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Understanding the Techniques of Pouring Acrylics

While the practice of pouring artist paints is certainly not a new way to apply paint, achieving consistent results can be frustrating and costly. However, it is vital to the process to conduct experiments to gain the knowledge of what are the most critical controlling factors which preside over paint pours.

Studio Preparation

Crazing

Image 1: This tinted GOLDEN Self-Leveling Gel “skin” shows the crazes that developed during the drying process.

One sure way to improve the odds for successful pouring is to start with a clean studio. Acrylic pours are relatively slow drying paint layers and dust can easily become imbedded into the film. Take some time to free the immediate workspace, sweeping the floor and wiping down surfaces around the studio. Next, be sure the table top or floor you are working on is also clean and level. Even slight angles can cause issues with pours. Put down fresh poly plastic sheeting on the surface which will protect the surface and help later on by preventing your artwork from becoming glued to the work surface, as pouring products creates puddles and drips that can travel off of the canvas or panel. Finally, control the temperature and humidity level in the studio as much as possible. Dry climates increase the chance of crazes developing – fissures resulting from liquid acrylic products skinning over during initial drying while the underlying liquid paint is still very fresh. The skin shrinks and tears apart resulting in unwanted physical textures known as a “craze” (see Image 1).

Painting Substrates

The most predictable painting surface for pours is a sealed panel. This surface is less affected by the weight of the wet product compared to stretched canvas. Of course, the panel needs to be resistant to warping from water, thus sealing the surface with one or more coats of acrylic medium (or paint) is helpful. Conversely, this advice may be counter-productive if your technique relies upon the surface absorbency and/or the ability to curve the substrate in order to control the paint movement. This is why testing is such a critical factor even when using products that other artists find successful. If working on stretched canvas is vital to your process, you may be able to eliminate the sagging by stretching over a wooden panel or using a cardboard block between the stretcher bars.

Paints and Mediums used for Pouring Applications

Free-flowing liquid paints and mediums are at the heart of the pouring process. Adjusting the viscosity and flow rate to work in tandem with how you want the paints to interact with each other is key. Obviously, products like GOLDEN Fluid Acrylics and High Flow Acrylics are more practical when doing pours than thicker Heavy Body Acrylics. This is not to say you cannot use Heavy Body paints, but they will first require thinning with water, acrylic medium, or both. A great approach for thinning Heavy Body paints without a loss of film strength is to first mix a thin acrylic medium such as GAC 100 with water (1 part medium to 1.5 parts water, and then use this mixture to thin the paints as much as desired). This mixture assures quick thinning but contains enough acrylic binder so that you still end up with a pourable paint instead of a color stain mixture. Since Fluids and High Flow Acrylics are already pourable, this step isn’t required to work with them, but sometimes it is necessary to adjust these paints as well. GOLDEN Airbrush Transparent Extender is also a valuable medium for adjusting paints. This product is a similar consistency to High Flow Acrylics, containing flow improvers and leveling additives.
Although most acrylic mediums are inherently pourable, some are better suited for pouring than others. GAC 800 is a medium specifically produced to modify paints for pouring, such as when pouring a puddle onto a paint surface. The GAC 800 mixes readily with the Fluid Acrylics and this combination is the least likely to craze during drying. It’s still possible GAC 800 may craze, but this is usually the result of too much paint being added and in turn, countering the acrylic solids level or the pour has been applied in too thick of a layer. A great starting point is to mix 1 part paint into 10 parts GAC 800 and limit the thickness to how far the product will spread. In other words, pour the product into a pancake puddle, and let it seek its own thickness without impeding its flow by use of a taped off or dammed edge. Once these tests are done you may want to try other paint amounts and use edges to control the flow, but be wary of too thick of a pour to start. The biggest negative attribute of GAC 800 is “dry state clarity”. This medium retains a slight cloudy quality making it a poor choice as a clear topcoat or even transparent color layer.
Other mediums to experiment with include GAC 500, Polymer Medium (Gloss), Fluid Matte Medium, Self-Leveling Clear Gel and Clear Tar Gel. One important note worth mentioning is that these products were not developed with defect-free pouring in mind, and although smooth thin layers are possible when using them, they are not free of issues and limitations. For example, a common misconception is that Self-Leveling Clear Gel can be poured liberally and spread around with palette knives, trowels and squeegees and level perfectly upon drying. This is not the case, and some tool marks, however slight, will likely remain in the dried layer. Tool shape and application technique are critical to their success, and artists who have mastered their use have spent many frustrating nights in their studio figuring out the best application method that provides the desired results. As a place to start, use clean, large tools with smooth edges and carefully spread the product in multiple thin coats until the desired effect is attained. Allow one to three days drying between coats to reduce the chance of crazing and don’t be put off if every layer isn’t a perfect epoxy like surface, as perfection is nearly impossible to attain in layers of air drying products.

GAC 800 Pour

Image 2: GAC 800 blended 10:1 with GOLDEN Fluid Acrylics creates solid color pours that retain crisp edges between each color.

Pouring Application Techniques

There are as many methods as there are product combinations to try. First, appreciate each paint color as its own unique formula and pigments vary in their density and ability to move and spread. The same is true for the many acrylic mediums produced. Now factor in the addition of water, Retarder, or diluted Acrylic Flow Release. Toss in the impact of the painting substrate and studio environment and suddenly, predictable pouring seems unattainable. The way to best describe the approach to pouring applications is the concept of setting the stage to allow the products to do what they want to do; in other words, controlled chaos. And if you don’t take good studio notes to identify how each painting is created then you’ll never be able to reproduce a great effect when they happen. That said, here are some common methods and beginning mixtures to try out:

  • Thinned Color Washes – High Flow Acrylics are ready to use for this application. The colors will readily move and interact. Try them neat, mixed with mediums like Airbrush Transparent Extender or GAC 500 and let gravity move them around. Fluid Acrylics will require at least 10% additions with water to allow them to freely move about. Note: high additions of water increase surface tension, which can be countered by adding in 2 or 3% Acrylic Flow Release into the water prior to using it to thin paints. Do not over-add Acrylic Flow Release as it does not help improve flow, it’s intended to reduce surface tension which happens quickly.
  • Solid Color Pours – As mentioned previously, GAC 800 is a great medium to use with Fluid Acrylics for making colored pours (see Image 2). Ideally start around 10 parts GAC 800 to 1 part Fluid Acrylic, mix and store the paint overnight in a sealed container. This allows the bubbles incurred during mixing to rise and pop, resulting in clean pours with sharp edges. These mixtures produce clear color edges. Solid color pours can be used over an entire canvas, but avoid damming up the edges during drying.
  • Adding Isopropyl Alcohol into Acrylic Paint – Alcohol is less dense than water, and evaporates quickly once it hits the surface of a pour. Unlike other applications, the alcohol amount for this technique is relatively low because once the effect happens and it escapes the fresh pour, there needs to be sufficient time for the normal acrylic paint curing process to
    Alcohol Pour

    Image 3: Pours of GAC 800, GOLDEN High Flow Acrylic & Isopropyl Alcohol create cellular patterns as the alcohol tries to escape the paint during drying.

    occur to avoid film formation issues. An effective starting recipe is 2 parts GAC 800, 1 part High Flow Acrylic, and 1 part 70% isopropyl alcohol. Create 3 or more paint mixtures in containers which can be shaken without spilling and carefully pour one color on top of another. Dense pigments like Titanium White should be used as the final layers so that the more aggressive colors below will push up through and create the cellular effects (see Image 3).

Conclusion

As with any new painting technique, do not be discouraged if the desired results don’t happen immediately. Good note taking is critical for successful pours of acrylic paints and mediums. If you find yourself at the crossroads and need additional guidance, please contact the Materials Specialists with your questions!

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106 Responses to Understanding the Techniques of Pouring Acrylics

  1. Christine Sauer August 17, 2016 at 3:12 pm #

    Great article with useful information! I was wondering how artists were achieving the cellular look. Going to give this technique and the others mentioned a try. Thanks so much!

    • Michael Townsend August 18, 2016 at 9:32 am #

      Hi Christine!
      I’m sure you’ll have a great time. Take notes and expect a learning curve!
      – Mike

    • kATIE April 10, 2017 at 6:28 pm #

      iF YOU HAVEN’T WORKED IT OUT YET YOU NEED SILICON OIL, LOADS ON UYOUTUBE

      • Michael Townsend April 25, 2017 at 8:45 am #

        Hi Katie,
        At this point in time we do not endorse the use of silicone oil in painting mixtures that are expected to last. There are many reasons for this stance. Most silicone oils do not evaporate out of the paint, therefore they stay within the matrix of the paint and could potentially cause film formation issues. At the very least, the silicone oil will impede the intercoat adhesion between the surface of the pour and subsequent product layers, such as mediums and varnish. As an artist, you are free to do what you want to to make your artwork, but until we gather enough evidence that there isn’t any long term issues, we won’t suggest artists add silicone into paint. – Mike Townsend

  2. Natalie August 17, 2016 at 7:30 pm #

    Can one apply acrylic paint on top of the poured surface once dried?

    • Michael Townsend August 18, 2016 at 9:31 am #

      Hello Natalie,
      Yes, once you have allowed the poured layers to become solid (typically 3 days or so) then you may hand-paint over them as desired. It’s possible you may be able to paint sooner, but the timing changes based upon environment, poured paint thickness and what you’d like to do next. Multiple pours often take the most time to reduce the chance of cracks and other unwanted surface defects occurring.
      – Mike

      • Patricia Beetschen April 24, 2017 at 9:42 am #

        Michael Townsend is there a chance you could send me a paint density print out like you sent to Danny Clark?
        Patricia

        • Michael Townsend April 25, 2017 at 9:00 am #

          Hi Patricia,
          Yes, we’d be happy to send you the Pigment Density Chart. Here’s a link to it GOLDEN Pigment Density Chart .
          I will also send you an email with this link as well, in case you don’t return to these comments. – Mike Townsend

        • Michael Townsend April 25, 2017 at 9:02 am #

          Hello Patrica,
          Yes, we would be happy to send you an email with the link. I’ll also provide it here: Pigment Density Chart

      • Patricia Beetschen April 24, 2017 at 9:52 am #

        Michael
        One more question, okay three questions…☺️
        In order to get large cells in a pour what is the recommended ratio and/or recipe?

        Doing a resin/paint combined pour would you still need silicone or alcohol?

        I see many on YouTube using a torch but wouldn’t a hair dryer with a diffuser on warm/low be effective and less dangerous?

        • Michael Townsend April 25, 2017 at 9:15 am #

          Hello again Patricia,
          1- Larger cell patterns are produced by blending low density-pigmented paints with low density additives (Isopropyl Alcohol) in the lower layers, which in turn push through paints with a higher density, forcing them apart. Alcohol wants to readily escape the paint mixture and it takes the paints it is mixed with for a ride to the pour surface. This is of course assuming the paints are thin enough to allow for the rapid movement but not so thin that the developing patterns break down before the paint is able to dry. While there are other forces at play here, this is the idea behind the process.
          2- I would assume that you would need the low density additive in any mixture in order for this cellular pattern to develop.
          3- There are concerns that the use of silicone oil in a paint mixture can cause poor film-formation in the acrylics, and also poor intercoat adhesion for any paints, mediums or topcoats/varnishes applied over them. Therefore, we cannot endorse the use of silicone in artwork that you hope will last the test of time. Maybe it will be okay, maybe not. We just don’t know. The same reasoning goes with the use of a torch to coax the patterns to develop. We don’t know what it being released into the air, or if the heat is great enough to alter the film formation process. Heat and/or flame with highly flammable isopropyl alcohol is a very dangerous combination, please do not do this. – Mike Townsend

  3. Laura August 24, 2016 at 10:22 pm #

    Great article! Can I ask, would you put the lighter colours down first, or the darker? Wondering if the lighter blues (for example) would have enough opacity to sit on the darker blues. What generally happens here?

    • Michael Townsend August 30, 2016 at 3:55 pm #

      Hi Laura, If you are referring to the alcohol pours, colors with more opacity seem to develop more pronounced patterns. Transparent colors are darker and it’s harder to see the effect. Contrast is important, so that light layers give way to darker colors rising up through them.

  4. Kailey August 24, 2016 at 11:01 pm #

    This article is everything, ESPECIALLY the end part about getting the cell effect with rubbing alcohol. Is 91% alcohol okay? Thank you for writing this, and sharing information that most artists consider a “secret”!!

    • Michael Townsend August 30, 2016 at 3:53 pm #

      Thank you Kailey. We’ve always been of the opinion that giving information about techniques is a two way street; you get back as much as you give. I found both 70% and 91% alcohol works for this process. 91% might be better in terms of not having to add as much into the mixture. The alcohol should be mostly evaporated first in order to allow the acrylics to properly cure.

  5. joanna September 5, 2016 at 4:29 pm #

    How long do fluid acrylics take to dry when used neat for pouring? I tired using these and they do not seem to dry……..

    Any help will the appreciated

    Regards, Joanna

  6. Silvija September 7, 2016 at 2:23 am #

    Interesting read, thank you for sharing this info.
    I use equally challenging technique in terms of how to achive consistent results and the paint going down the drain (literarly). With this technique I create foam-like texture by applying narrow stream of water from a water sprayer on heavy body acrylic paint that’s been distributed onto a canvas.
    I’m thinking if I should use mixture of water and acrylic medium instead of just water. Which medium would you recommend?

    • Michael Townsend September 7, 2016 at 9:14 am #

      Hello Silvija,
      There are probably many mediums which you can try for this technique. The GAC 100 or GAC 500 are the most likely candidates as they are thin, pure acrylic mediums. Rather than replace all of the water you use, you may be better served by blending water and medium (1:1 as a starting point) so that the technique produces the desired effects. However, if you do find adding medium for this part of the process not practical, you should then move to applying an “isolation coat” and then varnish to protect the work. Please let us know if you have any other comments. – Mike

  7. Claudia September 15, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

    Thank you for sharing the information.

    I have the following question concerning the thickness of the poured layer, and the time between pouring the next layer.

    Is the thickness of influence of the process letting the paint underneath rise ? In my experiment i poured a white layer directly on top of an black/blue layer, the white completely disappeared even with alcohol.

    • Michael Townsend September 20, 2016 at 10:22 am #

      Hello Claudia. You are most welcome for the information. Poured painting layers are often quite thick, so you should allow ample time for the paint to coalesce before you apply the next layer. Usually, this can take between 3 and 7 days, depending on the overall factors such as temperature, humidity, air flow, product thickness and surface absorbency. I’m not sure what happened with your painting, not knowing all the details. It’s possible the density of the white caused it all to drop to the bottom of the blue/black, but the most dramatic effects would be to pour these layers immediately on top of one another. Hope that helps! If not, please contact me directly via email and we can figure out what’s going on.

  8. Peter September 20, 2016 at 11:00 am #

    Great topic and excellent advise! Question : can I use my normal acrylic paint (brush and pallet knife) as I see you advise high flow acrylic. Can I turn my heavy body paint into high flow somehow ?
    Thanks

    • Michael Townsend September 20, 2016 at 11:43 am #

      Thank you Peter. In regards to modifying a thicker acrylic paint to be used in this process, it’s possible, but I have not tested it. You would want to first thin the paint down with a blend of water and medium (for example 3 parts water to 2 parts GAC 100). Add small amounts of this acrylic-water mixture into the paint until the paint becomes pourable, then it can be modified with the GAC 800 and isopropyl. As stated in the article there are many variables which influence the patterns developing, so you may need to adjust the ratios of products until you find the combination that provides the right movement of paint.

      • Bryan Riolo November 5, 2016 at 3:32 pm #

        Yes, heavy body acrylics can definitely be thinned down for pouring and liquid painting. I have used it many times.

        • Peter January 24, 2017 at 4:58 am #

          Thanks for your comment. What would ratio be since I expect you have to use more fluid additives (water, medium…).

      • Chrystine April 11, 2017 at 11:00 am #

        Is your GAC 800 the equivalent of Liquitex pouring medium?

        • Michael Townsend April 25, 2017 at 8:48 am #

          Hi Christine,
          Thanks for your question. The GAC 800 can be used as an alternative for pouring when paints are added with it. The GAC 800 lacks the level of clarity of Liquitex Pouring Medium, so we do not suggest to use it as a topcoat or 2-part epoxy alternative. As you can see, when used with color, the GAC 800 allows you to pour with minimal concerns of “crazes”. – Mike Townsend

  9. Maureen Sousa September 22, 2016 at 2:29 pm #

    Great help here with alcohol pours!!! but wondering if they could be made up & stored for a time? I am assuming the alcohol will evaporate if not kept in airtight containers.. Also does each color including the titanium contain the alcohol??

    Thanks.

    • Michael Townsend September 23, 2016 at 9:30 am #

      Hello Maureen,
      I have made mixtures and kept them in a sealed jar, and they have worked. The alcohol as you mention does flash off very quickly, so if the container has a lot of head space it would fill with the alcohol, lessening the amount in the liquid paint mixture. Overall though we’d suggest creating these mixtures and using them fresh, as there isn’t any trials where we studied the affect of alcohol mixed with the paint long term, so it may end up wasting product. We just don’t know for sure. In the image from the article showing this effect, all of the colors were mixed approximately similar in regards to the ratios of paint, medium and isopropyl.

  10. David September 30, 2016 at 4:08 am #

    Hi Michael

    This is a great article, it’s very difficult to find information on mixtures for the alcohol pouring technique. Do you have recommendations for the substrate to use, I’ve tried gesso covered canvas boards and the paints sink in and you see the canvas texture in certain areas. I also tried gesso covered wooden boxes and I had severe cracking.

    I really want to achieve a smooth glass like finish, I realize I can pour epoxy resin to give it it’s final coat but I’m struggling to get the desired finish prior to this.

    Thanks

    • Michael Townsend September 30, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

      Hi David,
      Thank you for comments. If you seal the surface of the gesso with acrylic medium before doing the pours they will be much smoother. For example, the Soft Gel Gloss thinned 2:1 with water (isolation coat recipe used prior to applying varnish). Smoothing canvas with Molding Paste works really well also. The same thing is true with the wooden substrates, as gesso on wood is highly absorbent. I should note also that with all of alcohol evaporating from the paint layers the surface isn’t as smooth as it is when using just GAC 800 and paint. You could also apply pure GAC 800 as a thin coat but as the article mentions, it’s slightly hazy, so you have to make sure it’s not going to be an issue for your artwork.

  11. Linda October 5, 2016 at 7:59 am #

    Hi Michael, I really appreciated this article about pouring. Very clean and clear and understandable. There is also the pouring technique where you start by putting your canvas in water and you pour the colors directly on the canvas in the water and when you pour it out it makes beautiful effects and less messy. Did you try that method?

    thank you very much.

    • Michael Townsend October 5, 2016 at 9:28 am #

      Hello Linda,
      Thank you for the kind words about my article. There are certainly many kinds of pourable paint applications we were not able to cover within this article. We refer to the technique you describe as “stain-painting”.
      Here is a video that supports this painting approach: . Perhaps in another article we could speak to this technique! – Mike

  12. Jennifer October 25, 2016 at 11:24 am #

    I want to thank you so much for this article! I searched for hours and hours for this exact information! I have been trying over and over to achieve the “cellular pattern” look. I tried last night and it didn’t quite work the way it does in that picture but I took notes and I’m sure I just need to keep trying as you mentioned, “As with any new painting technique, do not be discouraged if the desired results don’t happen immediately.”
    The way I did it was that I poured the paint, then dripped the alcohol onto it, but as i re-read the article, maybe I was supposed to mix it in with the paint?
    Thank you again! This is so helpful 🙂

    • Michael Townsend October 25, 2016 at 11:33 am #

      Hello Jennifer!
      I’m very glad you found the article so useful. You are correct that you want to mix the alcohol in with the paint and medium, because it’s the action of the alcohol rising to the surface, pulling paint along with it, that causes the patterns to emerge. Keep at it! – Mike

  13. Jackson Ng October 26, 2016 at 7:36 am #

    I had tried with the golden high flow and fluid acrylic with rubbing alcohol but did not get the cellular effect. What went wrong ? Should the paints be mixed thoroughly with the alcohol before tilting the canvas. Any sequence on the pouring ?

    • Michael Townsend October 26, 2016 at 4:15 pm #

      Hello Jackson,

      The way I have been mixing the paints up has been by mixing them in a tight sealing jar and shaking the mixture up. The air bubbles seem to help create the cellular patterns. The key though is to have one color flowing over others, wet into wet. So, mix the paints with the alcohol, pour one or more colors out and then tilt the canvas so that one color can roll over the other. – Mike

      • Jackson Ng October 26, 2016 at 10:03 pm #

        Thank you. Will try that again

  14. moni November 8, 2016 at 3:19 am #

    how can I get the cells effect of Arthur Brouthers? Which medium can I use? Thank you

    • Michael Townsend November 8, 2016 at 10:00 am #

      Hello Moni,

      Thank you for your questions. I can only speak to what has been working for me, which is the isopropyl alcohol and GAC 800 with High Flow and Fluid Acrylics. How Arthur Brouthers specifically accomplishes his work is unknown to me.

  15. linda November 29, 2016 at 2:49 pm #

    What a great article. Answered so many of my questions. Now I can proceed with confidence that my paintings will remain intact. Thank you

    • Michael Townsend December 13, 2016 at 3:10 pm #

      You are most welcome, Linda.

  16. Jenna December 3, 2016 at 5:04 pm #

    Hey Michael….i did a large canvas last night….it was perfect when i went to bed, but i woke to something completely different this morning! The paints moved SO much overnight and i really don’t like it anymore. Parts are now very think and tacky. Once it’s completely dry, can i re-pour/layer over the top?
    Really need to salvage it!!

    • Michael Townsend December 13, 2016 at 3:10 pm #

      Hello Jenna. With the great patterns resulting from alcohol, it is important to not overdo the alcohol additions. They make the paint mixtures very thin and very volatile. Try reducing the amount you are adding so that the majority of alcohol has left the paint film before the film formation process begins. Also realize that dense pigments such as ultramarine blue will readily sink in a liquid paint layer, and if you are adding the levels of GAC 800 I did when crafting this article, the mixture becomes less milky and more transparent after it dries.

  17. marti garaughty December 7, 2016 at 7:06 pm #

    I love this techniques, always surprised by the results!

  18. Judy block December 9, 2016 at 4:59 pm #

    I’m interested in putting a second layer on top of the dry first layer. I’m hoping to lightly lift off the dry second layer to reveal the color underneath. Instead, both layers come off together. How can I get the result I want?

    Thank you.

    • Michael Townsend December 13, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

      Hi Judy. Without seeing the work it’s difficult to understand what you are experiencing. However, it sounds as though the first layer was not completely dry, or it was perhaps overloaded with alcohol and that might make it more sensitive to a second application. You may need to apply an isolation coat of acrylic medium before you attempt another layer with alcohol in it.

  19. elizabeth December 11, 2016 at 3:31 pm #

    hi! just wondering, when you mix alcohol into paints to get more cells, is this when you pour the paint on the canvas in a water bath/dip the paints into a water bath or do you only mix alcohol into the paint when you are doing a dry fluid paint? not sure if i’m describing it correctly–im entirely new and only started researching this yesterday and i watched alot of youtube where canvases were either in water or dipped in water. thanks!! I love the cell look.

    • Michael Townsend December 13, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

      Hi Elizabeth. Thanks for commenting. No, you are describing a marbling technique, which is quite different. That technique involves hydrophobic paints (usually enamels or oils) that readily float on water, and an object is pushed through which imprints a pattern onto the surface. It can be done with acrylics although thickened water is best for waterbased paints.

  20. KClem December 11, 2016 at 7:43 pm #

    This article was super helpful. Thank you.

    • Sarah Sands December 13, 2016 at 2:59 pm #

      You are very welcome!

  21. Li January 8, 2017 at 12:59 pm #

    Do you have/will you make a demo video of this technique?

    • Michael Townsend January 18, 2017 at 8:41 am #

      Hello Li,
      No video just yet showing the application just yet. What would you like to see in the video that would be most helpful for you?

      • Li January 22, 2017 at 5:29 pm #

        I guess just watching the amounts of each to use in the timing …

  22. Sarah January 17, 2017 at 6:38 pm #

    Hello, Michael.
    Thank you so much for this informative article. I have been practicing the acrylic pouring technique for a few months, and my biggest obstacle has been little to not-so-little craters created by air bubbles that popped while the paint was drying. Is there anything you could suggest that would prevent this besides sitting in front of your piece for hours popping every single bubble you see? You mentioned in the article to let your paint mixture sit overnight in a container before pouring. Is that the best method to prevent air bubbles? Would mixing the alcohol into mixture prevent this as well? Thanks so much in advance!

    • Michael Townsend January 18, 2017 at 8:39 am #

      Hi Sarah,
      You are most welcome for the article. When I started out doing pouring my impatience to work definitely led to many unwanted bubbles and craters. It is nearly impossible to mix paints and mediums together without developing air bubbles, but as you cited, the best approach to removing them is to simply allow the mixtures to sit overnight. Pre-mixing batches allows you to dial in the color and have it ready to use for the near future. Some mixtures may have the denser pigments settling a bit while in storage, but often just a gentle stirring returns the mixture to a uniform color. While adding some alcohol might help the mixing bubbles rise and pop faster, it’s not a great substitute for time.

    • Dianne Russell March 12, 2017 at 12:18 am #

      Hi Sarah, try torching your painting once you have poured the paint. I use a creme bruille torch that chefs use to caramelize sugar on top of deserts. Lightly wave the flame over the painting fairly quickly at a distance of approximately 5 or 6 inches above your painting. This will pop the bubbles and enable the alcohol to form cells more quickly. This is a technique also used in resin pours. Hope this is if some help to you.

  23. Serena January 28, 2017 at 1:10 am #

    This is great info thank you so much! Just one question how many layers do you suggest be poured before rolling the canvas around to completely cover it with paint?

    • Michael Townsend February 2, 2017 at 1:45 pm #

      Hello Serena,

      Thank you for your feedback. I think that the number of layers depends on how complicated of a design you want to have. I could see this effect work with just two colors. You could pour a color on half of the canvas and then cover the other half with the next color, or you could completely cover the surface with one color and then add the next over it. In this case, I like to have a light pigment color applied first, and then a denser color over top. For example, Quinacridone Red as the base and then Titanium White on top.
      Michael Townsend

  24. Beroule February 1, 2017 at 2:47 pm #

    Hello is there a French translation please. I would like to try this. Thanks for your answer. Nicole

    • Michael Townsend February 2, 2017 at 1:41 pm #

      Hello Nicole, This article has not been translated, but you can copy the text and run it through a translator program, such as Babblefish.

      Like This: Bonjour Nicole, Cet article n’a pas été traduit, mais vous pouvez copier le texte et le lancer à travers un programme de traducteur, comme Babblefish.

      Please let us know if something does not translate well for you.

      Michael Townsend

  25. Adelina February 6, 2017 at 4:15 pm #

    Thank you, Michael for this article! Is it absolutely necessary that the canvas be gessoed or can you use a “raw” canvas to create a nice piece using GAC800, alcohol, and acrylic. Thanks again.

  26. Adelina February 8, 2017 at 3:13 pm #

    Thank you for the information Michael. One question please, have you experimented with both a gessoed and raw canvas? Is it absolutely necessary to prime the canvas before you pour? Thank you!

    • Michael Townsend February 10, 2017 at 1:04 pm #

      Hello Adelina.
      You are most welcome for the article. You do not need to gesso the canvas necessarily, however, in my experience you will likely lose a great deal of the detail due to the canvas weave.

  27. Veronica February 16, 2017 at 8:02 pm #

    Hi,
    Ive recently started doing pours however I’m really struggling with it drying evenly. I level out my canvas at the beginning and then once in finished I come back in about an hours time and then for some reason there is a thick layer of paint that hasnt reached an edge causing it to clump. Is there any possible way to fix this?

    • Michael Townsend February 20, 2017 at 7:44 am #

      Hello Veronica.
      I’m having difficulty understanding what you are experiencing. Please contact me directly, with images if possible of what the issue is, and what products and ratios you have tried thus far. mtownsend@goldenpaints.com
      – Mike Townsend

  28. R February 19, 2017 at 7:05 pm #

    Hi. Is it possible to use normal craft paint from Walmart for this method? If I just properly thin it out with water and Liquitex Medium?

    • Michael Townsend February 20, 2017 at 7:30 am #

      Hello R. It may be possible, but we have not tested using other brands of products.

  29. Dawn February 22, 2017 at 3:54 pm #

    Hello! Thank you for this article 🙂 I’m having problems with the finished edges of my pour paintings. I’m wiping them but generally as it dries I get more drips which creates ridges or lumps, sometimes a bubble….and then i get some parts that didn’t get any paint. I’m using a pouring medium with different types of paints in it and I LOVE the results I’m getting I just can’t get the sides looking well enough. Any suggestions? The pouring medium makes it dry with a plasticy type of feel so unless I sanded them down I can’t really get rid of the drips, maybe just paint over them with a neutral color?

    Thank you!

    • Michael Townsend March 20, 2017 at 9:32 am #

      Hello Dawn,

      Thank you for contacting us with your questions. Pre-painting the canvas and edges is a good idea before doing the actual pours. Then tape off the edges well. If the pours flowing over the edge are thin enough they should pull away fairly cleanly, although it’s not uncommon you will also need to slice some of the thicker areas with a razor knife. You can also apply a second tape along the edges using a less adhesive tape (for example masking tape is used for the initial tape and painters blue tape is used for the second). Once you are done with the pouring, allow the paint to level and stop flowing, then while wet, pull the low adhesive tape off but leave the underlying tape in place until everything is completely dry.

      – Mike

  30. Veda February 26, 2017 at 5:39 pm #

    Hello Michael.
    Thank you for sharing such great tips for pouring paint. I have been wanting to try this for very long but never had the right information about the ratios in which to mix the paint.
    Just a quick question. Do I need to seal the painting after it has dries completely? If yes, then what do you suggest I do it with?
    Thank you so much.

    • Michael Townsend March 1, 2017 at 8:36 am #

      You are most welcome, Veda.
      Heavy-handed applications like these pours will take some time to really dry. My suggestion would be to wait for at least a week if you can before moving onto any additional layers, including varnishing. Acrylics are quite durable and do not necessarily require a varnish, but it can adjust the sheen and add some depth (especially gloss coats). Overall though, varnish is intended for the long haul and may be applied at any point in time. The GOLDEN Polymer Varnish, MSA Varnish and Archival Varnish are compatible with acrylic paintings.
      Michael

  31. Jenna February 28, 2017 at 4:44 pm #

    Hi Michael! I was curious with example #2 if there needed to be a drying period between different colors or if you could pour one after another!

    Thank you so much for this article, it cleared up a lot of questions for me that I’ve been researching for a long time.

    • Michael Townsend March 1, 2017 at 8:40 am #

      Hello Jenna,
      You are most welcome for the information. I’m glad it helps with your own artwork. For the image #2 work, the paints were premixed and allowed to sit in a sealed container. After at least overnight, the paints were then poured onto one central spot and the liquid mixture flows outward. There was a box on top of the panel that the paint flowed over and that resulted in the line between the rings.

      Michael

  32. Tracy March 1, 2017 at 3:58 pm #

    Great article! I have been like a mad scientist in my painting room for hours experimenting! I have had some amazing results with the water and alcohol mix. In order to get the look I want, I mix each paint at different dilutions. The problem I’m having is, because some colors are much thinner, it’s moving too much. I get an awesome image and then it keeps moving and turns to mud. This may be a crazy question but is there anything at all to add to the paint, or spray on the paint once the look is achieved to stop the movement?? If I thicken the paints, I just don’t get the effect I want. Thank you!

    • Michael Townsend March 14, 2017 at 7:57 am #

      Thank you Tracy. There’s no magical spray to freeze a pattern, but overadding alcohol causes more movement and change until it’s evaporated from the paint layer. Thicker mixtures with just enough alcohol to create the cellular patterning seem to be the most stable.

  33. vidhi March 2, 2017 at 1:44 pm #

    great article.. was in doubt if we can also use Medium1 which is used for transperency and water colour effect instead of the poring medim?

    • Michael Townsend March 14, 2017 at 7:55 am #

      I’m sure there are many types of paints and mediums that can be used for this effect, but we have not currently tested them. I will say that thinner mixtures will create patterns but they usually change rapidly until they are dry. Thicker products tend to “settle down” faster, especially if the alcohol isn’t over-added.
      – Mike

  34. Julie Underriner March 14, 2017 at 1:46 am #

    Hi Michael,
    I have been experimenting with the densities of paint for some time. You state that the opaque high flow colors are better than transparent ones. You also said that using Titanium White ( a dense paint) on top allows the most aggressive colors to pop through.
    Are there any charts on the densities of the various High Flow colors? What makes a color, like Ultramarine Blue, more aggressive?
    Thanks for any help you can give me!!
    Julie Underriner

    • Michael Townsend March 14, 2017 at 7:52 am #

      Hello Julie,
      Thanks for contacting us with your questions. Very recently we published a listing of the density of the pigments used in our paints, available here: http://www.goldenpaints.com/pdf_viewer?file=http://www.goldenpaints.com/admin/image/get_assets/density-of-pigments-used-in-golden-acrylic-colors.pdf. Titanium White usually gives good patterning, and when used over lighter colors that contain alcohol, the cellular patterns push through the white and rise, while the white is displaced and begins to sink. Less dense pigments should rise more readily than denser ones, and the difference helps interesting effects develop. Pigment is only part of the equation, as every paint color, every paint line will influence the way the patterns develop. Unfortunately, these differences fall under our trade secrecy and I am not at liberty to disclose them. I would as always encourage to conduct testing, as similar paints should have similar formulas, such as the Phthalo or Quinacridone families.
      Mike

  35. Don Jacques March 14, 2017 at 3:28 pm #

    Hi Michael:

    I have a different project in mind. Most of your responders seek a mirror-like surface. I, on the other hand, wish to achieve a rippled surface. I am a model-railroader and have been preparing a dry river bed. I have applied earth colored paints to my medium surface and now wish to apply acrylic to achieve a rippled, glossy surface indicating the movement of water along the river-bed. Can you suggest a technique that would help create the idea of flow around boulders and islands in my river channel? Would use of a thin knife blade or a needle to create lines suggesting flow be possible just before the surface begins to skin over or would the time-line be too brief to accomplish the pour and the subsequent rippling effect? My river surface averages about ten inches wide and extends approximately five feet.

    • Michael Townsend March 20, 2017 at 9:19 am #

      Hello Don,

      There are some ways you can try out to create textural crazing in acrylic products and some others that can allow you to have a control in how to adjust the width of the craze. First, as mentioned in the article, crazes develop when the surface skins before the underlying materials have begun to dry. This seeds the surface and starts the patterning. Our experience with products containing fillers and aggregates that also craze are somewhat limited but it does happen. Products like Coarse Pumice Gel, Molding Paste, and various earth colors (ochres, umbers, oxides, etc.) can be blended and reduced with some water. You may also find that using dry solids in the mixture will help as well. The amount of acrylic binder needs to be low to help encourage the “failure”. The mixtures can be applied heavy handed, and then you would want to use heat lamps and fans to get the surface to become touch dry. You might find it better to then leave the lamp and fans on, or you might find that once the surface is dry it helps to then turn them off so they can dry slowly and maximize the effect.

      In terms of being able to control the width of the craze, that can be even more unpredictable, but if you apply the products onto a polyethylene plastic sheeting (4 mil poly plastic sheeting from the hardware store secured well to a wooden surface) you can allow it all to dry first, and then peel the acrylics from the surface of the plastic and use gel to attach them to the model surface.

      Modelers in the past have used thick gels to create the ripples of the moving water using a palette knife to model the ripples and waves. You may want to start with a shallow overall layer of gel (Soft Gel Gloss or Regular Gel Gloss) and after that dries, use Regular Gel or Heavy Gel to selectively create the ripples. You can mix a little Titanium White into the gel for white water effects. Others have used products like our Clear Granular Gel and Glass Bead Gel to simulate air bubbles, or simply frothed up the thicker gels first, then applied them.

      I hope this helps out. Please contact the Material Specialists directly at help@goldenpaints.com if you require any more information about these applications.

      – Mike

  36. Maddisen March 17, 2017 at 10:40 pm #

    I currently shaped my own surfboard this past summer and have been dying to try something like this on my board. Do you think the foam would absorb the paint too much and the effect would not work? Thanks!

    • Michael Townsend March 20, 2017 at 9:34 am #

      Hello Maddisen,

      You may want to apply a sealer coat of medium or paint onto the board foam first, then do the poured techniques after the initial layers have had time to dry well. We would also suggest testing the foam to see if any of the ingredients (such as the isopropyl alcohol if used) will interact negatively with the foam.
      – Mike

  37. Peter March 20, 2017 at 8:48 am #

    Hello, I see artists using oil (silicon) to create cells in their acrylic pours. Would any others oils have a similar or better even, a different effect ?

    • Michael Townsend March 20, 2017 at 9:25 am #

      Hello Peter,

      Thank you for your questions. The use of silicone oils has become a popular trend for producing cellular patters in poured acrylics. The concerns we have for doing this stem from what the ramifications of these oils remaining in the paint film. Some of the oils never dry, others leave residue behind, and some evaporate completely. Applying several drops of the oil onto a sheet of clean smooth glass and observing their drying is very important, as these products were not created with the intent to mix with acrylics. They may be just fine, but if they don’t dry or leave a residue, can they be varnished or otherwise topcoated with other acrylics? We just do not have the testing to support this. With isopropyl alcohol, at least we know it completely leaves the paint film early on, and therefore creates patterns without lingering additives being left behind. Experiments and repeating successful applications before incorporating them into your actual artwork is highly suggested!

      – Mike

      • Peter March 20, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

        Mike,
        Thanks for your quick reply! Does IPA create cells as well or only the webbing in the paint ?
        Would you put it in all colours used or just pick some out ?
        If I see the result some pro’s have I ask myself if this can be achieve in one pour. Do you have any experience in ‘multilayer’ pouring ? If so how does that go ?
        Thx

        • Michael Townsend March 22, 2017 at 1:20 pm #

          The range of patterns with the alcohol allow for cells to form. I just posted a link for a density chart which should help to offer a bit more control for colors patterning.

  38. Mike Townsend March 22, 2017 at 10:50 am #

    NOTE: We recently published a list of our pigment densities. It should prove very handy for artists who pour: Here’s the Article.

    • Peter April 1, 2017 at 12:01 pm #

      Very handy. Thanks a lot! Is this top science or could I also determine this as well for all the paints and brands I have lying around my studio ? Is their a DIY method ?

      • Michael Townsend April 3, 2017 at 9:29 am #

        You are most welcome Peter.

        As far as I know, the isopropyl alcohol additions should work with various products, although I can only directly speak to the materials I have tried. The mixtures need to be thin enough to flow and move and in turn allow the alcohol to rise and spread the paint into the patterns. Start with small 1 ounce mixtures and keep track of the general percentages of each component. Also, try using a couple of paints with different pigments. In other words, don’t use paints that all have Titanium White in them, but some organics and inorganics, with tinted white paints.

        – Mike

  39. Michael March 28, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

    Mike,

    Great article, thanks much! I was curious as to how I may keep the vibrancy of the colors while pouring. I had an amazing piece (5 or 6 colors) that looked amazing…until it dried. This left the piece looking very dark, grim, and muddy. It still looks neat, but I was curious if there is something I could be doing to keep that color popping and the colors from blending so much.. rather than darken/muddy? Thanks again!! Cheers.

    • Michael Townsend April 3, 2017 at 9:43 am #

      Hello Michael,

      You’re welcome for the information. There are a couple of things I believe you are referring to which I can help with. The best approach for me is to add just enough isopropyl alcohol to achieve the effect and then leave the paint film. If there is a lot of alcohol added it looks amazing when wet and moving but the mixture is so thin that the paints keep moving and blending which contributes to the muddiness.

      Another key factor is that there is considerable color shift from wet to dry. The wet acrylic binder is milky and the colors tend to be tinted as if white was added. As the acrylic dries and clears, the colors can return to become much darker. Over a white and black stripe, pour a little of the mixture and let it dry. This will tell you what to expect. Try using more opaque colors and even a little Titanium White to improve opacity as needed.

      I hope that helps!

      – Mike

  40. victoria April 2, 2017 at 11:56 pm #

    Thank you for all the great information! I love the colors in the last image, specifically on the right side, the turquois with the red and rust over the top. Could you tell me what paints were used to make the image?

    Also the pigment densities list is very helpful but missing some colors, specifically turquois (phthalo), bronze, and sepia. I know these are multiple pigments, and I’m wondering how to predict the density of these colors.

    • Michael Townsend April 3, 2017 at 9:37 am #

      Hello Victoria, you are most welcome!

      Colors used in Image 3’s pour would be: Quin Burnt Orange, Teal, Phthalo Blue, Napthol Red Dark, Hansa Yellow Light and Phthalo Green Blue Yellow Shade.

      The pigment density list is about the individual pigments not the actual paints. The paint density delves into trade secrecy information. However, for paints that are mixtures I would use the main pigment’s density as the one to test around. For example the Teal is comprised of Titanium White, Phthalo Blue and Phthalo Green with Titanium White being the main color used it seems to also be the main contributor to the patterning.

  41. Kirsten E Gilmore April 6, 2017 at 5:48 pm #

    Hi Michael. Thank you for this excellent article!

    What would you recommend as an archival way of varnishing poured acrylic while minimizing brushstrokes?

    Right now, I’m using gamvar, which is archival and clear, but the surface film remains quite delicate and vulnerable to damage (ferrotyping, dents, etc.) when the art is stored or shipped.

    • Michael Townsend April 10, 2017 at 9:09 am #

      Hi Kirsten,
      You are very welcome! Spraying the varnish is the best way to apply and not have brush strokes or trapped bubbles. If your artwork is under 3’x3′ you can use the GOLDEN Archival Spray Varnish. Apply one or more coats until you achieve a uniform surface. contact us if you have any questions at help@goldenpaints.com. – Mike

  42. Romy April 7, 2017 at 4:31 am #

    Hi , thanks for the awesome article , it’s very informative and found it very useful . I recently started painting with high flow acrylics and attempting to do fluid painting – at the moment I just use acrylic paint, high flow acrylics and a pouring medium – I get cells but not too many .

    Just wondering if to add alcohol to all colours or just 1 or 2?

    Thank you !

    • Michael Townsend April 10, 2017 at 9:11 am #

      Hi Romy,
      You are welcome! You don’t have to mix the alcohol into every color, but it might help as you are learning. If you don’t get enough cells after you pour the mixtures out, use a palette knife to nudge the product a bit, and fold a color over another and see if that helps to encourage the pattern. – Mike

  43. Suzanne April 7, 2017 at 5:54 pm #

    Ok So I’ve done pouring but want to try the alcohol step. I understand the mixing but do I add this mixture “as a pour” or do I do it such as like droplets onto the already poured painting?

    • Michael Townsend April 10, 2017 at 9:13 am #

      I have had the most success from mixing the alcohol with the paints, not onto the surface. I have seen spraying onto the surface create some interesting effects but the best cell patterns have come from mixing with the paint. – Mike

  44. Tina Poplawski April 17, 2017 at 3:09 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    There is a lot of activity on YOUTUBE mixing a few drops of Silicone Oil into Fluid Acrylics, then heating the surface with a Culinary Torch to create ‘cells’. I’m thinking that this has got to be toxic! Any thoughts on health impact. Not much of any info online. I’m teaching a course on Acrylic Pours and I know there will be interest from the students because of the popularity of this approach on social media.

    Thanks in advance,
    Tina

    • Michael Townsend April 25, 2017 at 8:55 am #

      Hello Tina,
      Thank you for you comments. Although silicone is used with high temperatures in baking (think of silicone impregnated parchment papers, for example) the heat could in fact be causing outgassing of the acrylic resins and paint additives, and these materials are not FDA approved. In most of the videos, the torch is used to coax out the silicone to create patterns, but artists should be taking the proper precautions when trying applications like this. Good ventilation, organic vapor respirators and use of personal protective gear is highly encouraged. – Mike Townsend

  45. Renee April 19, 2017 at 12:34 pm #

    Hi, I am a visual artist and I REALLY want to attempt this. Do you put the acrylic down first or put the alcohol first.

    • Michael Townsend April 25, 2017 at 8:57 am #

      Hi Renee,
      Thank you for your questions. Please read the article in detail to understand how I have been successful. Each artist needs to experiment to discover the techniques and product mixtures that work best for their needs. – Mike Townsend

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. CAA News | College Art Association » Blog Archive » News from the Art and Academic Worlds | CAA - August 24, 2016

    […] While the practice of pouring is certainly not a new way to apply paint, achieving consistent results can be frustrating and costly. Therefore it is vital to the process to conduct experiments to gain the knowledge of what are the most critical controlling factors that preside over paint pours. (Read more from Just Paint.) […]

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