Do you remember the very first time you used acrylic paints? For most of us, it was making posters for a school event or a lemonade stand. I know someone who, when they were 12, thought their room and furniture needs more color. The results? Everything looked like it was painted by a sad clown for the next 2-3 years. This is probably what turned them into a minimalist, but I digress.
Now, do you remember when you saw an acrylic pour for the first time? Especially when you say those cells that look like an expensive semi-precious stone and not a piece of canvas. Well, today we’ll learn how to make that magic happen. We’ll talk types, techniques, and additives you may need. We’ll also briefly cover a few mistakes that you should avoid if you wish your pour to come out smooth and perfect.
What Makes the Cells in Acrylic Pouring?
Have you ever poured oil into a vessel with water? Do you remember how it simply floated onto and separated into clearly visible droplets when you stir it? It’s pretty much the same thing that is happening here.
Acrylic paints are water-based and mixing them with oil or silicone without an emulsifier will produce the cell effect. But that’s just the beginning. The exact additives and the mixing technique will dictate what the cells would look like.
Additive for Cells in Acrylic Pouring
Okay, we did say that you need an oil to achieve that magical look, but not every oil will do. Cooking oils are a no-no. Baby and body oils are a no-no as well. Some lubricants that you would use around the house (i.e., on door hinges) may work, but only if they are silicone-based. In fact, maybe you should stay away from oils altogether since they can produce very greasy results.
Your safest bet is to use 100% silicone oil. They are usually easily available in your local arts and crafts store, or you can find them online from different major retailers.
But, until you get around to buying some, you can rummage through your (or someone else’s) makeup kit. A lot of serums and makeup primers are silicone-based, so take a look at the ingredients and there’s dimethicone or any other cones listed there. You can also find the same ingredients in personal lubricants. It’s not ideal, but it will be good enough if you want to go and experiment right after reading this piece.
Some artists also like using alcohol. It doesn’t hurt to give it a go and experiment, but make sure you’re getting at least 70% isopropyl alcohol (which you can find easily at beauty supply places and pharmacies).
Techniques for Creating Cells in Acrylic Pouring
Pretty much, you can do anything you want and play with this technique to your heart’s content. However, here are some ideas and techniques that will both explain what you can expect if you do certain things, and jump-start your creativity.
But first, make sure you have a torch ready. Its purpose is to help lighter colors break through the heavier ones, which will in turn create your cells. A regular kitchen torch will do, just like the one you would use to make some creme brulee.
Silicone in Paint or on Paint
You may ignore everything else that comes after this section but pay attention now. Knowing when to add silicone to your project will be the most crucial to what it will look like when it’s done.
If you’re adding silicone to paint directly, just a drop per cup could be enough. The less silicone you use, the larger the cells will be. And that means that more silicone will produce smaller cells.
The type of look you will achieve when you add the silicone directly to the paint is that seafoam look. A little bit or very disordered, asymmetric, uneven, and totally gorgeous.
But if you want more control, you can add the silicone after you’ve poured the paint. Though, watch out how much you’re adding since a little definitely goes a long way.
The best tool for this job is a toothpick. Dip the toothpick into silicone and quickly dot it where you want cells to appear. You can also control the size of the cells by adding more silicone (after the first dip) or keeping the toothpick a bit longer in the same position.
Another cool tool you can try is a plastic hair comb. If you were to use it to dot the entire canvas, you can end up with the same thing you would find when looking at organic tissue under a microscope. But you can also play with it and create other interesting effects.
You can also try to make splatters with a toothbrush, but this is better suited to big canvases where you can afford a lot of chaos and extra-large cells.
The Breath of Life
Have you ever used the straw to disperse the colors in different directions? Well, this technique truly comes into its own when combined with cells.
You can use it either before or after the torch, and it can enlarge or elongate the cells, or simply create a bit of movement and disorder. However, avoid doing it with super tiny cells, because it will only smoosh them and ruin the canvas and all your hard work.
If you feel that the cells are a bit too uniform, feel free to pick up the canvas and tilt it from side to side. It will affect their size, shape, and sometimes position as well.
Start small to see how they react to the movement. Then you can tilt the canvas more if that works for you. But make sure you’re committed to this change because it’s very difficult to tilt them back into shape.
This method pairs the best with the comb technique. Try dotting parallel rows of cells with the comb and tilting the canvas to break up the monotony.
No Silicone, No Problem
You can create cells without an additional medium, though they will not be as dramatic as when using silicone.
To do this, add the colors into a pouring cup with a layer of white in between. Your torch will do most of the heavy lifting here since it will bring up the white from under the other colors. It may sound like a good idea to try it out before you buy a medium, but keep in mind that it will work only if your torch game is on point.
By the way, you can use the same layering process but introduce silicone either before into the colors or dot it after they are on canvas. It will still produce an interesting effect.
Stripes vs Circles
Both pouring methods will look great with cells, whether you’re adding silicone before or after. The only thing you need to pay attention to is that you blend the colors before you bring out the cells (either with the torch or by dotting them). Once the cells are on, any attempt at blending will blend them away won’t go well.
Colored Background with a Colored Design
In the beginning, stick to the white background with bright and dark colors, at least until you get a better grasp of the technique.
When you’re ready to move on, feel free to switch it up a bit. The only thing you have to remember is to create a contrast between the design and the background, so your work is visible and doesn’t look muddy. For example, don’t pair gray and light blue, but go for smokey blue with a peacock navy.
Don’t Make These Mistakes When Creating Cells in Acrylic Pouring
Okay, there are so many things you can do wrong when playing with acrylics, but this time we will concentrate on the ones that affect cells in acrylic pouring the most.
Silicone is most commonly used to create cells, but it’s also most commonly used in the wrong way. It doesn’t like to be overmixed. If you do it, the bubbles would become too small, which means your cells will become too small as well.
There’s nothing else to do here but practice, practice, practice, and practice some more. Eventually, you will learn how much and how long to mix this additive with your paint to create different sizes of cells.
Some additives, when not mixed properly, can create lumps and bumps on the surface of your work.
One of the most common culprits is Floetrol. When you’re working with it, do try to mix it into your paint as well as possible, but also take a disposable paint strainer and strain it. That way all those lumps end up in the garbage where they belong, and not on your canvas.
Not Enough Contrast
If the colors are too close together or the color or if you’re pouring over a color that is similar in tone or hue, they may come out muddy. You could do all that amazing work without it being visible at all.
Take a moment and rethink carefully about your color choices. Even if you want to go with softer shades or monochromatic, there needs to be something that creates contrast.
You Don’t Know Your Design Basics
The biggest difference between something looking homemade versus custom-made or unique is the knowledge of design basics. And since you don’t have to go to design school to learn them, brush up on them before you start playing with this medium.
For this technique, a color wheel is the most important. You have to know which colors are in contrast, which ones are complementary, and which ones are in harmony. Also, read up a bit on proportion and composition, especially when it concerns abstract art.
You’re Going Too Fast
Pouring too quickly can result in muddy colors and messed-up composition.
Slow down and take your time. Especially when you’re still in the beginner’s stage. Even when you level up, you will know the benefits of taking some time to enjoy the process and not only the final results.
Time to Pour!
This technique takes some time and practice. Before you get started checkout this video to have a better understanding of the different techniques. Happy crafting!
I’m a stay at home mom with our two kids. I really enjoy doing crafts with my kids however, that is typically a challenge with how limited their attention span can be and how messy it gets. So, I’m always looking for ways to make crafting an enjoyable experience and creating fond memory for all of us.