Acrylic pouring seems pretty straightforward: mix, pour, tilt, masterpiece. While it isn’t the most complicated art form, or the most technical, there are some small issues that can trip up even an experienced a fluid artist, resulting in a slightly less than ideal outcome.
Some simple, completely avoidable mistakes are common among beginner and advanced fluid artists alike; and in this article, we’ll help you avoid these common acrylic pouring mistakes so you can create your best pieces!
Mistake #1: Trying Advanced Techniques as a Beginner
Although acrylic pouring and fluid art in general appeal to both professionally trained artists and complete novices, differences between popular techniques distinguish them as beginner or advanced.
For example, if you haven’t had much experience with acrylic pouring, you wouldn’t want to try more complicated techniques like a Dutch pour, string or chain pull, or multiple tree rings. These techniques require a basic understanding of beginner techniques , as well as experience with different consistencies and recipes.
If you’ve never poured before or are just starting out, it’s best to stick with the beginner acrylic pouring techniques in order to avoid some acrylic pouring mistakes:
- Dirty pour: a dirty pour is a very simple technique where an artist layers their paint/medium mixture into a single cup and then pours the layered paint onto a surface.
- Flip cup: the flip cup technique is very similar to the dirty pour technique in that an artist uses a layered cup; but instead of simply pouring it, the artist flips the cup over on the surface and then pulls it off, leaving a puddle of paint to manipulate.
- Simple swipe: for a simple swipe, an artist will pour each color, mixed with medium, separately on a canvas. He or she will then “swipe” from one end of the painting to the other, using a tool like an icing spatula or even a slightly damp paper towel.
It’s important to work through the beginner acrylic pouring techniques before trying to move on to more advanced acrylic pouring techniques that require a deeper understanding of consistencies and equipment. Jumping into something more complicated might be tempting, but be patient to avoid these acrylic pouring mistakes!
Mistake #2: Using the Wrong Supplies
Another great thing about acrylic pouring is that it’s super accessible to everyone, regardless of income or artistic experience! You can use all sorts of materials to create your acrylic pours on a budget.
However, it is important to make sure that the products you’re using function correctly in an acrylic pour piece. With so many supplies to choose from, and even some supplies that have similar names or functions, it can be confusing!
Here are a few supplies you should not use in acrylic pouring:
- Tempera paint: tempera paint is a good choice if you’re teaching a pouring class to children, or if you’re in the very first initial experimentation phase of your acrylic pouring journey, and you don’t intend to sell your pieces. This is because tempera paint, while similar to acrylic paint, has different qualities than acrylic paints and is not archival. This makes it a fine choice for pieces you aren’t selling, but if you sell pours created with tempera paints, they are likely to yellow or fade very quickly.
- Oil paint: many artists ask if they can substitute oil paint for acrylic paint, and the answer is no. Oil paint is not at all the same as acrylic paint, and it will not respond in the same way. You cannot use oil paint with the same mediums as acrylic paint; and even if you could, the price for oil paint vs acrylic paint makes it unreasonable to create with. Oil paint is not a good choice for acrylic pouring.
- Heavy body paint: this is another example of something you can but shouldn’t use. This is because heavy body paints are exactly what they sound like: dense. This means you’re going to need to use at least 2 or 3 times the normal amount of medium to thin them out, which is pricey and impractical. Unless you have an excess of unused heavy body paints around that you need to get rid of, don’t go out of your way to buy heavy body paints for acrylic pouring.
- Unstrained Floetrol: We definitely love Floetrol in the acrylic pouring community, but if you don’t strain it properly, you might run into unwanted clumping that will at the very least complicate, if not completely ruin, your painting. Floetrol must be shaken thoroughly and strained through a fine mesh strainer. (Paint strainers from a local hardware store work perfectly for this.) This will remove any lumps and ensure using an optimal product. Too many artists skip this step and end up really regretting it later on!
- Polyurethane: two common sealants on the market that artists use for different purposes have very similar names: polycrylic and polyurethane. While polycrylic can be used over water-based paints, polyurethane is really made for surfaces like wood. Polycrylic will yellow over time, but that time could be a few years or more, while polyurethane will yellow much more quickly.
Here’s a short list of products you can use:
- Craft acrylic paints like Apple Barrel, FolkArt, or other craft acrylics commonly found at stores like Michael’s.
- Professional acrylic paints like Golden Fluid Acrylics, Liquitex Basics, Artists Loft, etc.
- Sealants like Pro Marine Supplies resin, art resin, Counter Culture DIY resin, polycrylic, and Rustoleum Glaze.
Stick to using the proper supplies for acrylic pouring so you don’t end up with pieces that fade or simply won’t dry and you’ll avoid one of the acrylic pouring mistakes!
Mistake #3: Trying to Copy Someone Else’s Work
We’ve all experienced pouring envy at some point. Scrolling through our Facebook group, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by some of the beautiful pieces so many talented artists have created!
You should feel inspired by these pieces, but trying to copy them is a good way to set yourself up for failure. The long and the short of it is that you can’t. Acrylic pours are a form of abstract art, which means that no matter whether you use the same colors, the same medium, the same surface while pouring in a room at the same temperature, your piece isn’t going to turn out the same.
So, be inspired by other artists, but don’t try to copy them. Learn from their techniques and create your own unique art with them as a guide. If you put pressure on yourself to create an exact replica, you will not be successful…or unique.
Mistake #4: Paint Poured Too Thick
Paint poured in a thick consistency or too thick a layer on a surface is an acrylic pouring mistake many artists make – and don’t realize until it’s too late!
Optimally, your poured paint should just cover your surface. It should not be a thick, excessive layer. If you’re using a stretched canvas, it’ll be apparent if you have used too much paint, since the canvas will likely sag in the middle.
Another way you can check to see if you’ve used too much paint is to look at the edges of your piece. If the edges were once flat and square, but are now rounded or bubbled, the paint is too thick.
If your paint layer is too thick, your paint will crack and separate during the drying process. This is because the top layer of paint will dry quicker than the bottom layer s Since the bottom layer dries and moves, it will pull the top layer apart. Cracks aren’t easy to fix in a dried painting, so it’s best to avoid that thick layer altogether!
So, how much paint should you use? Generally, you’ll need about 1 ounce of paint/medium mixture per 16 square inches of surface. Any more than that and you’ll likely have issues during the drying process. If you try to use less, you may notice that the texture of your surface will show through the paint after it’s dried.
Mistake #5: Not Allowing a Piece to Dry Properly
Drying or curing times have been hotly debated in our Facebook Group; it seems like every one of our 97k+ artists have a different opinion on the “right” amount of time!
Although it is tempting to immediately seal a piece after it appears dry, it’s not a good idea. Sealing a painting before it’s had time to properly dry and cure can cause your sealant to crack, bubble, yellow, or simply not adhere. This may not happen immediately upon sealing, but as moisture continues to move under the surface of the sealant, these issues will come to the surface.
Now for the big question: how long does an acrylic pour need to dry before I can seal it? We prefer to stick to the more conservative side of this debate in the interest of protecting your pieces, so we recommend at least 4 weeks from pouring to sealing. We can hear your collective sighs of frustration from here!
Let’s say that you only wait one week. Your painting looks pretty dry and it feels pretty dry; it’s probably safe to seal, right? Maybe. You may get lucky, and your painting might be fine. Or, you may deliver your sealed painting to your customer and then get a message a few months down the road when the piece has yellowed in spots where moisture was still present. It’s obvious that this not good for your business, and you may even lose a future customer over it.
The risk of not waiting compared to the agony of having to wait just isn’t comparable. Don’t make the mistake of sealing too quickly! Protect the pieces that you’ve worked so hard to create.
These are all simple, avoidable acrylic pouring mistakes that many of us make, regardless of our experience level. Being an artist is about 20% creativity and 80% trial and error! Don’t be discouraged if you’ve made some of these acrylic pouring mistakes and have lost pieces because of it; try again. You’ll be surprised how practice will improve your paintings and how experience can help you avoid these mistakes.
Have you sealed too quickly? Used too much paint? We want to see your “oops” pieces! Let us know in our Facebook Group what happened and how you fixed it (if you did).
Sara Wagner is an author and artist from Upstate New York. She is the owner of Studio Blackwater and can typically be found covered in paint, cats, or her two young daughters. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram as @studioblackwater.
22 thoughts on “5 Most Common Mistakes when Acrylic Pouring”
I have a question about your suggestion as to the amount of paint/pm to calculate for a pour. If I understand your formula, if I have an 8×8 inch canvas which equals 64 sq inches your formula would have me using 12 oz of paint/pm. That seems an extreme amount to me. I would use 2 1/2 – 3 oz to cover that size canvas. Did I not understand your formula?
Agreed. I take the sq inches and divide by 16 to get the number of ounces. 64/16=4 oz. I have seen people divide by everything up to 28.
Hey Linda (and all). I think this was a typo – my suggestion is 1 ounce of paint/pouring medium per 16 sq inches. You could use more or less, depending on how much extra you like to have in case you want to add more…or if you’re like me, in case you accidentally knock your canvas over and flip it face down on your floor!!
I agree with the person above . On a 10×12 canvas you are saying 2 cups of media and that seems excessive. Love to hear your response.
Nice of you to give us this advice and I really appreciate your time.
I interpreted her suggestion as 3 ounces for a 16 x 16 canvas. Does that sound right? It was very confusing the way she said it.
Never mind. That’s not right. 3 ounces per 8×8? Maybe she multiplied by two instead of the number itself. 8x 2 = 16 square inches but the right formula for 8×8 canvas would be 64 square inches. I hope she answers and clarifies.
Just one question–WHY are you awake at 4 a.m.?!!!! Are you a nocturnal paint pourer?
I so appreciate these really needed tips, guys….I’m going thru a “dry” spell, and just can’t get myself to do a pour after having a big failure last week…now I realize my mistake could’ve been that I AM trying to duplicate the masters I watch on youtube….
I’m confused. You said not to use polycrylic because it yellows over time. Then you say to use it. Am I misunderstanding something?
I think what was said is that polycrylic is risky to use because it will yellow over time but polyurethane will yellow quickly. So if you use one, polycrylic is the better one of the two but will still yellow down the road. To be safe, there are sealants made by artist acrylic paint companies, like Golden, that won’t damage your finished pieces. The article offered some other options too. Have fun painting!
Kim, you CAN use Polycrylic, just beware if you’re selling the pieces. Some artists say that it will yellow over the time, I have not personally had this issue.
I just keep reading about pouring and am really interested in doing it, but can’t seem to start. I have seen lot of painters doing a very good job, but hope to start soon.
Exactly what are examples of heavy body paints? I thought Golden on the tube was heavy body- is that wrong? I have taken several classes online that required the purchase of some of them.
Hi Sue – the tube or bottle of paint will specify if it is heavy body.
Hello I’ve become fund of this technigue. But I never seem to have enough paint to cover canvas nor can I get my paint to flow like I see on YouTube..been using the glue water and few drops glycerin..can you provide a simple recipe
Good morning, this technique been great for me. I use a TBS measuring spoon. 2 to 1 . 2 TBS Floetrol to 1TBS paint . Then 1/4 TBS water. Mix Floetrol & Paint first then add water mixing slowly. Allowing little air bubbles.
Paint should run off stir stick and dissapeare within 3 seconds. If a mound stays add couple drops of water. To reach consistency.
This technique i been using has covered 20″X 20″ canvas with some left over. Hopefully I helped.
What do I need to add to the DecoArt Pre-mixed acrylic pour paints to get cells? The instructions say they are ready to use but I didn’t get any cells.
You can add silicone, or varnish. Silicone, will give you the roundish cells. Varnish, will give more like viens. Silicone, can be from Color Pours “Cell Majic” or some WD40 type sprays, etc. Varnish, can be Color Pours “Glossy Varnish” or Varithane wood treatment, etc. Silicone only requires 3 or 4 drops per 2oz. Varnish, a little more. Hope that helps.
I have a 16″” x20″ suface. When I multiply the two together I get 360. Then divide by 16 and get 22.5 ounces. That comes out to 2 and 3/4 0unce. Is that correct?
I have a 16″ x 20″ canvas. I used your formula [16 x 20 = 320 sq inches, divided by 16 = 22.5 ozs. That is just under 3 cups. Is this correct?
16 x 20 = 320 sq. inches divided by 16 = 20 oz divided by 8 oz/cup = 2 1/2 cups of paint.
Hello All! It’s great to get all this feedback regarding how to avoid mistakes. I notice some of my pours dry like a powdery looking substance on the canvas. It appears as though the pigment separates. Sometimes it enhances the design of the painting but sometimes it just looks like a mistake. Thanks in advance on any advice you can offer!