How it’s made: The anatomy of a pour painting

How to, Process -

How it’s made: The anatomy of a pour painting

When chatting with people at art shows or telling family and friends about my pour painting side hustle, one of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “How in the [insert expletive] do you make those!?”

YouTube makes it seem easy. Or at least that’s what it seemed like after binging more how-to videos than a Netflix series. But when I flipped my first cup over, I quickly learned paint pouring is a science as much as it is an art.

Each pour painting takes 4-6 weeks to create from start to finish.

Here are the basic steps in the pour painting process:

1. A blank slate for pouring paint

The most common pouring surface is stretched canvas, but it’s not the only choice. Wood slabs, ceramic tiles for coasters, and even glass ornaments can be poured over.

I personally love working with gallery wrapped canvases. The thicker 1.5-inch edge gives the painting a unique depth. This extra bit of real estate allows the creative vision to keep going, effectively wrapping the whole piece in color.

2. The paint and pouring medium

Ah, the secret sauce. The nuances of the medium and paint mix are the foundation of what makes pour painting so cool. I like to think of it as a pour painter's fingerprint.

At a basic level, we start with fluid pouring mediums to create the liquid love that's eventually poured over the blank canvas. For my pouring medium, I use a mix of Liquitex Pouring Medium and Floetrol, a latex paint conditioner. The brand and pigment of the acrylics mixed with these mediums create endless possibilities. 

My pouring recipe is just one of many out there, and each has unique properties that help create swirls and cells of color. For my fellow pourers out there, no I don’t use silicone to create cells and I have my reasons (which I may just write another blog post on someday!).

3. Paint pouring techniques

Flip cups. Dutch pours. Swipes. Tree ring pours. Wandering ring pours. Pearl pours. There are a multitude of pouring techniques.

The way the paint is layered in the cup or on the canvas greatly impacts the final result. There are two methods of preparation: The dirty pour and the clean pour.

Dirty simply means the colors are combined before pouring, as with flip cups or tree ring pours. In clean pours, each color goes straight onto the canvas, like swipes or dutch pours.

If I had to choose a favorite, mine would be open cups or multi-ring pours, like this set:

4. Curing: The hurry up and wait

Compared to the pour where the fireworks happen, this part is pretty boring. However, it’s one of the most critical steps to adhere to in the paint pouring process.

The painting dries in a low-humidity room with a consistent temperature for at least 3 weeks. The first 48 hours are crucial to success. Conditions need to be just right during this time to prevent crazing, or cracking of the paint while it’s drying.

Why does curing take so long? Acrylic paint is made of three components: a pigment, binder, and vehicle. The vehicle (water, in the case of acrylics) is what matters in the curing process. An acrylic pour painting might be dry to the touch within days, but it requires 3-4 weeks for the water to fully evaporate.

5. Signed, sealed and delivered

After (im)patiently awaiting a full cure, it’s time to seal the deal. First, I use Golden’s Soft Gel Gloss to create an isolation coat – the invisible hero that gives paintings longevity. The isolation coat creates a clear, non-removable barrier between the acrylic pour and varnish.

Next comes my favorite varnish: Liquitex High Gloss! Varnish protects the painting from the dust and dirt that inevitably cling to it over time. Rather than the artwork being affected by the elements, the varnish takes the hit. It may yellow over time, but this only means it's doing its job.

Luckily, if an isolation coat is applied, the varnish can safely be removed and replaced every decade or so to restore the artwork to its glory days!

Want to see the finished product of these 5 steps? Check out these Studio Sweet T originals!

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