Being an artist means you’re often surrounded by a creative, talented community. I’m no exception; I’m lucky enough to count some fantastic artists as dear friends. Heather Stamatelatos is a fiercely creative artist and a great friend of mine. And I’m so excited because she’s agreed to share some of her knowledge and insight.
Heather lives on her family farm in rural Oregon, creating abstract masterpieces from her farmhouse studio in between caring for her menagerie. She has a particular passion for acrylic pour painting, giving life to dreamlike landscapes and alien narratives that pull you in and keep you wondering. Her artwork can be seen throughout shows in Oregon and galleries along the coast.
In this article, Heather shares her expertise, best tips and tricks, some of her favorite novice pour paint techniques – and even a few advanced ones!
I’m so grateful to Heather to sharing her passion and creativity with Renegade Handmade. And now, here’s Heather…
Acrylic paint pouring is experiencing a surge of recognition and for good reason. The supplies can be simple, inexpensive, and are sold virtually anywhere. Results are much quicker than many traditional mediums, yet the outcomes are limitless. With the most basic skills and a simple fluid painting technique anyone can create a work of art.
Pour paintings can be tailored to absolutely anyone who wants to participate. Non-toxic supplies are available for people with sensitivities and children. Methods can include items and procedures to help people who might ordinarily find making art challenging.
What is Pour Painting and Where Did It Come From?
It might seem like acrylic pours are the newest trend. Nearly every other reel or story in my Instagram and Facebook feeds are some new style of acrylic paint artistically spilling onto a canvas surface in some interesting or provocative way. These are all variations of what is recognized as the first poured paintings created in the 1930s by Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Born at a tumultuous time in Mexico, Siqueiros rebelled against his wealthy parents to become a Marxist activist and joined the Mexican Revolutionary Army. He learned Plein Air painting in his early school years and became close to Diego Rivera. Together they gravitated to political mural painting becoming some of the most renowned muralists to this day.
One of his many beliefs was that art should be for the public, not only collectors. After many politically motivated arrests in Mexico, he ventured to the US. He began an art school in 1920s Los Angeles where a young Jackson Pollock was a student along with some of his contemporaries.
Years later, 1936, David orchestrated a group collaboration including Pollock and other international artists, scientists, and architects in New York recanted in his writings “Manifesto de New York.”. It was there that Siqueiros made his discovery.
“Already in this experimental workshop in New York, we have discovered something most wonderful…using the accident in painting, that is, using a special method of absorption of two or more colors on the surface produced snails and conches of forms and sizes most unimaginable with the most fantastic details possible. The discovery we made almost playing, but this “little game” would not have occurred to us if our theory 145 Ibid, 1–2. 146 Ibid, 2. 147 Axel Horn 1966, 85–86. 53 did not include the initial investigation of all technical concerns, and if our theory was not based on the principle that without modern technique you cannot have modern art.”
He had stumbled upon the fluid dynamics principle of Hydronomic Instability and how it related to paint. When fluids of varying viscosity and densities combine in particular ways, they move within each other. The results were somewhat predictable but not identical each time. They used acrylic, enamel, lacquer, and various solvents to manipulate the outcomes.
Let’s do this! What do I need?
First things first, SAFETY — eye protection is always a good idea when handling materials that splatter. This is a messy endeavor.
Location & Apparel
Consider your location and apparel choices carefully. Latex gloves are a great way to make clean-up easier. They would be recommended if using more professional-grade materials that may be less safe to use without PPE. Paint, of course.
We will dive deeper into paints, mediums, and additives a little later. You can start with tempura or craft paint and water.
A Clean, Level Working Space
Having a very level space for drying your masterpieces is important. There is nothing worse than literally pouring your heart out, setting it down to dry, and in a few hours the paint has slid off the canvas thanks to gravity and slope. Your workspace and drying area should also be as dust-free as possible. You might think of a way to loosely cover your work as it dries. Using a fan or heat source to dry the paint is not a good idea.
You can develop crazing or cracks in your paint as a result of your environment. A space with no drafts at a comfortable temperature is ideal. High or low humidity will also impact the entire process so keep that in mind. You can paint on just about anything! Wood panels and pre-stretched pre-primed canvases are my favorites but that shouldn’t stop you from experimenting.
Glass, leather, metal, found objects, are all things I have had success with. After all, experimentation is how fluid painting began.
Color Theory Knowledge
While most aspects of an acrylic pour technique are uncontrollable color is very much something you can direct. For beginners I suggest limiting your color selections. Remember that as the paint moves on the substrate it will mix new colors for you.
Tools & Supplies
While there is no official list of “acrylic pouring supplies” several things can be helpful. Disposable items are a good way to go for the recreational artist. Sponge brushes, paper cups, paper towels, gloves, newsprint, wax paper, cardboard boxes etc.
It can be a personal choice to limit use of disposables since these things cannot be traditionally recycled. Be aware that you do not want to pour left over paint down your drain. It is not great for the environment and really bad for plumbing.
When using plastic or metal cups, tools like palette or painting knives, or silicone mats you can leave them to dry and then peel the paint off. This can be thrown away or used as a “Skin” for other creative projects like jewelry or collage. If you do rinse things off, have a dedicated bucket. The paint will settle to the bottom over time. Once the water evaporates the resulting sludge can be tossed out in the garbage.
A small butane torch like one used in the kitchen or a heatgun can be used to bring bubbles to the surface and pop them.
This is an important step to improve your finished product. I like to use my small embossing tool. A blow drier moves too much air but is useful for more complicated techniques. Collect odd shaped things. You can use them to pour in, on and around, or for mark making.
Dollar stores are a good place for collecting these items on a budget. I especially enjoy trips to the kitchen or personal care section at Daiso, a Japanese store that has many things unusual to Americans.
A squeeze bottle or two with a cap are very handy. You can prepare larger batches of paint in advance. If stored in air-tight containers they can last days or even weeks.
Elmer’s Glue-All and water is the first thing I used for a medium before diving into dozens of pouring medium recipes. Now ready-made pouring mediums and pre-mixed paints are easy to find from recognized manufacturers in a wide selection of colors. But you can always go back to Elmer’s Glue in a pinch.
Have fun and learn
While there are a near-infinite number of acrylic painting ideas out there, chances are you will not create your Mona Lisa with your first fluid painting session. Consider keeping a journal of your favorite acrylic pour techniques and take notes about what worked for you and what didn’t. Different brands and paint colors have different densities. Some pouring mediums will dry matte and others glossy. Keep track of additives or things used to manipulate the paint.
A few drops of treadmill silicone oil or OGX Coconut Milk hair oil can change everything if you are trying to create cells. Things like string, chains, and random objects will behave differently if used in various ways. Try using things in ways other than what they were created for and keep track of your adventures. It can stop you from repeating something that didn’t produce the results you hoped for saving time and money.
- Basic acrylic paint and pouring medium (pre-mixed like Deco Art, Artist’s Loft and Liquitex pouring Medium or pick a recipe)
- Something to paint on (canvas, wood, glass, cardboard, found objects)
- A dust-free level area with a comfortable temperature & humidity (for painting and drying)
- Basic understanding of color theory (not much more complicated than yellow+blue makes green but can get quite technical when advanced)
- PPE and cleaning supplies
Things that are helpful
- Things to paint with (cups, squeeze bottles, sponge brushes, palette knives)
- Items to rest your work on while painting or drying (washed tuna cans work great)
- Push pins to help move your creation without touching the top surface
- Painter’s tape to protect the back of your painting until dry
- Journal & Pen
What is a base coat? What paint can I use?
The base coat is the first layer of paint. A dry surface will restrict the flow of the paint and cause the colors to mix more. If a base layer is used, that friction against the tooth of the canvas or other surface is reduced and the paint will be able to form layers by density which is the goal.
Especially important if trying to create cells. There are techniques that the color is applied first, and the base coat is added around the fluid paint before it is manipulated or moved around. Paint applied from squeeze bottles simplifies the process and reduces clean-up.
You can use virtually any paint if you are prepared to do some mixing. The originators used house paints, lacquers, and all sorts of additives. Do your research on safe handling but don’t stop trying new things.
Types of paint to consider:
- Tempura (kid-friendly, easy clean-up, cheap)
- Pre-mixed that have medium added (every craft store has jumped on this bandwagon and has private label mixes)
- Craft Paint (the economy stuff in little bottles when mixed the right way can be just fine. I do stay away from using white in any brand of craft paint. I find it always cracks)
- Student or professional Acrylics in all your favorite brands. Golden, Liquitex, Artist’s Loft, Novacolor, etc. (soft body, heavy body, and fluid can all be used when mixed to the correct consistency)
- Enamels (house paint samples)
You will need to mix most of these up with water, additives if you want cells, and pouring medium ingredients to get a pourable consistency similar to warm honey. Various types and brands will need a different mix combination. Colors will have different densities even in the same brand. I suggest pick one brand and stick with it while you are learning the techniques to reduce the variables.
Acrylic Paint Pouring Techniques
1. Puddle Pour
The technique closest to the original “Controlled Accident” by David Alfaro Siqueiros. Each color is systematically poured onto the canvas considering the color below and what will be next.
- Prepare each color separately with Liquitex Pouring medium or the recipe of your choice
- Cover the substrate with a base layer of color
- Pour measured amounts of each color sequentially in the center of the canvas
- Tilt the painting surface to cover
2. Injection Pour/Web Pour/Infusion Pour
This paint application method goes by various names, but the technique is the same.
- Prepare each color separately with Pouring medium and then layer a small amount of each into a syringe
- Cover the substrate with a base layer of color
- Place the tip of the syringe in the base layer of paint and depress injecting the colored paint under the base layer. Movement while injecting will create different effects
3. Balloon Dip/Balloon Smash
The balloon dip pour is literally what the name says:
- Prepare each color separately as described above and add a base layer
- Pour puddles and then smoosh a balloon into each leaving a mark (you may wish to wipe off the balloon between dips)
- Add your paint colors using another method and then smash or dip the balloon to create marks as few or as many times as is desired
4. Ring/Traveling Ring/Wrecked Ring/Wing Pour
Rings of paint are stretched to create patterns
- Layer your prepared colors in a cup and slowly begin pouring using a gentle circular or back and forth motion
- Moving the cup as you pour the paint will give you different results
- Tilt the entire canvas to help the paint flow from edge to edge
5. Swipe Technique (or Wiping Technique)
There are countless ways to swipe. Some popular ones are: Traditional, Ghost, Starburst
- Start with a base layer
- Add color using one of the other techniques
- Once covered add a line of paint to the same canvas. Usually a contrasting color. Consider your densities
- Use something to swipe across the surface of the paint trying not to disturb the layers below
- Changing the direction and the item used for the swipe will result in different lacing patterns
6. Dirty Pour Technique
The Dirty Pour method isn’t any messier than the other methods. The “dirty” in dirty pouring refers to the cup not being carefully layered
- Begin with a base layer
- Layer prepared paints into a cup and give it one gentle stir
- Slowly pour the contents onto the center of the surface
- Move by gently tilting to cover to the edges
7. Flip Cup Technique
This is one of the more exciting and unpredictable methods
- Begin with a base layer
- Layer prepared paints into a cup and give it one gentle stir
- Invert the entire cup onto the canvas. Some prefer to keep the cup upright and invert the canvas over the cup and then flip the two over. Leave the full cup upside down undisturbed for a moment.
- In one quick motion lift the cup
- Tilt to cover the canvas
8. Colander/Strainer/Bottle Bottom
Do not limit yourself to just cutting the bottom off a soda bottle. Think creatively to repurpose items that will cause the paint to flow in interesting ways. My favorite item is a rubber coiled hair scrunchie
- Place the item you will pour over or through on the canvas
- Paint can be added in separate colors, a mixed cup, or a layered cup
- Add base paint around the colored paint to facilitate tilting
9. Open Cup Pour
This is a variation of the colander pour. Instead of a constant flow of paint as it is applied, the paint is stored in the cup. When lifted, paint seeps out under the base layer.
- Cut the center out of a plastic cup or bottle so both ends are open. You can use anything with two open ends if a cup or bottle is not available
- Layer your pre-mixed paint into the receptacle
- Add base paint around the outside of the open cup and to the edges of the panel
- Lift the cup gently and move it around in the base layer allowing small amounts of paint to escape the cup
- Move until the cup is empty and then work the paint out to the edges if desired. Negative space is sometimes very nice
More Advanced Acrylic Pouring Techniques
With this acrylic pouring technique you apply a second application of paint, poured in a ribbon while the piece is still fresh. Often a portion of the original paint is reserved to use at the end.
By Rinske Douna & Sheleeart Bloom by Shelee Carruthers – Similar techniques developed independently by two women on different continents. Them getting credit for their art innovation and techniques while they are alive is another article in itself. They both offer wonderful online classes that are worth the investment. Some of their supplies are difficult to find in the USA.
Dip & Reverse Dip
Takes a steady hand. Paint is artfully applied to a hard surface and the canvas is dipped and then pulled up leaving an impression like one might get in a traditional monoprint process
Kiss Pour/Infinity Pour
Multiple paints are applied at the same time. Great to do with a partner if you aren’t ambidextrous.
I first heard of mixed media Dendrite Fractals from Myriam of Myriam’s Nature when I was learning alcohol ink techniques. Inks and alcohol are applied to a base layer of paint. As the densities and chemical reactions occur a fractal resembling dendrites are created.
Chameleon Cell Pour
This is a method of adding silicone or other oils to the top of a freshly finished piece with a comb or similar object instead of as an additive in the paint. It can yield striking results, especially when used with color-changing or metallic paints. Not suggested for those with Tryophobia.
"Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist."
There are not many rules for creating art in this style. Things will work or they won’t. Each experiment is teaching you something. Sometimes the same steps will turn out differently.
Think about what has changed. Is it hotter than before? Is it raining today? Did you use tap water or distilled? Embrace the science! Don’t be too afraid to waste materials that you don’t practice. Developing your own style and techniques takes repetition. Canvases can be scraped off and reused. You can pour over a piece once it has fully dried.
Depending on the recipe and additives you use most pieces will be dry to the touch in hours. However, it can take days or weeks for them to fully cure so handle them with care when they are fresh. Some flow art projects might not make the cut as a framed piece right away, but you can add details or entire scenes using it as a backdrop. That was how the first artists did it.
- Academic Works CUNY, David Alfar vid Alfaro Siqueir o Siqueiros’s Pivotal Endea otal Endeavor: Realizing the or: Realizing the “Manifiesto de New York” in the Siqueiros Experimental Workshop of 1936 Emily Schlemowitz CUNY Hunter College. Realizing the “Manifiesto de New York” in the Siqueiros Experimental Workshop
- Library UMD University of Michigan Exhibitions: Places and Spaces, 2022 Picturing Places and Spaces
- Chilvers, I., and J. Glaves-Smith. “David Alfaro Siqueiros.” A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art. New York: Oxford University Press. Accessed Nov. 27, 2021.
- General introduction to Hydrodynamic Instabilities L. Brandt & J.-Ch. Loiseau KTH Mechanics, November 2015 General introduction to Hydrodynamic Instabilities
- Mad Art Lab, The Secrets Of Paint Pouring Revealed. The Secrets of Paint Pouring Revealed – Mad Art Lab.
- Rinske Douna, Rinske Douna
- Shelee Carruthers, About Shelee – Shelee Art
- Myriam’s Nature, Myriam’s Nature
- Free Acrylic Pouring Photos