Acrylic Pouring Tips for Beginners

Are you captivated by the videos you see on popular YouTube channels and the glorious artworks shared in the acrylic pouring Facebook group? Are you ready to start your first acrylic pouring project, or have you created a few but still having some difficulties you can’t figure out? Then this list will be a great way to learn and troubleshoot before your next pour.  

Below is a collection of acrylic pouring tips for beginners to start you on the road to pouring success

Acrylic pouring tips and tutorials for beginners, how to get started with acrylic pouring. What I would tell myself if I could go back in time and start again!

Before You Pour

  1. Watch Videos and Take Notes. Go to popular YouTube Channels and take notes on how to mix your paints, types of mediums, canvas prep, types of pours, and anything you are not quite sure of. These are great places for not only visual instruction, but many artists also talk you through their process while providing lots of tips and techniques.  
  2. Plan Ahead. Think about what you want to paint before you start. What type of pour do you want to try? What base color do you want to use? What colors do you want to use in your pour cup? Do you have all the supplies for your pour, before you start?  While you can’t plan the outcome of your pour, as all poured painting have a random effect, you can think through color, cell or no cells, type of pour, type of canvas, etc. Try to avoid the temptation of working on multiple paintings, keep it simple and pour on just one painting at a time. Work on learning the process for one type of pour at a time, get it down, only then move on to the next. This will give you confidence in the basic techniques and pouring process before you try your next type of pour. Just give the process a little forethought and plan ahead.
  3. Gather All Needed Supplies. Do you have everything you need on hand? If not, be sure to obtain them prior to sitting down to start your pour. Pull your desired paint colors; medium; water; silicone (if you want to use it); disposable gloves; mixing cups and stir sticks; pour cup; canvas; and anything else you might normally use like paper towels; a torch, blow dryer, or heat gun; or plastic garbage bags for covering your surface/floor/wall.
  4. Easiest Pours for Beginners. There are several types of pours which are perfect for the beginning pour artist: the Simple Pour, Flip Cup, or Dirty Pour. Each provides great color, cells and can be done easily by layering the paints and with one simple move. 
    • The Simple Pour can be thought of as pouring gravy over your potatoes. You simply pour out the paint slowly, keeping the hand perfectly still. This creates a somewhat circular pattern.
    • The Flip Cup is just like it sounds, all you do is (quickly) flip your pour cup upside down onto the canvas. Let the cup set for a couple of minutes, then lift the cup off the canvas. This creates a totally random pour.
    • The Dirty Pour is similar to tossing leftover water from yesterday’s glass. You will gently toss the paint from the pour cup onto the canvas. This also creates a totally random pour.

Think Paints

  1. Best Paint Types for Beginners. Most of us have acrylic paints lying around from previous projects. Just be sure they are still good, flow easily from the bottle, and are free of clumps. House latex paints can work especially for the base color (initial layer on the canvas), especially white and off white. The best is a white base, as other colors are likely to change the color of your poured paints, for example a dark brown base will likely darken or tint all other colors with brown.  DecoArt, CraftSmart, Apple Barrel, Americana, Sargent, or any other inexpensive brand is best when just learning. This way if a pour doesn’t turn out right, you don’t feel like you’ve wasted a lot of money while you’re learning. You can always purchase better quality paints after you’ve perfected a technique.
  2. How Much Paint Do I Need? Here is a useful tool to keep on hand for figuring how much paint you will need for most canvas sizes.
  3. What is a Basecoat and Why Do I Need One? The basecoat is a layer of fluid acrylic paint, typically white, that is placed on the canvas before your actual pour to literally coat your canvas. There are three reasons to do this. 1. To provide a wet smooth surface for the poured paint to move across. 2. To provide a protective layer between the bare canvas and the poured silicone enhanced paint. The silicone can damage the canvas, or leave holes in your paint without the basecoat.  3. The white base coat provides a mirror like base for the poured paint color, allowing the purest color to come through as it dries.
  4. How Many Different Paint Colors Do I Need To Use Per Pour? There is no set amount of colors you need to use per pour cup. You can do a poured painting with two colors, or however many you wish. The things to keep in mind are with two colors you will get a monochrome painting. For example you might use white and blue – all of your poured colors will likely be some shade of blue ranging from light to dark. Three colors will provide numerous colors, for example white/blue/red may give you shades of pinks to red, light-dark blue, and due to red/blue mixing in areas you may also obtain shades of purple. Just remember that each color you add will provide another layer of color, and mix with colors in the pour.
  5. Choosing Paint Colors. To start your pouring experience, chose three to four colors you know go well together. Primary colors are always a good place to start. Remember primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. You can add white between the layers to keep the edges of each color cleaner and sharper. You can also add a small amount of black, maybe drizzle it between a few layers for a different look. If you can’t make up your mind, you can purchase an inexpensive color wheel which can provide a wealth of color combinations. Here’s an article on how to use a color wheel.

Let’s Talk Mediums

  1. Choosing a Medium.Floetrol Flood seems to be the go to medium as it is fairly inexpensive and goes a long way.  It can be difficult to find outside the US, but can be ordered online from most places. Others prefer to use Elmer’s Glue All, or PVC Glue which is also an inexpensive alternative. There are a variety of different mediums out there, many of which can be quite costly.  Stick to the least expensive options when just starting out, again save your money. Read more on mediums
  2. Mixing Paints and Medium. Once you have chosen the medium and paints of your choice, its time to start mixing. But how? First off ratios are how we refer to the medium to paint mixture. You’ll hear the terms 2:1 ratio, 3:1 ratio, or 4:1, and some of the more expensive brands like Golden will use a 10:1 ratio. This simply means mixing a certain amount of medium with a certain amount of paint. If you are using a typical inexpensive acrylic paint, start with mixing two parts medium to 1 part paint or a 2:1 ratio. For example use two ounces medium and 1 ounce paint, and mix well. Lift your stir stick up and let the paint slowly run off into the mix cup. What you are looking for is, does the paint blend right back into the paint in the cup; does it sink making an indentation, or does it mound making a clump on top of the paint.  What you want the paint coming off the stick to do is blend in with the paint in your mix cup.  If it sinks, it’s too thin, so you need to add more paint. If it mounds or clumps on top, you need to add a little water or additional medium to thin it out.  Remember, it needs to be the consistency of warm honey, and when it runs off the stick it should simply blend with the paint already in your mix cup.
  3. Different Between a Mix Cup and Pour Cup. The mix cup is what you use to mix individual paints and medium together in.  The pour cup is used to layer your individual paints, and then do your actual pour.
  4. Can I Use More Than One Medium In The Same Cup? When mixing a paint and medium in one mix cup, you will want to use one medium only.  You can have different mediums in your pour cup; remember your pour cup has multiple layers of paint/medium mixes.  For example let’s mix red, blue and yellow paint colors in three separate individual mix cups. Maybe you used Floetrol in the red and yellow, but the blue was a mix you did a few days ago using Glue All. These paints can be layered in your pour cup and poured onto your painting without any issue. What you should not do is use more than one medium in a single paint color, at least not until you get more familiar with how different mediums work and which work well together. Get some experience working with one medium at a time before you try to do more.
  5. Troubleshooting Floetrol. Most mediums you do not want to shake as it can cause too many bubbles in your pour, but when using Floetrol Flood you will need to shake well each time. It can separate in just a few days sitting unused. The biggest issue with Floetrol is flakes and clumps.  You will need to filter or strain this product. The easiest way to do this is using a disposable paint filter. Pour your Floetrol through the filter each time you mix paint, so you don’t have to worry about extra lumps and bumps in your pour.  Some artists will use pantyhose as a filter over the top of the pour spout.
    It doesn’t matter how you filter your Floetrol, just be sure to do.  

Silicone and Cells

  1. Do I Have To Use Silicone?  No, you don’t have to use silicone. You don’t have to have cells. There are pours that are beautiful without silicone, such as tree rings and colander pours. You can create cells by layering heavier paints with lighter paints, such as using titanium white with your red and blue. The titanium white will sink through the other paints and create cells. These are not near as dramatic as the cells created with silicone, hair serum or dimethicone, but you can get cells without silicone.  
  2. Troubleshooting Silicone. Problem 1: You add silicone to your paints, and do your pour. You have a small area with huge cells, but the rest of the painting doesn’t have any. Hint: Be sure to mix the silicone into the paint, three to five gentle stirs only. Problem 2: You add the silicone, mix it into the paint, and do your pour. There are a ton of cells, but they are all tiny. Hint: Make sure to do your medium/paint mix first; then add the silicone, and stir it gently three to give. You can also have small cells if your paint/medium mixture is too thin as this will break down your silicone, creating fragmented cells especially, with treadmill oil. Problem 3: You’ve done everything right in mixing your paint and adding the silicone, but you have areas of canvas showing through the paint once it dries. Hint: If silicone hits the canvas, it creates pockets where no paint will cover the canvas. Be sure to use a base coat each time and make sure it does not contain silicone.   

Pour Process

  1. Why Do I Need To Use The Correct Pour Cup Size? Using the wrong size pour cup can lead to increased mixing of colors ‘before” they hit your canvas.  For example: You layer two ounces of paint into an eight ounce pour cup with paint colors in red, green, and white. The pour cup is four times the size of the total amount of paint being used. Here’s the issue.. The red and green will start to mix as it rolls down the sides of the cup, and continue to mix on your canvas.  You’ll likely end up with some red+green=brown that you may not want. Basically, using a cup that is too large can muddy up your colors. In this case a three ounce medicine cup “or smaller” would work best for the two ounces of paint you want to pour.  Remember: Cup size=Total Amount of Paint Needed!
  2. Extra in the Pour Space. Whether your painting space is large or small, temporary or permanent, there are a few things to keep in mind. Cover your paint surface with plastic sheeting, garbage bags or a painting tarp as this is a very messy hobby. Many will also place a tarp or plastic on the floor and/or cover their walls behind the surface to avoid spatter and moving a wet canvas from the painting surface to a drying surface. Keep your area as dust free as possible. Dust and lint can land on a drying canvas and ruin a perfectly poured surface. If your pour area is in a multiuse portion of your home, you may want to cover the entire area with plastic or a tarp to keep it dust free between pours. If you also sew or quilt in the same room you pour, be sure to keep all fabrics in bins when not directly using them, as the lint from sewing or quilting can easily ruin every single pour. Make sure your painting surface is level, if not level your paint will pool in one area or pull away from the edges as it dries.  
  3. Preventing Lumps on Your Poured Painting. Lumps, bumps and bubbles sounds like a child’s story book, but they can be a pour painter’s nightmare. Bubbles can be taken care of easily with a quick torching, but lumps and bumps are a different story. Remember if using Floetrol to strain or filter it prior to use. Other things that can cause these random pieces are old paint, paint that has been sitting for a while, or a dirty canvas. Filter paints if you are doing something you really want to keep and display – don’t take a chance. As for canvas, be sure to wipe your canvas with a barely damp microfiber cloth prior to using, even if you just took it out of the packaging. Keep up the habit of always wiping them off. Dust, animal hair, your hair, lint, etc. can land anywhere without you knowing it and you may not see it till after you pour. If you find clumps under your pour, you can use a toothpick or other pointed item to pick them out. Once it dries, there is nothing you can do to get rid of them.   
  4. Why Use A Torch? A torch is used to pop bubbles that may have formed in or under your pour. Bubbles can ruin your nice smooth finish, so if you can catch them before the paint starts to dry, the paint has time to self level and cover the holes created from popping the bubbles. You are simply passing the torch about six inches above your canvas, with a quick pass making sure you don’t heat up the paint.  

Canvas

  1. Tips for Using a Stretched Canvas. Stretched canvas are the go to for pouring artists across the board, as they provide the sides that we love to see covered in paint. Of course make sure you wipe the canvas off prior to using, but also make sure the center of the canvas is tight. This is easy to do by literally tapping the center. Does it feel tight like a drum? Does it have a thumping sound? Does it give or sag in the middle? If it gives in the middle or seems a little loose, you’ll need to fix it before pouring as your paint will not dry evenly if there is any sag at all. Take a spray bottle of water and mist the underside of the canvas. Don’t soak the canvas, just get it damp. Then use a blow dryer to dry the backside. This will tighten it up right away. Next, check out the corners on the back, are they glued or stapled?  If the corner flap is loose at all, use a little super glue to secure the corners down which will keep them from curling when they get wet with paint.  
  2. Tips for Using Canvas Boards/Panels. Canvas boards are typically one of two products, either cardboard covered in canvas, or MDF board covered in canvas. This is more of a problem with paint pouring. The cheaper canvas boards are typically a cardboard base and you cannot pour on these. As they dry the moisture gets trapped between the canvas and the cardboard causing the canvas to come loose, which makes the canvas ripple and warp as it dries. Better canvas boards, those with MDF board can be a quick and easy way to do a pour painting. Make sure you tilt these pours extremely well. You don’t want any extra paint left on the surface.  Also, since there are no sides, they are the preferred canvas if you wish to frame a dried pour. Canvas boards are also a way to save some money as you don’t need as much paint – remember no sides.   Another thing to keep in mind is most canvas boards have the canvas glued front and back. It’s the back that you need to be aware of. Try not to get paint on the backside of these boards, as it can loosen the glue.  A nice inexpensive canvas (MDF) board you might try is from Art Advantage.
  3. Preventing Dried Clumps of Paint on the Back of the Canvas. Taping the back of the canvas with painter’s tape is the easiest way to prevent those irritating dried clumps of paint on the back and edges of your painting. Be sure to remove painter’s tape before your painting dries completely, usually around six hours. If you wait too long the paint can actually glue the tape to the back and you can’t remove it. When you have completed your pour, use a stir stick and wipe off any dripping paint from the bottom before you transfer to a drying surface. What can you do if you missed some paint drips and now there are dried clumps on the edges of your painting? Here are two things you can try. One is using a pair of box cutters and carefully cut the clump off. The other is to use a piece of fine grit sand paper (400 or higher) and gently sand it off.

After the Pour

  1. Learn to Walk Away. “Back away from the canvas!” Learn when to walk away from a pour. Sometimes less is more. There are times when you finish the pour, torch and sit back in amazement; and other times, not so much. We all have those pours that we look at and say, it just needs a little more work here-and there-oh, and here too. Sometimes, just a little more just ruins a painting. A good rule of thumb is three changes max. If you don’t have it to a place you like within three changes (swiping, blowing, adding paint, etc) just let it dry as is. You’ll either love it or not. If not, you can always clean it and paint over the top.
  2. Why Should I Varnish or Finish My Painting? There are two reasons for using a varnish or finishing a painting, the first is for looks.  Acrylic paints many times dry and seem to lose some of their luster or color. Some can even be really dull or muted and make you think you no longer want it. Adding a finish or varnishing your dried pour can bring that gloss back as well as the vibrancy of the colors. Of course this also depends on the brand of paint you use, and sometimes the brand of medium as well. The better paints provide better dried results from a color standpoint. Some products like Golden’s Glossy Medium allow the painting to dry to a beautiful glossy finish, with no need to add an additional finish. Golden also has a great soft matte medium, which produces an almost felt like feeling to the finish. If you use Floetrol or PVC/Glue All for your medium you will need to add a finish as they dry with a plain matte (no gloss) finish. The other reason for finishing your painting is acrylic paint has the tendency to pull away from the canvas over time. A nice finish will seal the paint and provide protection from accidental nicks and bumps that happen over time.  
  3. Take Notes or Pictures of Your Own Pours. As you learn, take notes and photos of your process. Use these to refer to, but a caution first. Don’t be overly critical saying everything is bad; and on the flipside don’t be overly complementary about your own work either. You need to be your own constructive critic, this means noting when you do something right and when it goes wrong. Was there something specific you did that was special or different?  What went wrong, how can you adjust so that you don’t repeat it? You can also take pictures of your process or even a video; it doesn’t matter if it’s a bad video or photos, it’s for your eyes only.  Every pour is a learning experience.
  4. Storing Leftover Mixed Paints. Storing leftover paints can be easily done so that you can use them again. Most of us for example will mix up extra titanium white with our preferred medium, and then not use all of it. This extra can be stored in an airtight silicone, plastic, or glass bottle. Again, the key is airtight. Many artists will use silicone basedplastic squeeze condiment bottles, like those for mustard or ketchup. If you can find ones with screw on tops, this is best as the pop tops can break off and get lost. Be sure to keep the top clean and free of any paint especially around the opening so dried paint doesn’t end up in your next painting.
  5. Failed Attempts. A failed attempt is just that, an attempt. Learn from it. Try to figure out what you did wrong, and what you might need to change the next time. Don’t feel bad – every single pour artist has been there. A great way to find out what went wrong and what you can do to improve your process is to post a picture of your pour on our Facebook Group.  Here your fellow artists of all abilities are willing and able to help in any way they can.    
  6. Don’t Overwhelm Your Mind and Body. This process can be relaxing and so enjoyable, but if you have anxiety or stress out when things don’t go exactly the way you hoped, you might want to spread out the process. This also holds true for those with medical or physical limitations who tend to tire easily. You can try mixing your paints-take a break-gather the rest of your supplies-take a break-layout everything, ready to pour-take a break- pour/tilt/torch-take a break-clean up. For even more separation, you can mix one paint at a time and take a break in between each; or take a couple of days to get through the process of mixing, setting up and pouring. Do what works for you!

Tips from Our Facebook Group

The following tips have been compiled by members of our Facebook group. Members talk of things they wish they had known when beginning their acrylic pouring experiences. 

From Ellen: “Don’t flood the canvas with paint; don’t mix too little paint. Don’t go out and buy the latest ingredient mentioned in a post for a piece I like. Most of all, the most important thing I have learned and will continue to grow with is a willingness to experiment. What would happen if – is probably the most freeing question and attitude to cultivate in this art form or any other.”

From Chris: “Only buy basic colors and mix the color you want. Rather than buy every pretty color in sight”

From Laurie: “Learn when to stop! Overworking your flow by moving it about too much can break up any cells, or just make things worse.”

From Chris: “I spent a lot of time watching rather than being hands in the paint, learning about or experimenting with the materials I had.”

From AJ: “Once you pour and the canvas is covered, walk away. I always mess with mine and ruin them”

From Cor: “Start off with cheap paints. Buy lots of paper towels. Don’t be afraid to scrape crap ideas into the garbage. Take your time and have an idea. Be open to criticism, real criticism.”

From Paul: “Pick a style and master, and then move to another, ratios make all the difference. No failures, just learning curves. Start small.”

From Chris: “Do some type of artwork every day- even just a little is better than none. Only paint things you feel something for. Don’t do stuff you don’t like for others.”

From Pamela: “Don’t get attached to piece before it’s dry. Sometimes I go to bed with one piece and wake up with another! Start small to learn. Not every piece is going to be a beauty. The ugly or “interesting” pieces are part of the learning curve. Thin the paint just a little more!”

From Frank: “Don’t use unnecessary additives, tape the backs of all your flows, and make sure to cover your sides. I’m still learning when to stop messing with a painting.”

From Inese: “Don’t be too quick to throw out a piece you thought wasn’t good, wait for it to dry – and see how it is. You can re-pour over sections, add swirls, etc. Then it will be different and you may start to love it. Remember the 6 stages of an art piece: 1. I love this. 2. I don’t like it. 3. It’s rubbish. 4. Maybe it’s Ok. 5. It’s not too bad.  6. It’s Awesome!”

From Bethany: “Don’t let friends and family discourage you. Art is in the eye of the beholder.”

From Annet: “Take a piece of paper and try the colors together before you pour”

From Christine: “Don’t have any expectations. If you try to achieve something specific and don’t get it, you may end up disappointed and frustrated, rather than proud of the result you DID get.”

From Lorraine: “I’d leave my pours for a couple of weeks before deciding to keep and seal them. Pouring over a varnished or resined piece is harder than doing it before the sealer’s applied. I ended up being so excited and varnishing a pour which 2 weeks later looked amateurish.”

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Comments

  1. My God has this art form taken off! Back in January of this year I started looking into pouring and there was barely a thing on the topic! Now youtube videos and blogs like this are popping up left and right! A thanks to all the Original Experimentalist out there that shared us their findings!

  2. What I love with pours is once it dries, I begin to see objects, people, or animals. Then I go in and fill in some of those things. Very interesting. Also like learning about dirty pours where you actually add 2-3 colors into one cup- what u can do with pours is endless.

  3. I want to do this really bad. I already have been working with alcohol ink. Do you have classes. I need the recipes for pouring acrylic. I am so excited,and have 100 ideas and thoughts in my head. Thank you again.

    1. Thank you Debby for your awesome videos and for writing the Acrylic Pouring book for beginners. I am obsessed with this art form and have created quite a messy “studio” in my basement.

  4. Question: when I do pour painting why do some of the cells go down to the canvas showing white? I put 2 coats of gesso on the canvas and it dried for 5 days before I poured. Are you suppose ro cover up those spots or leave them alone?

    1. It is usually caused by either having a little too much oil in your paints, more than they can cope with and it’s separating out, or the paint may just be a little bit too thin and the oil is easily able to push it aside, or it may be a combination of the two. Or maybe it was just bad luck and a spot of oil in the paint hit the canvas first, making a little area where the paint doesn’t want to stick. How to fix it?
      *Use the minimum amount of oil that you need to get the look you like
      *Don’t mix paints too thinly, especially by adding a lot of water
      *Paint your canvas a base solid color before pouring so that if spots occur, you don’t see bare canvas
      *Fill in the little holes with your dripped paint while still wet
      Hope that helps

    2. For me, it happens if I put the silicone oil into my base colour (usually white).
      I do it because I like the effect; the canvas texture showing through “cell-holes” in the paint.

      I’ll add a tip – probably been said before but it’s VERY important, honest:

      Learn to walk the hell away from the painting!

      The number of pictures I have ruined by “one little change”, “put a little paint here”, “make a little mark there”. Like people say about watercolours – know when to STOP.

      One thing I do enjoy doing – on a just-poured painting, heat gun, cells formed…. grab a palette knife or popsicle stick or ?? and draw intot eh paint with it, make lines around the larger cells, draw lines from cell edge to cell edge, etc.

      And then?

      WALK AWAY FROM IT.

      (Hahaha)

  5. If you gesso a piece, do you need to let it dry before pouring? Also I don’t understand about when to use modge podge and what it takes the place of.

    1. Yes you would let any gesso dry before pouring. You wouldn’t want it to mix with your paints. Some people use mod podge or other glue products in place of pouring mediums. I don’t do that personally and don’t recommend it for longevity in your art, but if you wanted to use mod podge, you would mix it with your paint and some water to make a pouring consistency.

  6. I’ve just started doing this technique and when I was researching everyone said you need pouring medium and silicone– Being broke and limited to where I could go I used Floetrol and baby oil. I got the same effect and it’s much less expensive than getting pouring medium from an art store.

    You can find Floetrol in any home improvement store. It’ll probably be somewhere near the paint section since that’s typically what it’s used for. For the baby oil I just went to the dollar tree. $10 total.

    1. I forgot to add! Make sure when you’re buying the Floetrol that it’s acrylic based so it mixes with the paints.

    2. How much Floetrol and how much baby oil do you use? I, too, am broke, and since I already have floetrol, this sounds good to me!

  7. Thanks for increasing my interest to do like this work , i will start very soon .I hope very helpful beggener book. I will share my feelings after done one work.
    Thank you
    Kolusu

  8. all of those little parts of the pour that dry on your cover for your table you can peel off and use to make cards. You really get some interesting things.

  9. I do not like my first attempt with pouring so I am wondering how long do I have to wait before repouring another attempt on top of the original one? …Or is this even possible? Thanks

    1. The best thing is to scrape and wash the canvas right away while the paint is still wet and then you can pour again immediately. If you let the paint dry, then I suggest leaving it a full month to fully harden all the way through, apply a layer of gesso and then you should be OK to repour.

    1. Not everyone dislikes cracking. I think it adds depth, character, interest, texture. Some artists use paint pens on the cracks… gold, silver, or black look great! Super acrylic pour artist, Rick Cheadle, even has a formula for creating cracks in acrylic pours!!

  10. Hi, This is a great article, thank you. I’m going to keep this to refer to for when I finally get up the courage to do my first pour. One question though, was there supposed to be a link to the tool/app under the heading Think Paints. #2. How Much Paint Do I Need?

  11. Great article. Thank you! Couple of comments. 1) On the flip cup you said leave it for a couple of minutes. In my experience leaving it for more than about 25 seconds will mean that the paint colors start to seriously mix together. This means more browns and greys will show up, and the colors will not be as distinct from each other. You might want this result, and then again, someone else might not. 2) You mentioned a tool to calculate how much paint to prepare, but I didn’t see a link for the tool.
    Thanks again!

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