How to Do a Pour Painting: A 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.
Here’s what you’ll learn in this tutorial:
- What is acrylic pouring
- What kind of paint is best for acrylic pour painting
- What is a pouring medium
- Supplies you’ll need for this project
- How to prepare a canvas for acrylic pouring
- Step-by-step instructions of how to do an acrylic pour painting
- A pour painting recipe
- Some variations of the recipe to try
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.
1. Gather Your Supplies
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 paint brush) 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.
Supplies You'll Need
Pouring Medium & Paint
Golden GAC 800 (Pouring Medium)
Liquitex Soft Body Acrylics:
Flat Paint Brush or 2-3" Polyfoam Sponge Brush
Bright Aqua Green
An 8x8" or 8x10" Stretched Canvas
Light Blue Permanent
Small Plastic Beverage Cups
Aluminum Baking Pan (Approximately 9.5" x 13.5")
Iridescent Bright Silver
Wood Craft Sticks (Regular & Large)
Phthalocyanine Blue (Green Shade)
4 Metal Soup Size Cans
Art Smock or Apron
Small Paint Brush for Edge Touch-Ups
Medium Size Rubber Bands
Painting Tarp or Plastic Sheeting
Acrylic Paint and Pouring Medium
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.
Paints suited for acrylic pouring are called:
- Liquid Acrylics
- Soft Body Acrylics
- High-Flow Acrylics
For this painting, I used Liquitex Professional Soft Body Acrylics because they're an artist quality paint you can find at most art supply stores. They're very pigmented and a small amount of paint goes a long way.
This type of painting can also be done using craft acrylic paint (found at Arts & Crafts stores) with a slight change in the recipe. I explain how to do this in the "Variations to the Pour Painting Recipe" section later in this article.
What Is a Pouring Medium?
In acrylic pouring, a pouring medium is mixed with paint to help the paint flow and blend. It helps keeps the colors separate, so they won't combine into one muddy color when mixed. It also extends the volume of the paint and helps prevent cracking.
There are different types and brands of pouring medium and each one can add a different look to your work.
Will this be your first pour painting?
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 Pour Painting Supplies for Beginners for an expanded supply list.
2. Prep the Canvas
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.
- Stretched Canvas
- Flat Paint Brush or 2-3" Polyfoam Sponge Brush
- Small Plastic Dish
- Small Dish of Water
- Paper Towels
How to Prepare a Canvas for Acrylic Pouring
If you’re new to using gesso to prime a canvas, here are the basic steps:
- Pour a small amount of gesso into a plastic dish.
- Dampen your brush or foam sponge brush with water.
- 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). You don't need to add more water, but keeping the brush slightly damp will make it glide better.
- 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 visible brush strokes once this coat is dry, you can go over the surface lightly with some fine grain sand paper to smooth them out.
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 Protect the Back of a Canvas While Pour Painting
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:
- Cover the wood bars of the canvas with painter's tape. Leave the edges of the canvas (sides) uncovered because you'll want paint to drip down and cover these.
- 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.
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.
4. Mix Your 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:
- 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:
- Cover an area of your countertop or table with a sheet of aluminum foil to protect it from paint splashes or spills.
- Add 2.5 level teaspoons of Golden GAC 800 to each plastic beverage cup.
- Add one level 1/4 teaspoon of Liquitex Soft Body paint in the colors and color combinations listed below to each cup.
- Slowly stir each cup with a wood craft stick until the paint and pouring medium mixture is completely blended.
- 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.
- 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.
5. Protect Your Work Area and Clothing
Before getting started, cover your workspace with a paint tarp, drop cloth, 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, you can use an aluminum baking pan. If you line it with wax paper or some 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.
6. Start Pouring
Here are a few things to do before you start:
Gather your cups of paint, disposable gloves, paper towels, 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. The cups don't need to be stirred again before painting.
If any of the paint and pouring medium has separated, use a wood craft stick to blend it together.
Start Pouring Paint from Cups
I poured directly from each cup in random swirls over the entire canvas as shown in the images below.
The corners are sometimes hard to get coated with paint during the next step, so try to add a little paint to each one.
Iridescent Bright Silver looks pale gray when it's wet, but once it's dry, it'll have a beautiful metallic shine.
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.
Leave some paint in a few of your cups in case you need extra to cover any bare spots during Step 7. You’re better off having extra left over than not having enough to completely cover your canvas.
Using a Palette Knife With Acrylic Pouring
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.
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.
Here are the basic steps:
- 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.
- 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.
- Continue tilting in different directions until your entire canvas surface and sides are covered and you're happy with the overall composition and color patterns.
- Place the canvas squarely in the center of your cans. The paint will start to thicken within a few minutes, so avoid further work on the surface once this has happened.
8. Finish the Edges
The way the colors drip down the sides of the canvas can enhance the overall look of your painting. If you use a canvas with staple-free edges, it'll look nice even without a frame.
Below are a few tips for finishing the edges of your pour painting. Start this step right after your painting is on the cups or cans, while it's still wet.
- Check all four edges for any areas that aren't covered in paint.
- Use a palette knife or wood craft stick to smooth some paint onto those sections. The paint beneath your canvas is ideal for this. You can also use any leftover paint from your cups.
- Don't worry about getting the edges perfect because you can do touch-ups once the painting is fully dry, as shown in the photos below.
How Long Does a Pour Painting Take to Dry?
Paintings created with the acrylic pouring technique take about two to three days to completely dry. If you pour an especially thick layer of paint, it could take longer. When in doubt, don't touch the surface because if it's not quite dry, you'll leave a fingerprint in the finish.
As long as you cover your workspace well and wear disposable gloves while painting, clean up doesn't take much time. It's helpful to have a large trash bin nearby rather than carrying paint covered items across the room.
If you use a plastic palette knife, it can be cleaned by wiping off the excess paint before cleaning it with warm water and dish detergent. Any residual stains can be removed with some isopropyl alcohol on a cotton pad.
If you happen to get paint or pouring medium on your clothing, carpet or a good towel, rinse it out right away with plenty of water. A spray-on laundry stain remover can be used too. Once the stain has dried, it will be much more difficult to remove.
10. Touch-Up the Edges
Once the painting is dry, you can mix a small amount of pouring medium with a little paint and use a small paint brush to do some minor touch-ups on the edges.
Acrylics applied with a brush can have a different texture than when they're poured, so try to be conservative with touch-ups so they aren't obvious.
Variations to This Pour Painting Recipe
If you'd like to try different versions of the pour painting recipe, here are a few ideas:
Craft Acrylic Paint
- If you'd prefer to use craft acrylics instead of the paint brand shown, add 3/4 teaspoon of paint to each cup of pouring medium rather than 1/4 teaspoon. I tried this recipe and process with $1 bottles of satin finish acrylic craft paints in similar shades of blues, aqua, green, white and silver and the painting turned out nicely. Craft acrylics aren't archival quality, but are an option for practicing this technique or as a lower cost alternative to artist brands. The color and consistency of craft acrylics can vary a lot by brand, so you might need to adjust the amount used.
- Try different colors and color combinations.
- Experiment with other brands of artist quality liquid or high-flow acrylics.
What other type of pour paintings would you like to try?
I hope you’ve found this tutorial informative and are inspired to try acrylic pouring. It's easy to learn and has unlimited possibilities to add your own creativity and personal style.
The steps and recipe shown here are just one of many ways to do a pour painting. There are no exact rules for this technique because of how many ways it can be done. After you try a few paintings, you'll find what works best for you.
For tips on acrylic pouring and mistakes to avoid to help make your works more successful, see my article Acrylic Pour Painting Tips: A List for Beginners.
© 2018 Carrie Kelley