How to make acrylic pouring paintings
What to (and what not to do) when making acrylic pouring paintings and getting cells.
Although there is a wealth of information on the internet and also many YouTube videos on this technique, I am still regularly asked how to produce the “cells” with which people are so enamoured. I thought I would offer you some advice.
My suggestion would be to first read this blog and then watch those YouTube videos so that you really understand what they are trying to show, as I haven’t found any that really explains how to do this properly.
The lady who asked me today wanted to know where she and her friends were going wrong. She believed she understood what to do and had all the correct paints and equipment so couldn’t understand why she wasn’t getting the results she wanted.
Having established that she was basically doing it correctly I asked about the paint they were using. Pebeo.
Now, Pebeo has a range of paints which, in combination, will give the kind of results they were looking for, but you have to have the correct combination. It is also quite an expensive way to make this kind of work, especially if you want to do it on a large scale.
Pebeo paints are solvent-based and should not be mixed with acrylic paints, which are water-based. It is in effect two different systems.
For an acrylic pour, pretty much any kind of acrylic paint can be used. You don’t need expensive paint; cheap acrylic works.
Just remember that when using cheaper paints, the luminosity and the depth of colour will not be as good as a more expensive paint which is not stuffed full of fillers. But still all you need is acrylic paint; maybe some pouring medium, though that’s not essential; water and a heat gun of some kind.
The acrylic paint needs to be thinned down with water to about the consistency of double cream. If in doubt make it like single cream, you need the mixture to drop off the end of the stirrer to work properly.
Select your paint colours, put them in individual cups, add water, stir really thoroughly and that’s it. It is really important that your colours are mixed well otherwise you will finish up with ugly lumps of colour, so really do stir well.
If you do have some pouring medium it will help to hold the acrylic paint together, but I have done it very successfully without.
You really do need to understand the following though.
First, you need to have a basic understanding of the colour wheel. Whilst this pouring method does allow you to pour the colours of the rainbow into the same pot before pouring onto the canvas, you do want the outcome to work colour-wise. Decide on what you want your outcome to be: bright and cheerful; subtle and moody etc. You need to have an idea of where you are heading.
Next, you should know that paint has different weights. Yes, some paint colours weigh more than others. White is probably the heaviest, regardless of the brand you are using, followed by black. That is why so many people use one or other of these as their foundation. What this means is that when white is the last colour to hit the canvas, it will sink, giving you cells.
It is vitally important that your working surface is level. You will need to set your canvas up using a spirit level and be able to leave it in that position for a few days. If it is not level the paint will simply flow over the sides and finish up on the working surface below.
The next thing you need to think about is the canvas surface. If you are using a really small canvas you don’t need to worry. However, if you are using a canvas any larger than A4 (US letter) size, you will need to support the canvas from underneath to stop the paint from pooling in the middle of the canvas. This can look great if that is the effect you are going for, but you will have problems with the work cracking as it dries and this could cause it to chip away from the canvas once it becomes fully dry.
The paint will keep moving for a few hours after you have poured it. The changes may often be subtle but, equally, sometimes they can be huge. This is one of those artforms where you cannot predict the outcome and you have to learn to love what happens.
There are several different pouring methods you can use but two stand out as being the most popular.
With the first you cover your canvas with white or black paint, pour your different colours across the canvas and then by tipping the canvas back and forth allow the colours to merge with each other. Be very careful about touching and moving the paint with your fingers, a brush or any other implement as this is one sure way to mix colours and possibly make ‘mud’.
The second method, called ‘flip pouring’, is performed by pouring alternate colours into the same pot and then flipping it onto the canvas. The best way to do this is by starting and finishing with white and having at least one other pouring of white in the mixture. With the cup upright, place the canvas on top of the pot and flip it all over making sure the pot does not lose contact with the canvas. Surround the inverted pot with white or black paint so that the paint in the pot flows more easily and then remove the pour. The colours will pour out and spread across the canvas. Again be careful not to move the paint with your fingers, paint brush or any other implement to avoid making ‘mud’.
With practice and care it is possible to use a lollypop stick or similar implement to make wisps of colour into the white, which can be quite effective.
How big you want those cells to be depends on what you do next. If you are after small cells then pour your paint, get your heat gun (gas or electric), and without getting too close, pass the heat back and forth across the paint to make the bubbles burst. If you want your cells to be bigger, move the canvas around to stretch the cells and then give them another quick pass with the gun. Leave the canvas to dry. This can take up to a week, depending on how many layers there are and how much white paint has been used. White paint takes longer to dry than other colours.
If you want a shiny finish you can varnish the piece once it is fully dry. Don’t be tempted and rush and varnish before it is fully dry otherwise you could get cracking in the finish.
Another way to achieve a shiny finish is to use a two-part epoxy resin. There are a few different brands on the market; be sure to read the instructions and follow these to the letter. The basic principle is that you need to prepare your acrylic paint as above, then prepare the resin. Using your large batch of resin, pour it into several small cups, add your paint and stir well before using one or other of the methods above.
You need to work fairly quickly when using resin as you only have about 20 minutes working time before it starts to set. If you touch it once it starts to cure you will get lumps and not the shiny surface that people are generally looking for. The same rules apply about making sure your surface is level and that once poured the work can stay in-situ for 24 hours. This is generally how long it takes for resin to dry fully.
The piece below was made especially to have this kind of pooling and cracking and was a commission. I added a final clear layer of resin before the client collected it.
A final word of advice. When making poured works, with or without resin, the temperature of your working space needs to be considered. If you are in a studio, in winter and you don’t have heating, you could have difficulty with drying times and cracking. The same is true during summer if it is really hot, as paint drying too quickly can also crack and be unsightly.
It is best to have your work sitting in a space with fairly consistent temperatures throughout the day as large fluctuations between day and night can also have an impact.
Don’t let this final warning scare you off. I am talking extremes here, but it is worth considering. Once, I was teaching an acrylic and resin pouring class in a cold studio and moments before my students arrived, the water pipes burst meaning that the radiators were out of action so I had to use an inefficient electric fan heater to try to heat the studio. which wasn’t great. The resin took three days to cure properly and it took over a week for the paint pours to dry fully.