I've been painting with acrylics since childhood and enjoy sharing tips about working in this versatile medium.
If you're new to acrylic pour painting, this article offers tips to help make your paintings more successful, lists some simple mistakes to avoid, and ways to develop your skills to create paintings you love.
Here are the acrylic pour painting tips for beginners covered in this article:
- Have a Clean, Dust-Free Workspace
- Work on a Level Surface
- Have a Plan for Each Painting
- Keep Notes for Each Painting
- Don't Shake the Pouring Medium
- Use the Smallest Plastic Cups for the Amount of Paint You Need
- Have Your Supplies Nearby Before Starting
- Learn When to Stop Working on Your Painting
- Avoid Starting Too Many Paintings at Once
- Improve Your Acrylic Pouring Skills
1. Have a Clean, Dust-Free Workspace
When you put time and effort into a painting, the last thing you want is to find is dust, pet hair, or even bugs dried into the finish.
This can be avoided by cleaning, dusting and/or vacuuming the entire room where you work. Avoid fans, ceiling fans, and open windows. Windows can also let in bugs, and they might land in your wet paint.
If you have pets, set up your workspace in a place they can't access. You'll avoid pet hair problems, or finding a tipped painting and a pet covered in paint.
2. Work on a Level Surface
I learned this lesson the hard way when I did one of my first paintings on a surface that looked level but wasn't. The paint dried in a thick pool on one edge of my board and looked thin on the other.
If you don't already have a level, get an inexpensive one at a hardware store to check your surface before pouring.
Tip: If you have an iPhone, there's a level in the "Measure" app.
3. Have a Plan for Each Painting
Try to have a general idea of what theme and colors you'd like to try before getting started. Simple things like choosing colors that look nice together can help prevent a painting with muddy tones.
If you're not familiar with choosing or mixing colors, a color wheel can be useful. I like the Cox Color Wheel because it's easy to use and gives some basic information about color.
Here are a few other things to think about:
- What pouring technique to use (For example, dirty pour or tree ring pour)
- What overall theme am I going for? (Such as galaxy, ocean, or black and white)
- What medium to use
- How much paint and pouring medium will be needed for the surface size
- Any tools you might need (Like a straw or palette knife)
4. Keep Notes for Each Painting
As a beginner, one of the best ways to improve your acrylic pouring skills is to learn what works for you and what doesn't.
It's helpful to write down and save the "recipe" and process for each of your paintings. If a painting turns out well, you’ll know what specific products and method you used, and how to create a similar one. If it doesn't, you'll know what to avoid.
This doesn't take much time and can save time and money on supplies in the long run. After a few paintings, you'll likely see a pattern of what products and/or techniques create your best work.
These notes can be written in a notepad, on your phone, or whatever you prefer.
Here's an example of the notes I record:
12" Square canvas, green, blue and aqua with cells
- Paint brand used
- Pouring medium used
- Whether I added silicone, alcohol, etc. or not
- A list of the paint colors used
- Quantities of paint and pouring medium used
- A quick summary of the process and any supplies used
- How the painting turned out
- What I'd do differently next time (if anything)
5. Don’t Shake the Pouring Medium
It's an easy mistake to make if you're new to pouring, but shaking a bottle of pouring medium can create little air bubbles that will get trapped in the surface of your work.
If you need to mix or blend paint, use a wood craft stick. Stir slowly and gently to avoid adding air bubbles.
Note: Some products used as a pouring medium such as Floetrol need to be shaken before using. When in doubt, check the label on the bottle.
6. Use the Smallest Plastic Cups for the Amount of Paint You Need
It’s easier to mix paint and pouring medium in smaller cups because you can see if the paint is completely blended. You'll also avoid wasting large cups if you're only doing a smaller painting.
7. Have Your Supplies Nearby Before Starting
Acrylic pouring is very messy. Once your gloves are dripping in paint, it's not easy to go find that one supply you forgot.
Spend a few minutes before starting to make sure you have everything you need within reach of your workspace. This could be paper towels, wood craft sticks, or palette knives.
If you're new to this type of painting and aren't familiar with the supplies used, I have a list of the essentials in: Pour Painting Supplies for Beginners.
8. Learn When to Stop Working on Your Painting
I think most pour painters have had the experience of being finished with a piece and thinking: "If I just add this or fix that, it’ll be even better."
If you otherwise like how your painting looks, be cautious about making a change that may or may not work out. If you're confident you can improve something, go for it. If not, save the idea for your next one.
9. Avoid Starting Too Many Paintings at Once
Once you try acrylic pouring, you'll probably have so much fun that you’ll be tempted to mix more colors and start new paintings. However, it might be better to work on only a few at a time while you're still getting familiar with this technique.
Why? Even with a plan, you won't quite know how your paintings will turn out until they're dry. This is especially true when using a new brand of paints, medium, or other supplies you haven't tried before.
When a painting is completely dry (which could take a day or more), you'll be able to see what you like about it, what you don't, and decide if there's anything to improve on in your next round. This way, you’ll save paint, canvases and have fewer works that don't turn out as well as you hoped.
10. Improve Your Acrylic Pouring Skills
There are many ways to improve your skills. Here are a few ideas:
Acrylic Pour Painting Classes
Consider taking an acrylic pouring class in your area. These may be offered at arts & crafts stores, or art schools. Even if you already know the basics, it helps to learn new techniques and perspectives from an instructor.
Learn Pouring Techniques Online
You can learn all about acrylic pouring without leaving your house. There are many artists who share video demonstrations of pouring techniques on YouTube, and various social media sites. This is a way to learn things to try in your future work.
For a step-by-step tutorial of how to create an acrylic pour painting from start to finish, see: How to Do a Pour Painting: A Tutorial for Beginners.
Learn About Paints and Painting
One of the best things about acrylic pouring is that you don’t need an art background to learn this technique. That said, the more knowledgeable you are about paints, mediums, and mixing colors, the more confident you’ll be to try advanced pouring techniques.
It's also beneficial to learn about other aspects of art, such as composition, sketching, and traditional acrylic painting. You may find these skills will make pour painting come easier to you.
When you're a beginner, try not to get discouraged if your first paintings don't turn out as well as you'd hoped. It can take time, experience, and practice to master any skill.
As long as you're enjoying the painting process and learning ways to improve anything you're not satisfied with, your paintings will soon become closer to what you envision.
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you've found these tips helpful.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: What is the flip cup technique for painters?
Answer: The flip cup technique is a pouring technique where multiple colors of paint are mixed with pouring medium in separate cups. These colors are poured into another cup. A canvas (or any surface) is placed upside down on the cup. These are held together and "flipped" so the cup sits upside down on the canvas. When the cup is lifted, the paint pours out to create a colorful painting with interesting designs.
I have a step-by-step guide with photos of this technique at https://feltmagnet.com/painting/Flip-Cup-Painting
Question: After an acrylic pour dries, should it look glossy?
Answer: Whether a painting dries glossy or matte depends a lot on the type of pouring medium used. Floetrol dries with a matte finish. If you want a glossy shine, a gloss finish varnish can be applied once the painting is completely dry. It’s a good idea to wait a few weeks to be sure all the moisture is gone. Look for a gloss finish varnish compatible with acrylic paint. If you haven't used varnish before, I suggest testing it on a painting you don't care about to see how it looks.
© 2018 Carrie Kelley
Steve V on May 08, 2020:
which is better, using premixed pourable paint or making your own with your pour medium and pigments? powdered pigments or paste? can mica pigments be used with acrylic paint? I'm just starting and have so many questions.
firstname.lastname@example.org on April 26, 2020:
Thank you for sharing such good, basic information!! I will read, practice and re-read until I get some confidence and feel more “at home” with my paints!!
Carrie Kelley (author) from USA on January 04, 2020:
Hi Doreen, I see what you're saying. There seems to be a mix of those who like this style, and those who don't. Thanks for your comments, and I'm glad you're doing well.
Doreen T. on December 29, 2019:
I am a breast cancer survivor. Every time I see a painting with cells, it makes me very upset because they look like cancer cells. Why is this so popular? I guess it's just a matter of taste.
Beverly dorsey on September 22, 2019:
I would like to pour an outside table. The original glass is broken due to a storm. Would like to use cement board for base. What kind of paints do i use?
Karen M on September 19, 2019:
How do you choose your order of colors in a flip cup? I thought the first color would be the last color to pour out of the cup and would be more dominant. That often does not happen. Say I have red violet, white and silver and I want the red to be more prominent. Do I make it the first paint in the cup or do I just put more red in?
Another question . . . Everyone says not to put the oil drops in the color white. Why? Is it because white is so heavy and that makes it too hard to make cells? Or is it because the white cells are not as attractive?
Carrie Kelley (author) from USA on September 19, 2019:
Hi Laura, You're very welcome. I'm glad it's been helpful to you!
laura Campbell on September 15, 2019:
I would like to thank you for all of your tips. You are a true hero. I teach middle school art students. They love painting, I am using your advise. It is really good. I had written other comments along the way as well. You are amazing and so very helpful. I love pouring. Still a novice, but showed my kids anyways last year. They loved it the best out of all projects taught. Now, I know why all my brushes got ruined. Thank YOU!!!!!!
Ellen on July 14, 2019:
I cant ever get cells. Ive used floetrol without silicone, with silicone, liquitex pouring medium with silicone . . . and no cells! Please help. Thank you.
Racyinnc on May 13, 2019:
Hello, I tried paint pouring yesterday for the first time. I mixed my paint with Elmer's glue as a medium the added a small amount of water. When I did my pour through a strainer the layers/colors did not hold the shape and ran all over and mixed together. Thinking I had it too thin I mixed my next batch thicker and got the same outcome. What can I try differently?
Also, what do you use to thin black paint without it turning gray?
Carrie Kelley (author) from USA on April 09, 2019:
Eve - Are you using a lot of silicone oil? It only takes a small amount. Just two or three drops in a small cup stirred in with the paint. If you add too much, it might not work.
Carrie Kelley (author) from USA on April 09, 2019:
Hello Marnie - It could be many things. Since it was just one area, maybe the paint was too thick there, or it pooled and cracked. I don't know if you added water to the mixture or not, but that sometimes causes the paint to crack as it dries. I hope this helps. Thanks for your comments and question.
Marnie Brookins on April 09, 2019:
Hi- I tried my first pour painting and love the look. But as it dried overnight I had one area that really developed large ugly cracks. It looks like the paint is actually going to flake off the canvas. Did it get too thick, dry to fast or was my mix of paint to floetrol off do you think?
Eifiona Kennelly on April 08, 2019:
I am having difficulty getting cells I use the 100 percent Silicon oil have tried so many times thank you Eve
Carrie Kelley (author) from USA on March 23, 2019:
Jessica - Yes, it can. Use pouring medium to thin the paint so it's more fluid, then stir it until it's completely blended and smooth. Then add more pouring medium until it's a good consistency for pouring. This is usually a little thicker than a liquid coffee creamer. I hope this helps! Thanks for your question.
Jessica on March 22, 2019:
Can acrylic tube paint used for pouring?
Carrie Kelley (author) from USA on December 06, 2018:
Hello Jesse, I haven't used Floetrol, but I have heard you can mix those two to make cells. Thanks for your question.
Jesse on December 06, 2018:
Hi there I just have a question about pouring,to make the cells can l mix floetrol with silicon??
Carrie Kelley (author) from USA on August 07, 2018:
Hi Elayne, I'm glad you liked the article. The clocks on records sound fun to try. I've seen pictures of them, but haven't had the chance to try one yet. I hope you get time to paint. It can be addicting for sure. Thanks for your comments!
Elayne from Rocky Mountains on August 07, 2018:
I was mesmerized by the acrylic pouring on youtube. For Christmas I gave several of my pieces away for gifts. I actually made three clocks on records from the thrift store. It was fun and now I'm addicted. Wish I had more time to play with the paints since I bought plenty of them when they were on sale. Good article!