Why You Should Be Doing Color Studies

*This page may have affiliate links, which means we may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links provided (at no extra cost to you). Thank you for supporting our site!

As an active member of online acrylic pouring communities like this blog and half a dozen facebook groups, common complaints that I see artists make revolve around their color palette for any given pour.

Questions like: “Why are my colors turning to mud?”, “Why are these colors not working together?”, and “Why are my pours not as dramatic as others?” All share one thing in common, color palettes.

Color is typically one of the first things taught in an introductory painting class. Color is everything in painting. You can have the right composition and the right lighting, but if the colors are wrong, your painting will have to undergo some serious reworking.

My college painting professor frequently tells students to look at their color palette when they’re frustrated with their painting. If there are too many colors that are similar to one another, the painting will be flat, monotonous. Apply that to acrylic pouring, and you see the mud problem.

Unlike oil painting or other techniques, acrylic pouring is a kind of one-and-done deal. You have a very limited working time, maybe fifteen to twenty minutes compared to the days and weeks of oil painting. While you can always sand it down and repaint it, getting it right the first time saves materials and your precious free time.

The solution can sometimes be to do color studies. Color studies are when you grab some acrylic paint or even watercolors and plan your painting out in advance. The closer you can get to the real color you’ll end up using, the better. Some thick card stock will do in a pinch, or suitable watercolor/acrylic paper will work best if you have it on hand.

Featured ImageColor Study Image1

Plan out your painting. Test different color combinations, not just a simple swipe of each color, but try different ratios. What would it look like if you had twice as much blue as green, for example? How much neon blue is too much neon blue?

This is a technique that I use in my own work when I’m about to use a very large surface. In these instances, it’s absolutely vital that you get it right the first time. Nobody wants to have to repaint a 20” diameter round panel over again, that’s just not fun.

My best advice for working for color is to try to have a base, mid-tone and highlight shade of your main color. Then, consider introducing a complementary color, or something especially dark or much lighter than the other colors to provide contrast. Bonus points if you introduce a metallic into one of your three variant shades or the contrast color.

Test your color palettes out! Try new things before you pour onto the canvas! Post your results below in the comments if this technique worked for you, or if you prefer to do something else. Do you pour blind, no color study beforehand?


  1. Thanks for the lesson. Would you please provide an example of colors used when choosing a “base, mid-tone and highlight shade of your main color”?
    suzy c

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *