Dirty Flow Painting - Acrylic Magic!

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Ever looked at those fabulous swirling marbled abstracts and wondered where you could get one? Looking for a project that is easy AND spectacular? Look no further! In this Instructable I will walk you through a basic dirty flow painting to blow your friends and family away. Its also pretty cheap if you have kids art supplies already in the house! The hardest part of this instructable was getting a good photo of the finished product that comes close to showing the depth and vibrancy of the colours.

Supplies:

Acrylic paint - mine came from our local dollar store so it doesn't need to be expensive! Choose three or more colours that contrast - a light a dark and a medium if possible.

Elmers Glue/PVA

Plastic cups

Stirring sticks

Water

Paper or Plastic to protect work area

Heavy Card or Canvas

Step 1: Making Your Flow Medium

The secret ingredient of a good flow painting is the pouring medium. Acrylic paint is too thick to pour and move easily across a canvas, so you need to add a liquid to help it. The pouring medium also stops the colours from mixing together too much, and the bought ones often give a high gloss finish. You can buy plenty of pouring mediums, but it is just as easy to mix up one yourself.

The basic recipe is 50:50 water and glue. I used a candy tube and marked two even spaces on the side to measure out the water and glue. Measure in half glue and half water, then stir (or shake!) to mix.

Step 2: Mixing the Paint

Try to think about what you want your end product to look like when choosing colours. I made this painting for my son who LOVES orange, so I went with orange (obviously!), purple (nice and dark), light blue (nice and light) and gold (similar to orange and adds a bit of sparkle!)

Pour the paint into its own small pot. The amount of paint is going to vary depending on your canvas size so I can't really help with amounts. As you will see from the video, I did go a little light on this painting and ended up tipping more paint on round the edges. You are better to have more than less!

Add your flow medium. Again the amount required will vary depending on how much paint you are going to use. I had about 1/4 cup of paint in each color, and added about a tablespoon of medium. You want the paint to be the consistency of cream - more runny than paint, but not so runny that it is going to all run off! If you buy a bottle it will have the recommended ratio on the lable.

Mix the flow medium in with a popsicle/craft stick.

Note: if you get a lot of bubbles in your mixed paint you may want to cover it and let it sit for a while to get rid of them. I have see people spritzing their paint with rubbing alcohol to do the same thing.

Step 3: The Pour

The 'dirty' in dirty pouring comes from using a single cup to pour. Choose your largest cup of paint and carefully pour the other colours into it. I'd recommend leaving a little paint in each cup incase you need to do touch ups or want to add some clean colour at the end. If you want a slightly more mixed look then use your stick to carefully draw an 'X' in the paint. You dont want to mix too much or it will end up a brown mess!

Set up your canvas on your work surface. I elevate my canvas to make it easier to work with and to let the paint run off the edges smoothly.

There is an option to paint white paint roughly over the board before your pour to help the paint spread. I didn't do this because I didn't want any white in the final painting.

Once you have your paint ready, set it down in the middle of your protected workspace. Place the canvas on top of it close to the middle. Holding the paint and the canvas, flip the two over, so the paint is on the top. Set the canvas down, wait a few seconds for the paint to pool in the top of the cup, then gently lift the cup off.

The paint should flow out and away over your canvas.

Note: if you are using a piece of board or unprepared canvas you will need to paint it with white gesso first - this provides a surface for the paint to stick to.

Step 4: Maximising Coverage

Lift the canvas and gently tip it back and forth watching the paint flow, to ensure you cover the whole canvas. You will have to let paint run over the edges and drip onto the work surface. The more paint you have on the canvas the easier this will be! My video is a demonstration of how difficult it can be when you don't put enough on.... You can add more single colours if necessary, but you want to get the coverage on as soon as possible so the paint doesn't start drying and get a skin on it while you are trying to move it about!

You will need to tidy up the edges on the painting and make sure there is no white showing. I ran my finger along each side to make sure it was all covered.

Have a look at your fully covered piece and see if there is anywhere you would like to add a colour. I spotted a bit of the light blue on afterwards to make it pop.

Step 5: Finishing

Leave your painting somewhere secure to dry. You can (I have heard) speed the drying in a low temp oven, but I find the sun works just as well! If you are going to leave it outside make sure its no where near any trees or anything that can fall in it....

Depending on the flow medium you used, you may end up with a high gloss finish, or a more matte finish. Mine is definitely a matte finish, so to bring out the colours more, I added a layer of high gloss varnish to the painting.

Now it is just a matter of stringing, and deciding where to hang your fabulous piece!

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    11 Discussions

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    jeanniel1

    12 days ago

    Great knowing about the flow medium! I've also seen vids showing effects from dragging a necklace chain across, too. Ultra-cool

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    guaps

    21 days ago

    This is so cool! Two questions - would it work on a sheet of metal? And any thoughts/tips on how to do this on a large sheet (3'x8')? I'm thinking this would look really cool as a sliding door, but I have to do the door backing with thin sheet metal.

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    RCEMguaps

    Reply 21 days ago

    I don't know! It would be fun to figure out though!! For a large area my first thoughts are to cover the whole area in a base colour then flip a bunch of dirty pour cups on it - it might be trial and error tho! I'll see if I've got some metal here to give it a try :)

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    guapsRCEM

    Reply 21 days ago

    I'll test on a couple small pieces to see how it adheres to the metal and if it could withstand the wear and tear of being a door. Thanks for the great instructable!

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    Italiankiwiblog

    21 days ago

    This paintings look really great! The videos are really helpful for seeing the consistency that the paint should be. I'll try this with my kids over the holidays.

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    BarbaraG48

    21 days ago

    Awesome painting and project! I love the easy to follow instructions. Thank you very much. I will use this in my workshops!

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    RCEMBarbaraG48

    Reply 21 days ago

    thanks! it is pretty easy to get a great result :)

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    DLHN123

    22 days ago

    The reason you cover the canvas with white paint is to help the pour flow across the canvas. Don't wait for the white to dry! It needs to be wet to work it's magic. It doesn't mix with the paint you pour on it and the only way you'll see white is if you miss a spot when tilting the canvas. It's so much fun and soooo addictive! Have fun and thank you for the tutorial.

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    RCEMDLHN123

    Reply 22 days ago

    thanks for that :) I've used white paint (wet!) under the paint before and had lots of it show through. Maybe I'm just not using enough colour! damn.. I'll have to have another go :)

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    DLHN123RCEM

    Reply 21 days ago

    It's so much fun but it took me months to be good at it and I'm still learning. You don't have to use white as your base. You could use the prominent color you plan to use in your pour. If white is showing you may need to use more paint or change the consistency of the paint. Some people don't use a base coat but that causes the paint to roll over itself and you might lose colors you'd prefer to keep. I really love the colors you chose, your composition and your painting. Just have fun with it! :)

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    Penolopy Bulnick

    22 days ago

    This looks like a lot of fun to make :)