Acrylic Pour Painting/Fluid Art for Beginners: Part 1 - Supplies
Pour painting is crazy popular. I can understand why - I'm addicted! The outcomes are beautiful, but even better, the process of creation is therapeutic. Watching the colors swirl around and create new colors and shapes takes me into a zen-like trance. And then I can not stop looking at my creations. And I know this is an experience many people have had with it.
I teach some pour painting classes, but it's hard to include the whole totality of even just the acrylic pouring (not even venturing to resin or alcohol inks!) into a class. There are so many ways to pour paint, so many different additives, finishing elements, things to pour paint onto - this can't get covered in a class. So I will start with a series of blog posts and videos. (And to keep up with what I am personally pouring, check out my Instagram stories and live feeds.)
Part 1 - Supplies
When you are starting out, get your supplies from the least expensive sources. You aren't going to make your first painting (or 10) something that will be hanging in a museum, so don't worry too much about quality. you might end up selling those first paintings, but you need to practice even if they never sell. So start on the cheap. Here are the things you need:
This means canvases or other painting surfaces. I started on things I already had around the house. Since I was already painting in other styles, I used some inexpensive canvases I already owned, but also used an old ceramic candle holder, cardboard bricks used for packing materials, and wooden blocks... If you have some things that you want to practice with already in your home, prepare them (next section in this list) and go to town.
Remember that you are practicing and can repaint anything. In fact, it's really easy to repaint things a few times. Just gesso, sand if needed, and paint again. Eventually the paint gets too think and you may have to abandon that practice piece, but I often keep some around just to practice new ideas or techniques on again and again.
You might also buy inexpensive canvases from Amazon (like these bargain sets) or go to thrift stores where you can buy abandoned artwork on decent canvases (or sometimes you will be lucky to find actual blank canvases that were donated!).
Besides starting with inexpensive surfaces, start with small surfaces. If you come across a 5'x5' canvas at the thrift store, buy it, but save it for after you have practiced with small canvases. The larger the canvas, the harder it is to control and manage the poured paint.
Painting surface preparation
Buy some good gesso and gesso everything you plan to paint. You can pour on un-gessoed surfaces, but many surfaces will soak up the paint and dried result will look nothing like your wet painting. Wood, rock, and bone are all porous and will soak up the paint. Also, if the surface is dark but you are planning to paint something light (like reusing a previously used canvas), the darkness might show through. Shiny objects may resist the paint, so these should be lightly sanded and then gessoed. Gesso comes in white and black and will provide a uniform matte surface. There are also spray primers that will work, just be sure they have a matte finish.
For acrylic pouring, all water based acrylics will work. This includes craft paint and many house paints. Some of these are not archival in quality, but will work fine for practicing or creating small functional works. In fact, it is a lot of fun to use the craft paints with different finishes, such as the color shift paints and those with metallic or pearl finishes. The glitter craft paints can be used, but I don't prefer them as the glitter itself often cannot be seen when the other colors cover it and it leaves a chunky finish.
If you do like glitter paints, I advise pouring without them and instead painting the glitter on strategically after the piece has dried (but glitter works great in resin!). Another option to add sparkle to your paintings is to buy interference mediums, which add an iridescence to your paint without the chunkiness of glitter.
There are pour painting kits available with pre-mixed paint that is ready to pour, however I find these paints not to be great quality for pouring. I suggest mixing your own paint and keeping it in an airtight container instead. Mixing it yourself let's you choose the colors and consistency and it can keep for months if you keep it from drying by sealing it. I've kept some in solo cups with Press and Seal plastic wrap and that has saved them for months at a time.
But you do need a mixing additive to get your paint to the consistency you will need to not only pour it over the canvas, but to not have it move too quickly nor too slowly and also to allow each color to slide over the other colors with minimal blending. I use Flood Floetrol. You can get this from Amazon, but I often go to Home Depot instead. Be sure you are getting Floetrol and not some other paint additive from the home improvement stores. The staff there will tell you that other types are just as good, but they are talking about for the use of extending house paint. These other additives will not work for pour painting.
Other types that do work for pour painting are the formulas created by the major art suppliers like Liquitex and Golden, but you will pay a lot more for them and I do not think they work as nicely as Floetrol. And another option is to use a glue like Elmer's school glue. I have not personally ever tested using glue, but there are plenty of videos on Youtube with artists using it.
And last, there is also water. Using water alone is a recipe for too runny paint, but I have added it to my Floetrol mixture in the past. I generally do not use water now unless my mixture seems too thick. I find my ratio of paint to Floetrol usually does just fine. I'll discuss that ratio in the next blog post.
Silicone (or Dimethicone) can also be added to increase "cells" or those pretty multi-color bubbles in your painting. Many artists mix the silicone into their paints, but I choose to sprinkle it on after. The difference, in my opinion, is that sprinkling after give you more control of where the silicone goes and does not give you the problem of bare spots on your canvas. The technique where you encourage the bubbles before spreading can be mimicked by just sprinkling the silicone before spreading the paint. This will be demonstrated in a future blog.
A whole set of supplies will be needed just for mixing the paint. My suggestion for beginners is to go to the local Dollar Store to pick up these cheaply. In fact, even now I will try to find these at the dollar store first.
You will need plastic or paper cups of various sizes (styrofoam can work, but deteriorate too fast). Get some big Solo cups and some small shot glass size or Dixie cups. These cups will not only be used for mixing paint, but also for layering it before the pour and often for holding the painting surface up out of the excess paint.
Next, get stir sticks. These can be craft sticks of varying sizes. Make sure you have sizes corresponding to the cups you buy. It's almost painful to try to stir paint in a tiny cup with a big craft stick and likewise to stir a lot of paint in a big cup with a tiny stir stick. I generally have three types of stir sticks available at all times: Gigantic for the Solo cups (and for resin), normal size, and these little bamboo skewers which can be used as a small stir stick on the flat side and have a thousand other uses on the pointy side.
Containable painting station
You are going to need a painting station, since pouring paint literally means you will be pouring liquid paint out over a surface and thus, it will flow of the surface and onto... your painting station. This painting station can be as simple as the lid to a large storage bin or one of those one-use foil-based roasting pans that you can buy at the grocery store. You can get these from Amazon or other places, but thrift stores and Dollar stores often also have them. Cardboard from broken down shipping boxes is another option. As long as you have enough room surrounding the painting surface, the paint won't spread quickly on cardboard and it will be soaked up and fast drying. I use cardboard for my larger paintings that won't fit into trays. Plastic dropcloths are not sufficient as the paint will just get soupy in the folds of the plastic, dry slowly, and become an even bigger mess. I also don't suggest cloth dropcloths as the paint will soak through them to whatever is below. On the other hand, plastic coated tablecloths with the soft-side up are great since they do have the plastic backing to keep the paint from soaking through and the soft side to keep the paint from soupiness. You might have old tablecloths from picnics gone by or you might find them easily at the thrift stores.
Now that I have been painting like this for a while, my method is cardboard set up on the floor for the large paintings, but I use full-sheet baking trays for the smaller ones. These trays, available via Amazon, also come with baker racks. I also love the fitted covers to keep out dust and flying insects.
Another wise purchase is a tiny level bubble. These are inexpensive on Amazon, and can save you a lot of heartbreak. The painting surface must be level or the paint will slide off before it dries. Sometimes you will not be able to tell, even after painting, that the surface was not level, but you'll know when you check back after it dries. I have had some heartbreak with this until I learned that the floor to half of my studio wasn't level. By using this before you paint, you can adjust before painting so that your artwork remains as close to how you poured it as possible.
You will also need something to hold the painting out of the excessive paint as it dries. If you don't prop it up, it will become glued to the bottom surface and difficult to remove. When I started, I used old kitchen racks from thrift stores, but I learned the hard way that these are not the best for this purpose. If fact, I still have one painting that I love that appears to be permanently attached to a small kitchen rack. Instead consider buying painting triangles like these, or better yet, use your mixing cups. The mixing cups can be those you have already used or even those you haven't because you will be able to use them again later. Simply place them upside down and now they are a stand for your canvas. They work better in some cases than the triangles because even though the triangles do have a smaller point to separate from the painting, the cups do not have a point that could injure the canvas. When pouring and tilting, the props underneath may get moved around and if you set a canvas down in the wrong place on a cup bottom, there will be no damage, but a pointy triangle may puncture your canvas. Also the cups are the perfect surface for painting coasters - one cup to one coaster. No further balancing needed.
You will also need a place where you can leave your paintings alone for 24 hours to dry. Often I suggest just leaving them in the tray where you painted them, but if you are careful and have made sure everything was level first, you can move them to another position where they won't be disturbed to dry. I've already shared my bakers' rack system, which is how I dry my small pieces. My large pieces remain on the cardboard, propped out of the paint by Solo cups. Those large pieces also take over a week sometimes to dry!
Do not forget to prepare yourself before painting as well! You will need gloves (nitrile medical gloves are great and fairly inexpensive on Amazon). Consider also using eye protection like goggles. And use an apron (get it from the thrift store) or old clothes you won't mind getting dirty. After practicing for a while, you will find it gets less and less messy. Nowadays I rarely get any paint on my clothing, but in the beginning, before learning how to control the paint, I ruined a few pairs of shorts and sweatshirts.
Next we will examine pouring the paint! There are so many methods, we will go from the easiest to the more advanced! So stay tuned and consider signing up for our newsletter or blog to stay up to date with not only my blog tutorials, but special events and sales. I'm also doing live streams on Instagram while painting to talk with discussion topics like marketing, painting supplies and whatever comes to mind. Join my community!
All Amazon links above are affiliate links. This means that I will get credit in the form of an Amazon gift card if you buy from my links, but the price to you will be the same whether you use my links or not. They are there to help me offset the cost of supplies as I continue to make more art - so thank you from the bottom of my heart if you do buy your supplies using my links.