on traditional stretched canvases, whereas others may prefer canvas boards or painting panels that are easier to store. The choice is up to you! Each have their benefits. There is more information about prepping your canvas below.
Acrylic Pouring Accessories
There are a number of accessories you may find it useful to have to hand when you are pouring. Disposable paper cups are handy for creating your acrylic paint and pouring mixes. They are easy to hold and perfect for controlling the amount of paint poured onto your canvas. Wooden craft spatulas or palette knives are great for mixing to ensure your colour/medium mixes are completely uniform.
You should also make sure to protect your workspace with a protective surface, as this technique can get messy quickly. Old sheets, newspapers, plastic sheeting and bin bags are perfect for this purpose.
It can also be handy to have a selection of similarly sized tins or jars available to stand your canvas or board on whilst you are pouring. Elevating your boards above your workspace will prevent any excess paint from sticking to the bottom of your painting.
As you try more advanced acrylic pouring techniques you may also require other tools to assist you – such as balloons, colanders or funnels.
Preparing Your Painting Surface
You’ll need to get your canvas or panel prepared ready for creating your poured acrylic painting. Almost any surface primed for acrylic painting will be suitable for pouring – whether you choose traditional stretched canvas, canvas boards or painting panels is up to you.
Consider the Surface You Use
Acrylic pours can get quite heavy so consider the surface you use. Stretched Canvases have a hollow recess in the back between the wooden stretchers. The heavier your pour the more likely the centre of the canvas is to bow. This will create an uneven paint film that is more likely to crack or tear as it dries. You can avoid this problem by bracing the back of the canvas with card or another appropriately sized flat object. A brace will even out the surface, lessening the chances of an uneven paint film. You can also use wooden canvas keys to increase the tension of the canvas. Canvas boards and painting panels are more rigid. Smooth surfaces create the best pours – you may need to sand or prime the surface if you find the texture of your surface is affecting the pour.
You will also need to make sure that your canvas or board is on a completely level surface. Uneven surfaces can cause your colours to pool and shift, creating an irregular paint film. You can use a spirit level to double check you workspace if you are worried.
Elevate your Board or Canvas
As mentioned previously, it can be useful to elevate your canvas or board above your workspace. As excess paint flows off the sides of your canvas it will pool underneath. If your canvas comes into contact with this paint it can make it very difficult to remove without disturbing the paint film, especially once dry. Jars, tins, push pins or even old paint tubs can be used – you’ll just need to make sure they are all roughly the same height. Put one where each corner of your canvas will sit and place your canvas on top.
Allow a good couple of centimetres of space between the tub and the edge of your canvas. If they come into contact it can cause unsightly lips and ridges of paint as the excess paint flows from the canvas and onto the tub.
If you would prefer to use push pins all you’d need to do is gently press a pin into each corner of the canvas. Once your canvas is elevated you won’t need to worry about any excess paint ruining your work!
Many artists choose to begin their work on a white ground, but you may prefer to colour your ground before you paint. This can be any shade that you like, but you should bear in mind that the paints you pour on top will be affected by your choice.
Make sure your surface is clean
Before you start painting you’ll also need to make sure your painting surface is clean. You should remove any dust or large particles of dirt with a lint-free cloth. Also make sure the surface is completely grease free. Any residual grease can cause improper adhesion of paint.
Mixing Your Paints and Pouring Medium
Before you start painting you will need to prepare your mixes. If you are using Liquitex Pouring Medium you should use approximately 1 cup (250ml) of Pouring Medium for every 1 heaped tablespoon of Liquitex Soft Body Colour. These measurements will vary depending on the type of paint you are using. You will use a lot more medium if you use thicker paint. Essentially you will need to gradually mix in medium until your mixture is a pourable, honey-like consistency. If you are creating custom colours rather than using colours straight from the pot you will need to make sure they are mixed to a uniform finish before adding your medium.
If you are practising pouring with a PVA glue mixture then you should use approximately two parts glue to one part paint. It should have a similar sort of consistency to pouring medium, although you probably won’t be able to get the same tackiness.
Whether you’re working with Pouring Medium or PVA, you will need to make sure your paints are mixed carefully but thoroughly. You should mix gently with a spatula or palette knife to try to avoid getting bubbles in your mixture. Some bubbles may be inevitable if you are using PVA. However, Pouring Medium is formulated to reduce the amount of bubbles created. If you leave your pouring medium mix to sit for around 10 minutes any bubbles that have formed should disappear.
Choosing Your Colours
Ultimately the colours you use will be down to personal preference. If you’re starting out try pouring with a few colours first. It can be tempting to throw in all your favourite paints, but the result may become too busy and muddy. You can always add more colour as you go along. Glitter and metallic paints are popular for pouring as they add a bit of interest to the painting.
Once you have your materials ready, it’s time to get down to the fun bit! Pouring the paint onto the canvas. Pouring is an organic painting process that requires little painting but creates dramatic artwork. There are a few different methods you can use to create your paintings.
Simple Pouring Techniques
The list of pouring methods is endless! Artists are constantly experimenting and creating their own unique pouring methods. If you’re just starting out it is important to get to grips with some basic techniques first. The two most simple techniques are the traditional pour and the dirty pour.
The Traditional Pour
The traditional pour is the simplest technique for any aspiring artist to do. All it requires is a few simple steps.
- First mix each colour with pouring medium in a separate cup.
- Take each colour in turn and gently pour it onto your canvas or board. This technique allows for more control over where your colour goes.
- You can drop bits of colour here and there where you think the composition requires it.
- Once your paint has been applied you can pick up the canvas and gently tilt it to encourage the paint to form interesting patterns and puddles. Allowing the paint to run down the sides will give your composition a finished look.
This method focuses purely on manipulating the paint alone, without worrying about adding additives or creating cells. Once you have got the hang of this technique you’ll be more than ready to tackle the dirty pour!
The Dirty Pour
Unlike the traditional pour, the Dirty Pour relies on all your colours being held in a single plastic cup.
- As with the traditional pour you will first need to mix your colours with pouring medium in individual cups.
- Next, take one clean paper cup and gradually add colours into it in successive layers. The way you pour your paints into the cup will determine how they appear when you pour them onto your canvas. Try pouring colours down the inner side of the cup or directly into the centre to see how the positioning affects your pours. The speed at which colour is added will also change the way it pours. If you add colour quickly it will force it to the bottom of the cup. If you add colour slowly it will sit at the top of the cup. Use different speeds and positioning to create different types of pours.
- Gently pour the colours from the cup directly onto your canvas. This can be done in any sort of pattern you wish – just make sure the canvas is pretty evenly covered.
- Once all the colour has been added you can pick up the canvas and carefully tilt it. Tilting encourages the paint to fill every spot, and can be used to create interesting patterns.
Once you’ve mastered these techniques you’ll be able to move onto more advanced methods. There are so many different ways to pour paint. Check out our post 9 Basic and Advanced Acrylic Pouring Techniques to Try Today to discover new ways to develop your pour painting artistry! All are equally fun and can have incredible results.
Some artists like to use silicone as an additional ingredient in their poured paintings. Using silicone can promote the creation of ‘cells’. Cells are small droplets of colour that rise above the rest of your paint and sit on the surface. They give your paintings a more defined marbled appearance. This ‘cell’ structure works on the premise that oil and water do not mix. The added silicone oil acts as a resist which prevents each of your colours from mixing with one another. Generally a drop or so is added to each colour/medium mix before it is poured onto the canvas. Similar kinds of effects can be achieved with isopropyl alcohol or alcohol ink mediums.
As a beginner you may wish to experiment with these additives, but be aware that silicone oils available at hardware stores can be toxic and do not have the same archival qualities as professional artists products. Using additives like silicone also adds another layer of unpredictability to your painting process. For some techniques it may cause your painting to crack or dry incorrectly as it leaves a greasy residue. It is best to experiment first and proceed with caution!
Some artists use the pigment density of each colour to create cells without the use of additives. Lower density pigments will rise to the surface of your pour, whereas heavier pigments will sink to the bottom. This density information can be hard to come by. Currently Golden are the only manufacturer that publish the pigment density of their artists’ colours online.
Once your pour painting is completed it is important to leave it to dry for at least 24 hours. If your paint film is particularly thick you may even need to wait as long as 72 hours. In this time your pour will move and shift – your painting may look considerably different from when you left it! Because of this it is important to leave your work completely undisturbed. Any bumps or movement can cause your carefully crafted patterns to move or even run off the canvas. Ultimately, pouring is an organic and spontaneous painting process – you can do your best to control the results you create, but be prepared for differences between the wet and dry painting.
Cover Your Painting
You should also make sure that your painting is covered while it is drying. If your art is small enough you may be able to cover it with a box. Just make sure it is free of dust before you use it! If you are working on a larger scale you can use plastic sheeting to create a tent over your work. In fact some manufacturers – like Golden – encourage this method as it protects your painting from any potentially damaging air flows and raises the humidity slightly to reduce the stress on the paint film.
Keep your Workspace Level
Level drying is the key to the success of pour painting. Uneven paint film caused by an irregular work surface can cause weakness in your paint film. If you find that your paint is pooling in particular areas you can bolster your canvas supports with wedges of folded card or paper. Just make sure your painting is stable!
If you are doing multiple pours on a single canvas make sure you allow sufficient drying time before completing each successive layer. If the first layers are not fully dry before a new fluid layer it applied it can cause cracking and crazing on the surface of your work.
Factors that can influence your Acrylic Pour Paintings
The beauty of pour painting is its unpredictability. So many factors can affect how your pour paintings appear. It can be hard to replicate the same pattern twice! This can be frustrating if you’re a beginner. Bear in mind the following points and it should help you get more consistent results.
- If you are starting out with an unprimed, absorbent surface be sure to seal it first. Some surfaces may require multiple coats.
- The quality of paint you use, the thickness of application, the use of additives, the consistency of your pour and whether or not proper pouring medium has been used will all affect how your paintings appear.
- Try not to attempt pour painting in extreme temperatures or humidity. Both these factors affect drying times. Standard room temperature should be fine.
- Be sure to keep your workspace free from contaminants like dust and oil. If your canvas or panels come into contact with them the quality of your paintings may be affected.
- Try to keep your paintings away from forced air – whether that be air ducts, fans, hair driers etc. They can cause uneven drying which will encourage tears and cracks in the paint film.
- Make sure your workspace is level. Not only will this make it easier to pour, it also results in less product waste running from your canvas.
Minimising Bubbles in your pours
If you notice bubbles appearing in your poured artwork there are a couple of techniques you can use to reduce them. If there are only a few you should be able to pop them with a toothpick or pin. A fine mist of isopropyl alcohol can also break the surface tension of the top paint layer causing the bubbles to pop. Some artists also use heat guns or small blow torches (like the type you would use in a kitchen) to get rid of bubbles. This method can generate new cells in your painting but also risks patchy and uneven drying. The area that has been torched can dry at a much quicker rate, which will cause it to move and crack as the rest of your painting dries.
Ultimately, the best way to avoid bubbles is to prepare your pouring mixes correctly. Try and mix your paints with minimum agitation and leave them to stand to free the bubbles. The formulation of Pouring medium also expels bubbles readily. So using this instead of PVA will minimise the chances of bubbles appearing.
Try and select a cup that will accommodate the amount of paint you plan to use. If you use too large a cup then your colours will have more space to mix and become muddy. Using an appropriately sized cup also minimises the amount of waste generated – you should only have as much paint as you plan to use! Most importantly never get rid of excess paint down your household drains! If there is excess paint in your cups allow it to dry out and then dispose of it accordingly. We have some more information on disposing of your waste water and paint solids in an environmentally conscious manner in our A Beginners’ Guide to Painting with Acrylics: Tips to Get Started blog post!
Finally, remember that the real magic happens when you have finished working on it. Sometimes it’s important to step back from your work. Come back to it in an hour or so to see how the paints have moved to create an organic pattern.
Another useful thing to know is that you should tilt your canvas until the paint runs off the side to get the best effect. This is why it is important to prepare your surface to protect it from the acrylics.
When it is completely dry, you might like to varnish your work of art to preserve the shine of the paints.
More Acrylic Pouring Resources
If you want to expand your pour painting skills then why not take at look at our 9 Basic and Advanced Acrylic Pouring Techniques to Try Today blog post! You can build on the skills developed here and try out new and exciting ways to paint. We also stock Acrylic Paint Pouring with Tanja Jung. This great book covers all aspects of pour painting and is great for beginners and enthusiasts alike. It includes 16 projects that will introduce you to some exciting techniques.
Ultimately, with Acrylic Pouring, experimentation is all part of the process. Once you’ve developed the basic skills you’ll be able to try all kinds of methods. Try painting wet-in-wet, use brushes and knives (or even a fork) to create pointed patterns. Try flipping your canvas vertical and dripping paint from the top to the bottom. Different viscosities will drip at different rates. You can even try pouring onto a glass or plastic surface to create poured acrylic sheets! These sheets can then be cut and applies to mixed media work with acrylic mediums.