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How to Do an Acrylic Pour Painting: A Tutorial for Beginners

I've been painting with acrylics since childhood and enjoy sharing tips about working in this versatile medium.

Learn how to do a pour painting in this tutorial for beginners.

Learn how to do a pour painting in this tutorial for beginners.

Have you ever wondered how to do a pour painting? Acrylic pouring is a fun and easy way to create one-of-a-kind works of art. Even if you’ve never painted before and don’t consider yourself an artist, this technique is something anyone can do. All it takes is the right supplies and a little know-how, which you’ll learn here.

The supplies, recipe, and process shown here is one I’ve used to create pour paintings with bright colors and a glossy shine.

In This Tutorial

  • What Is Acrylic Pouring?
  • Supplies You’ll Need for This Project
  • What Kind of Paint Is Best for Acrylic Pour Painting?
  • What Is a Pouring Medium?
  • How to Prepare a Canvas for Acrylic Pouring
  • Step-by-Step Instructions for How to Do an Acrylic Pour Painting
  • A Pour Painting Recipe
  • Some Variations of the Recipe to Try
A pour painting I created with the supplies and steps listed below.

A pour painting I created with the supplies and steps listed below.

What Is Acrylic Pouring?

Acrylic pouring is a painting technique where acrylic paint is mixed with some type of pouring medium and then poured onto a surface in a variety of ways. Sometimes colors are poured directly from individual cups, and other times multiple colors are combined into one cup and poured together.

After that, the surface is tilted in each direction to let the paint flow, and the colors interact in unpredictable yet always interesting ways.

No matter which of the many pour painting methods or techniques you try, you can create your very own abstract fluid art at home.

Acrylic pouring supplies for this painting.

Acrylic pouring supplies for this painting.

Step 1: Gather the Supplies You'll Need

Before you can start, you'll need to get your supplies ready. Below is a list of the supplies used for the painting in this tutorial. You might have many of these items around your home.

The art supplies (canvas, acrylic paint, pouring medium, gesso, and paintbrush) can be found at most art supply stores and on Amazon.

The other various supplies are available at discount, dollar or hardware stores and can also usually be found online.

Pouring Medium & PaintOther SuppliesOptional Supplies

Golden GAC 800 (Pouring Medium)

Gesso

Level

Liquitex Soft Body Acrylics in These Colors:

Flat Paintbrush or 2–3" Polyfoam Sponge Brush

Isopropyl Alcohol

Bright Aqua Green

An 8x8" or 8x10" Stretched Canvas

Aluminum Foil

Light Blue Permanent

Small Plastic Beverage Cups

Aluminum Baking Pan (Approximately 9.5" x 13.5")

Iridescent Bright Silver

Wood Craft Sticks (Regular & Large)

Wax Paper

Emerald Green

Measuring Spoons

Masking Tape

Phthalocyanine Blue (Green Shade)

4 Metal Soup-Size Cans

Art Smock or Apron

Titanium White

Palette Knife

Small Paintbrush for Edge Touch-Ups

Plastic Wrap

Brush Soap

Medium-Size Rubber Bands

Painter's Tape

Painting Tarp or Plastic Sheeting

Fine Grain Sand Paper

Paper Towels

Dust Mask

Disposable Gloves

What Kind of Paint Is Best for Acrylic Pour Painting?

Liquid or soft body acrylics work best for the pouring technique. They're in a fluid formula that doesn't need to be thinned with water before using.

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Paints suited for acrylic pouring are called:

  • Liquid or Fluid Acrylics
  • Soft Body Acrylics
  • High-Flow Acrylics

For this painting, I used Liquitex Professional Soft Body Acrylics because they're an artist-quality paint available at most art supply stores. They're very pigmented, so a small amount of paint goes a long way.

Note: This type of painting can also be done using craft acrylic paint (found at arts & craft supply stores) with a slight change in the recipe. I explain how to do this in the "Variations to This Pour Painting Recipe" section later in this article.

Golden GAC 800 is an acrylic polymer medium that can be mixed with acrylic paints for pouring.

Golden GAC 800 is an acrylic polymer medium that can be mixed with acrylic paints for pouring.

What Is a Pouring Medium?

A pouring medium is a product that's mixed with the acrylic paints to help them flow. It helps keep colors from blending together and looking muddy. Pouring mediums also extend the volume of paint and can help prevent cracking.

There are many types and brands of pouring medium and each one can add a different look to your work.

I used Golden GAC 800 as the pouring medium for this painting because it has a nice balance of color separation and blending, which is the look I wanted to achieve.

Other Supplies for Acrylic Pouring

If you enjoy the acrylic pouring technique and want to have an assortment of supplies on hand so you can get creative and try different types of pours, see my article Essential Acrylic Pour Painting Supplies for Beginners for an expanded supply list.

A stretched canvas for pour painting.

A stretched canvas for pour painting.

Step 2: Prepare the Canvas for Acrylic Pouring

To get your canvas ready, apply a coat of gesso (an acrylic primer) to help the paint adhere better. It takes about a day for each coat of gesso to dry, so plan to do this in advance.

Supplies Needed for This Step

  • Gesso
  • Stretched Canvas
  • Flat Paintbrush or 2-3" Polyfoam Sponge Brush
  • Small Plastic Dish
  • Small Dish of Water
  • Paper Towels
  • Fine Grain Sand Paper and Dust Mask (Optional)

How to Prep the Canvas

If you’re new to using gesso to prime a canvas, here are the basic steps:

  1. Pour a small amount of gesso into a plastic dish.
  2. Dampen your brush or foam sponge brush with water.
  3. Make sure your canvas is free of dust and dirt, then use the brush or sponge to apply a thin, even layer of gesso over the entire canvas surface and sides. Go in one direction with the brush strokes (either across or up and down). Keeping the brush slightly damp will make it glide better.
  4. If you'd like, let the canvas dry for a day, then repeat these steps for a second coat. This time, brush in the opposite direction you went before.

If you happen to see any brush strokes once this coat is dry, you can go over the surface lightly with some fine grain sand paper to smooth them out. It's a good idea to wear a dust mask while sanding.

Gesso is water soluble, so just wash your brush afterwards with brush soap (or dish soap for a sponge brush) and rinse well.

how-to-do-a-pour-painting
how-to-do-a-pour-painting

How to Protect the Back of a Canvas While Pour Painting (Optional)

Once the gesso is dry, you can cover the back of your canvas so it doesn't get coated with paint during the pouring process.

This is optional, but if you'd like to do this, here's how:

  1. Cover the wood bars of the canvas with painter's tape. Leave the edges of the canvas (sides) uncovered so the paint can drip down and cover these.
  2. Put a piece of aluminum foil flat against the canvas and use tape to secure it.

Painter's tape won't damage the canvas and can be peeled off once the painting is dry.

Step 3: Find a Workspace

Pour painting gets quite messy and the paint will take a few days to dry, so here are some things that make an ideal place to work on this project:

  • A clean, dust-free space so dust or pet hair doesn't end up in the wet paint.
  • A completely level, stable surface so the painting can dry with a smooth finish.
  • A room with a door that can be closed if you have pets or young children so they won't accidentally touch or tip your painting.
Plastic cups filled with pouring medium and paint.

Plastic cups filled with pouring medium and paint.

Step 4: Mix the Paints

I mix cups of paint and pouring medium the night before when I use Golden GAC 800 because I've found it works best when it has about twelve hours for the air bubbles to dissipate on their own.

Pour Painting Recipe

Here’s the paint and pouring medium recipe for this painting:

Supplies

  • Golden GAC 800 (the 8-ounce bottle is more than enough)
  • Liquitex Soft Body Acrylic Paints (2-ounce bottles)
  • 9 Small Plastic Beverage Cups (3-ounce cups work well)
  • Measuring Spoons
  • Regular Wood Craft Sticks (popsicle stick-size)
  • Plastic Wrap
  • Medium-Size Rubber Bands
  • Aluminum Foil

Paint Mixing Instructions

  1. Cover an area of your countertop or table with a sheet of aluminum foil to protect it from paint splashes or spills.
  2. Add 2.5 level teaspoons of Golden GAC 800 to each plastic beverage cup.
  3. Add one level 1/4 teaspoon of Liquitex Soft Body paint in the colors and color combinations listed below to each cup.
  4. Slowly stir each cup with a wood craft stick until the paint and pouring medium mixture is completely blended.
  5. Cover each cup tightly with some plastic wrap and secure it well with a rubber band. Set the cups aside until you're ready to paint.

Colors (In No Particular Order)

  • Cup 1 - Titanium White
  • Cup 2 - Light Blue Permanent
  • Cup 3 - Iridescent Bright Silver
  • Cup 4 - Phthalocyanine Blue (Green Shade)
  • Cup 5 - Bright Aqua Green
  • Cup 6 - Bright Aqua Green
  • Cup 7 - Half Bright Aqua Green, Half Emerald Green
  • Cup 8 - Half Bright Aqua Green, Half Phthalocyanine Blue (Green Shade)
  • Cup 9 - One of the six colors of your choice.

Notes

  • A wood craft stick can be used to scrape the paint from the measuring spoon into the plastic cup.
  • Rinse and dry the measuring spoon between each color.
  • Small, air-tight plastic or glass containers can be used instead of plastic wrap and rubber bands, if you have them.
how-to-do-a-pour-painting

Step 5: Protect Your Work Area and Clothing

Before getting started, cover your workspace with a plastic paint tarp, plastic sheeting or lawn-size trash bags to keep your surface clean and make clean-up easier.

To help contain the paint that will be dripping off the canvas, consider using an aluminum baking pan. If it's lined with wax paper or aluminum foil, it should stay clean enough to re-use.

It’s a good idea to wear an old apron or art smock to keep paint off your clothes. Even though acrylics are water soluble, they can be difficult to get out of clothing.

This type of aluminum baking pan can be found at dollar stores.

This type of aluminum baking pan can be found at dollar stores.

Step 6: Start Pouring

Here are a few things to do before you start:

  • Gather your cups of paint, disposable gloves, paper towels, and palette knife (or a few large wood craft sticks) in your workspace. You can either put on your gloves now or before the next step.
  • Place your canvas on a raised surface. I like using empty metal soup-size cans because they raise the canvas and are stable enough that they won't tip.
  • If you have a level, you can use it to check your canvas.
  • Uncover all your paint cups. The paint and pouring medium mixtures should now be air bubble-free.
  • If any of the paint and pouring medium has separated, use a craft stick to blend it together. Do this slowly to avoid creating new air bubbles.
Checking the surface with a level can help prevent the paint from pooling on one side of the canvas.

Checking the surface with a level can help prevent the paint from pooling on one side of the canvas.

Start Pouring Paint From Cups

I poured directly from each cup in random swirls over the entire canvas as shown in the images below.

This is just an example of direct pouring from a cup. You can add the colors in any way you like.

This is just an example of direct pouring from a cup. You can add the colors in any way you like.

The corners are sometimes hard to get coated with paint during the next step, so try to add a little paint to each one.

how-to-do-a-pour-painting

Iridescent Bright Silver looks pale gray when it's wet, but once it's dry, it'll have a beautiful metallic shine.

how-to-do-a-pour-painting

Titanium White is a heavy color that tends to pool if you add too much in one area. To avoid this, try pouring it evenly around the entire canvas.

The little dots of color you see are from shaking out the last few drops of paint from some of the cups.

All of the colors poured onto the canvas.

All of the colors poured onto the canvas.

Using a Palette Knife With Acrylic Pouring (Optional)

A palette knife can be used to blend some of the colors on your canvas. This is optional and depends on what type of look you'd like.

In this work, I only used the palette knife to push some paint over a few small areas of the canvas that were bare. The swirls and color blending happened on their own during the next step.

Palette knives can be used for various acrylic pour painting techniques. If you don't have one, a wood craft stick can be a good substitute.

Palette knives can be used for various acrylic pour painting techniques. If you don't have one, a wood craft stick can be a good substitute.

Step 7: Tilt the Canvas

Now we're at the step most pour painters love the most. You're ready to make the paint flow. You never quite know how all the colors will come together until you get to this point.

This step can take some practice to master, but with each painting you try, you'll discover what works best and how to improve with the next one.

Basic Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Pick up your canvas and slowly tilt it in one direction at a time until the flowing paint approaches the edge. It's fine if some paint goes over the edges but try not to let too much flow off until the canvas surface is fully covered.
  2. You will want to pour off enough paint so there's not a thick puddle on the surface without pouring off the best parts of your design.
  3. Continue tilting in different directions until the entire canvas surface and sides are covered and you're happy with the overall composition and look of your painting.
  4. Place the canvas squarely in the center of your cans. The paint will start to thicken within a few minutes or so. Avoid further work on the surface once this has happened.
The wet paint flowed and blended into this abstract water pattern.

The wet paint flowed and blended into this abstract water pattern.

Step 8: Finish the Edges

The colorful paint drips on the side of the canvas can enhance the overall look of your painting. If you use a canvas with staple-free edges, it can be displayed without a frame.