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How to Create a "Swirled" Abstract Painting With Acrylic Paint

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Marian (a.k.a. Azure11) has been working as a professional artist since 2006 and has sold over 600 paintings in that time.

A "swirled" acrylic painting, by the author (c) Azure11, 2011

A "swirled" acrylic painting, by the author (c) Azure11, 2011

Swirled Acrylic or Paint Pouring?

I have been doing what I call swirled acrylics since about 2008. In recent years, fluid acrylic painting (or, paint pouring) has become increasingly popular, with the addition of products such as Floetrol (which I now use to create cells with a lot of success) to the paint to get different effects.

This method just uses watered-down paint (as those products weren't available at that time) so you don't need any of the extras (which can add to your costs) and you can use just what you might have available.

Creating an Abstract Painting

If you are an abstract artist you can achieve some really beautiful results using watered-down acrylic paint. This is a technique that I have been using for several years and I have sold many paintings using this technique.

Materials Needed

  • A canvas
  • Empty plastic (water) bottles
  • Acrylic paints
  • Masking tape
  • Spatula/icing spreader

Instructions for Abstract "Swirl" Painting

  1. So, first of all, you need to decide which colours you wish to use. You can check my article on basic colour theory if you wish to know which colours go best together. Generally, I tend to use colours that are close to each other on the color wheel (analogous hues) but sometimes I mix up opposite colours in the painting or even completely random ones just to see how it will turn out!
  2. Once you have decided this you need some empty plastic bottles in which to mix the paint. Mix the paint with water in an approximate 1:1 mix. Make up at least 5 different colours to give the painting some variety. It is a good idea to test the colours first on a spare canvas to check that they go well together. Have a good variety of contrasting depths of colour. You don't need to mix particularly large quantities of the paint but obviously it depends on the size of the canvas.
  3. Once you have mixed the colours, put masking tape all around the edge of the canvas to form a lip which will stop the paint from running off the edges.
  4. With the canvas flat on the ground or a table, pour the paint from each bottle onto the canvas in an approximate pattern of how you want it to look. Try to spread the paint around the canvas evenly and don't have too much of one color in one place.
  5. Once you have put all of the colours on the canvas, use a spatula or something similar to make sure all of the paint joins and that no canvas shows through but try not to mix the paint on the canvas while you are doing it so that you get a more organic look from the painting as the paint merges in its own way. Make sure you do not put too much paint on the canvas or else it will likely pool in the middle and may take days to dry and may also crack off the canvas if it is too thick.
  6. At this point, you can add some glitter or gold powder to the painting to give it an extra sparkle. To add more movement to the painting, slightly tilt the canvas to get some patterns into the paint. Keep tilting in various directions until you have a pattern you are happy with. You could also add a few drops of water in various places which will make the paint move around more.
  7. Once the paint covers the whole canvas, leave the canvas to dry flat overnight. It depends upon how much paint you have used as to how long it takes to dry but if it takes more than 36 hours you have probably used too much!
  8. If you think there is too much paint on the canvas when you are creating the painting then literally tip it off or else use a syringe to take it off if you don't want to spoil the pattern, but you need to take the excess paint off before the paint starts to dry.
  9. Once it is dry, remove the masking tape from the sides, paint the edges, and varnish.
  10. In recent years I have coated my paintings with resin but in the past, I just used a nice glossy varnish that brought out the colours of the painting.
All paintings are (c) Azure11, 2007-2010

All paintings are (c) Azure11, 2007-2010

Other Painting Articles

  • Abstract Acrylic Painting: Applying Paint To A Text...
    If you have read my previous article on creating your own home made texture then you will have already started to create your textured paste to use in this painting style. Once you have mixed up your texture...
  • Alternative Texture to Use in Abstract Paintings
    As a mainly abstract artist I have come up with some interesting ingredients to use for texture under my abstract paintings. I mostly use acrylic paint but this texture base can also be used for oil...

Questions & Answers

Question: Do you have a medium to suggest for doing a swirled abstract painting using oil paint?

Answer: I wouldn't recommend doing this style of painting with oil paint, you would end up needing too much medium for the paint to be the right consistency and I think and it would probably split. There are special mediums designed to use with acrylics and of course you can just use water.

Question: Can you use linseed oil as a primer?

Answer: It is not designed for that and this technique uses acrylic paint and not oil. You shouldn't use oil under acrylics in any case (as a general rule). If you haven't bought a pre-primed canvas then there are plenty of tutorials of how to prime a canvas using various things. If you want a base coat under the painting then just use a coat of acrylic paint or gesso.

© 2010 Marian L


Marian L (author) from UK on April 10, 2020:

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Hi, I would say don't go headlong into doing your first one expecting it to be great! Try a few smaller test ones first to get an idea of how thick the paint should be and what colours you want to use. Then it doesn't matter if it goes wrong! on April 09, 2020:

Trying to get as much info as possible before I do my first one of these. I currently do oils, acrylics, watercolors, and pencils and all in realistic method. I try but am not successful in doing looser painting. I would like to do a large 30x40 ocean scene but realize I should start with a smaller project - "crawl before you walk".

Keerthana on July 14, 2019:

Hi i am an abstract beginner. What type of texture paste can use for acrylic . I have no idea .but i am interested to work with .

Marian L (author) from UK on July 17, 2017:

Thank you! I would just say do lots of experimenting and testing on cheap canvases to start with!

Jennifer from Pennsylvania on July 17, 2017:

These are beautiful! Any tips for beginners? I want mine to look like yours!

Marian L (author) from UK on May 26, 2017:

Thank you, I use a good quality acrylic paint, for me that is Winsor and Newton.

Lise Gosselin on May 22, 2017:

What type of paint do You use?

It is very nice

Marian L (author) from UK on May 07, 2017:

Ooh that is a good idea!

Bev Reed on May 03, 2017:

Beautiful. I have a cheap little TV turntable that I put my canvases on enabling me to turn the work easily. You would love it for this type work.

Marian L (author) from UK on January 08, 2017:

Sorry for the delay in replying, it was a gold powder, something like this

Tina Marie on October 16, 2016:

What exactly was the 'gold' product you used to add the shimmer?

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on July 27, 2015:

Azure, that was pretty cool and easy to do! Voted up for awesome!

Marian L (author) from UK on July 20, 2015:

Thanks Sandra, yes I try and smooth off any excess paint that has gone through the masking tape onto the edges, before it dries, then I do paint the edges in a matching colour or with a mixture of any left over paint.

Sandra W on July 17, 2015:

Amazing art. I just want to know do you paint the edges ?

Marian L (author) from UK on June 02, 2015:

Hi Samantha, wow I just googled him and yes this technique might give you a similar result. I don't know what medium he uses but maybe it's watercolour by the look of it, I need to investigate further!

Samantha on May 31, 2015:

I know this is an older post but looking forward to trying! I love Tobias Tovera and this is the closest tutorial I've found for coming close to his end result. Your pieces are absolutely gorgeous!

Marian L (author) from UK on September 19, 2014:

Hi NiaG yes I'm just sticking it on the edge of the canvas with some of it sticking up to create a lip. Have fun!

NiaG from Louisville, KY on September 18, 2014:

How neat! I'm trying to see how you created the masking tape edge. Are you just placing the tape along the border? Yours looks so stiff. Loved this hub. Hope to try it soooon!

Marian L (author) from UK on August 29, 2014:

Oh yes I know what you mean. I made some postcard sized pictures using this technique on acrylic paper and put 3 of them in a frame together and they looked great.

Fiona from South Africa on August 29, 2014:

An ACEO is like an Artist's trading card - they are small - only 2.5" by 3.5" and apparently are quite collectible - I like the size because I have no more space on my walls for art. BTW, I played around today and made a few of the cards, and some bigger pieces and they came our really beautifully so thanks again.

Marian L (author) from UK on August 29, 2014:

No problem although I have no idea what an ACEO is!

Fiona from South Africa on August 28, 2014:

I've bought a few ACEO's using this technique on eBay recently and have been wondering how exactly it was done - thanks so much for sharing!

Marian L (author) from UK on August 01, 2014:

Ah I see Nicole, yes you really need the best quality for this. I would recommend trying it out on a small cheap canvas first to check how your consistency of paint works out. A lot of it is trial and error! Good luck.

Nicole on August 01, 2014:

Thank you! I guess I mean quality. The only place I really have to buy paint is Michaels and they sell theirs in levels 1-3 student, artist, and professional, respectively. The level 1 is kind of a buttery texture, the level 3 is thicker, with level 2 somewhere in between. I'm excited to try this method and just want to make sure I'm starting out with the right consistency :)

Marian L (author) from UK on July 26, 2014:

Do you mean quality? I tend to use high quality paints as they set better. If you use cheaper paints then they can rub off when you come to varnish the painting.

Nicole on July 24, 2014:

I really enjoy this tutorial! You are amazing! My only question is which level of paint did you use when you mixed it with water 50/50?

braincandy on January 13, 2014:

This looks so fun and what a beautiful result.

Jordan on October 28, 2013:

this is awesome!!!!!!! cant wait to try this today

Holly on May 12, 2013:

Thanks! The video was great. This was my first attempt ever at painting and it didn't turn out too badly. Only problem now is what to do with all the paintings I want to do...

Marian L (author) from UK on April 22, 2013:

Thanks Laurel, your comments are appreciated :-)

Laurel Sheridan on April 22, 2013:

Wow I'm blown away by your demo on swirls. I've wanted to do this style of painting for so long but never had any success. Thanks so much for your generosity in sharing. Thumbs up from me.

Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on January 24, 2013:

you so much for this hub, it is exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to try something new with paint and this may be just it. I do not have to much space to work so working on the table suit me just fine

MegannNicole from Florida on November 30, 2012:

Great article! I can't wait to try this!

Jennifer Barker from San Jose, California on July 13, 2012:

Neat idea. I really like the results. I've wanted to try out abstract painting for some time but needed inspiration I guess. I'm going to try this out. Thanks!

carol stanley from Arizona on July 13, 2012:

Just found this hub and being an acrylic painter...I found this very useful and interesting. This is an interesting approach to using acrylics and I am inspired to try. Thanks for a great article. Thumbs up!

Marian L (author) from UK on June 12, 2012:

Thanks kartika :-)

kartika damon from Fairfield, Iowa on June 12, 2012:

I enjoyed this - I love abstract art and have dabbled in it but this sounds like a fun approach to the medium. I love the results - your paintings are wonderful. Thumbs up!

wynnestudios from Phoenix, AZ on June 01, 2012:

Beautiful art and ideas. I love to paint abstract art but I always yell at myself because I think it's bad. Art is unique and one may like it while another won't. I need to learn just to let go and enjoy what I do for me. Thanks for the article.

carlarmes from Bournemouth, England on May 28, 2012:

Reading your hubs is giving me some really useful ideas, thanks for sharing.

Melanie Chisnall from Cape Town, South Africa on May 25, 2012:

Your artwork is breathtaking! Thanks for sharing your tips, I think I'm going to give this style a try when I start painting my canvas for the lounge. I wasn't sure what to paint, but now I have more of an idea. Thanks! :)

Marian L (author) from UK on April 24, 2012:

Hi Kathy, I do have a website at - if you go to the 'more paintings' section you should be able to see a bunch more of the swirled paintings as well as some other stuff that I have done :-)

Kathy on April 23, 2012:

Thank You for answering so quickly, I also wanted to know if you sell your art online so that we can get a better look at these beautiful swirled painting you created. I am giving this a go today along with the squares painting. Swirling looks like fun!!!

Marian L (author) from UK on April 23, 2012:

Good question kathy. As long as you do not add masses of paint it will not run to the centre, and as long as the paint is not too liquid. It also depends on how taught your canvas is but I find that all the canvases you can buy in the shops are fine. The only time I have come across this problem is if you have a really big canvas. I did a couple that were 1.8m x 1.8m and there was a bit of pooling with those so I had to be really careful with the thickness of the paint.

kathy on April 22, 2012:

I wonder does, the paint run to the center or do you support the canvas underneath...?

grinnin1 from st louis,mo on April 14, 2012:

Beautiful work! I love the colors you use. I use a similar technique with watercolor for wild waves, etc. Nice hub!

Marian L (author) from UK on April 02, 2012:

Thanks yougotme and interesting hub on abstract art

Renz Kristofer Cheng from Manila on April 01, 2012:

Great hub!

I've linked your hub to mine. I've written a hub on Abstract Art in general:

Marian L (author) from UK on September 08, 2011:

Hi Jen, thanks, let me know how you get on. Yes I exhibit in the UK and Dubai and will have an exhibition in Abu dhabi in October.

jenubouka on September 08, 2011:

I am going to give it a whirl today. Your articles are so informative. And your paintings timeless. Do you do art shows? Where do you display your paintings?

Marian L (author) from UK on September 08, 2011:

Thanks Jen, hope you have fun with it!

Marian L (author) from UK on September 08, 2011:

Yes I agree Malcolm and I very often use a gloss varnish on my acrylic paintings.

malcolm on September 07, 2011:

My experience is acrylics can dry flat colours if you dont add some gloss medium

jenubouka on September 07, 2011:

That is sooo neat! I have found a new idea to try. Thank you!

Marian L (author) from UK on August 31, 2011:

Thanks Christin

ChristinCordle12 on August 30, 2011:

Excellent hub! Great ideas on acrylic painting. Thanks for posting.

Marian L (author) from UK on April 13, 2011:

Thanks cangetthere, hope you enjoy giving it a try.

Pauline from New Zealand on April 13, 2011:

Hi I have just read your hub. I have never yet thought of abstract painting The photos of your paintings have inspired me to give it a try.Good way to get a painting of colours to match a room.Thanks

Ali Boom on January 30, 2011:

Pretty cool! I have not heard of painting in this manner. I am going to try this!!

Marian L (author) from UK on October 03, 2010:

Thanks guys, is a lot of fun I have to admit and the results are often unpredictable!

dylanvest from Dayton, OH on October 03, 2010:

I use this method often. It is so fun. Great hub!

eatingright on October 01, 2010:

Great tips. Will try creating an abstract painting!

nikki1 on April 27, 2010:

Thanx for sharing.