Acrylic Painting Techniques: Pouring Paints

Pouring paint across a canvas instead of applying it with a brush

How to make acrylic painting. Work in progress. Female hand holding a plastic cup with blue paint.
dinachi / Getty Images

Pouring, puddling, dripping...the defining characteristic of the technique of pouring acrylics is that you don't apply the paint with a brush or palette knife but rather use gravity to move the paint across a canvas. The results are unlike anything you can get with a brush: fluid flows of paint without any brush marks or texture.

After I saw her striking poured painting "Iris Abstract," I asked Keri Ippolito about how she'd painted it. This is what she had to say.

Where did you first try this painting-by-pouring technique?

I did the painting in a classroom setting at the Fine Line Creative Arts Center in Illinois, USA, with teacher Alyce Van Acker. I had also come across the work of other artists who use pouring techniques: Bette Ridgeway and Paul Jenkins.

What did you use to create this painting?

The painting was done by pouring fluid acrylic paint onto double-primed, linen canvas. The canvas had been stapled onto various-height stools and encouraged to dip down in one spot, where the paint ran off the canvas into a basin. The method requires some reaching out to pour and a love of pure color but is a lot of fun! I used Golden Fluid Acrylics, and it was done in one session.

What did you do with the paint that poured off the canvas into the basin?

Most people just pour it out and consider it part of the cost of the painting. I am a little more practical, and if I have someone with me to grab a clean container for each color, I will reuse the paint.

Did you let the paint dry between pourings or between colors?

No, I really only paused to decide where I wanted to start the pour. Even the decision of color was made before I began, and my initial color poured was white. Depending on the angle downward to the basin, you have very little time before pouring the next color (that is, if you hope to see them mix) on the canvas. Also, pouring clear water to change the color and soften edges is a must.

Did you pour the paint straight from the container or from something else?

I used Golden Fluid Acrylics but watered down, and had [each] in a disposable plastic cup. Keep in mind, never [add] water over 50 percent or the paint won't stick. So I also added some gloss acrylic medium. You premix all your colors and hopefully, you have mixed enough. If you mix too much, just put it in a clean container with a lid and save it. Another thing about premixing: If you use less water, the weight of the fluid is heavier and will move slower, which could alter everything—and not in a bad way.

Was there a significance to using a double-primed canvas? Did you choose that so the white, unpainted areas were well covered, or was that just what you had on hand?

Yes, it is significant. The choice is made because of the tight weave, which helps the paint to flow freely. Double-primed again cuts resistance, and the white is really a great background color for all this wonderful color! If you look really closely at my painting, you will see the white paint I poured first but only slightly.

Doesn't diluted or thin paint lack intensity of color?

Fluid acrylics and acrylic inks are manufactured to have intense color when dried. If you dilute a heavy-body paint with an acrylic medium, you're not diluting the color because the medium is colorless; it only changes the viscosity (liquidness) of the paint.

Does this technique work with a flat canvas?

If you put a canvas down flat, gravity will have less of a pull on the paint, so it won't flow so dramatically across the surface. Rather it'll spread only a little way, giving you a greater degree of control. How far it'll spread will depend on how much paint you pour out, how fluid the paint is, and how wet the other paint on the canvas is.

Does the pouring technique work for oil paints?

Pouring paint will work for any paint, provided it's fluid or liquid. The disadvantage with oil paints is that [an oil painting] takes so long to dry, so you'll either have to do the painting over quite some time or do it entirely wet-on-wet.

Is this technique suitable only for big canvases?

Not at all. It'll work on any size canvas. A large canvas will require more paint but give a little more room for "accidents." A small canvas will use less paint, but you'll likely want to try to be a bit more precise about where you pour the paint and try to spread it so you don't have every color going over the whole surface. Experiment and you'll find out.

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