Did you know you can create unique, eye-catching paintings without using a paintbrush? The technique of fluid painting involves using a cup to pour acrylic paint onto a canvas and then tilting it back and forth until you achieve your desired designs. It’s fun, relaxing, and different every time. Want to give it a try? This guide to fluid painting for beginners will walk you through everything you need to know to get started, from gathering supplies to pouring the paint. 

What Is Fluid Painting? 

Finished fluid painting in black, white, gold , and teal paint mounted on a small easel.  Fluid painting looks like marble it's just a bunch of swirls of painting covering the whole painting fluidly.
Create gorgeous artwork, no paintbrush required. (By Skillshare student Aswathy S.)

Also known as acrylic pouring, fluid painting is a type of abstract art that involves pouring layers of thin, liquidy acrylic paint onto a canvas. Because of that fluid consistency, the paint moves and spreads feely, creating interesting organic shapes. 

While this type of artwork is abstract and, to an extent, unplanned, there are several fluid painting techniques you can use to achieve different effects. For example, straight pouring involves pouring lines or puddles of each individual color to your canvas and then tilting the canvas to manipulate the paint. With the dirty pour technique, on the other hand, you add all of your paint colors to one cup, and then pour the entire contents of the cup onto your canvas. No matter which approach you choose to apply fluid acrylic paint, you will consistently be surprised by the designs you can create.  

Fluid Painting Supplies

To create fluid art paintings, you don’t need a paintbrush—but you will need a few key supplies. 

Acrylic Paint

The best paint for fluid art is acrylic. Within that category, you have a few options. For example, there are several brands of ready-to-pour acrylic paints available, which already have a thin, watery consistency. However, you can use any type or brand of acrylic paint—including the small tubes at your local craft store that cost about a dollar each—if you use them with a pouring medium. 

Pouring Medium 

If you opt to use regular acrylic paint, rather than ready-to-pour, you will need to thin it. However, you can’t mix it with just water. Without the right preparation, your paint may crack, separate, or fade. Instead, adding a pouring medium will allow you to achieve the right fluid acrylic paint consistency without sacrificing quality. Alternatively, some artists opt to mix paint with resin. 

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You can choose a canvas of any size, but it’s generally easier to work with a smaller surface to learn the basics of fluid paint art, and then you can move on to something larger. Regardless of the size, pay attention to how tightly the canvas is stretched. Fluid painting is all about paint movement, so if your canvas sags or is bowed, the paint may pool in undesirable ways. 

Plastic Cups

For most fluid painting techniques, you will need plastic cups. You will mix your paint in the cups, and then pour the colors onto your canvas. You can also use plastic cups to prop up your painting as it dries. (Alternatively, you can purchase painter’s pyramids or tripods, which are made specifically for this purpose.) 

Table with gloves, scale, scaple, popsicle sticks, water, canvas, and various paints.
Creating fluid art paintings requires a canvas, acrylic paint, a pouring medium, and some mixing supplies. 

How to Create Fluid Paint Art 

Step 1: Mix the Paint

In a plastic cup, add one color of acrylic paint and a pouring medium in a 1:1 ratio. (Pro tip: Use a kitchen scale for the most accurate measurements.) Mix it together thoroughly, making sure to scrape the edges and bottom of the cup. Then, little by little, add enough tap water to create a thin, watery consistency. It may take some trial and error to figure out the right paint texture, but generally, it should resemble motor oil or chocolate syrup. It should flow freely when you pull the stirring stick up from the paint without being too drippy. 

Repeat with each color you want to use on your canvas, using a separate cup for each. 

Lady with glvoes mixing cup of teal paint. On the table below is a few other cups of paint, water, and a scale.
Combine paint, pouring medium, and water until the mixture has the consistency of motor oil or chocolate syrup. 

Step 2: Prep the Canvas

Prop your canvas up on a few plastic cups or painter’s tripods. This will give the excess paint somewhere to go as it flows around and off your canvas. 

Before you begin painting, make sure your canvas is as level as possible. This is especially important during the drying process, because you don’t want the paint to shift as it dries. You can eyeball it, but if you have a level, this is a great time to pull it out and put it to use! 

Step 3: Pour the Paint 

Fluid paint art is experimental by nature, so there’s no one prescribed way to pour the paint. However, there are a few tips that can help improve your fluid paintings. Generally, start with your darkest color paint, and pour it in a few small puddles—round, linear, or abstract—on the canvas. Then, layer your other colors of paint by adding them to the middle of the existing puddles. Make sure to add some puddles toward the edges of the canvas and not just the center, so the paint can spread evenly to cover the entire surface.

Pouring the paint in concentric circles in random places on the canvas.
Add paint in layers, creating multi-colored puddles across your canvas. 

Step 4: Manipulate the Canvas 

Now comes the fun part of fluid painting with acrylics. Reach under your canvas and hold it by the frame. Try not to touch the edges, as you want the paint to be able to flow freely over the sides of the canvas. Begin tilting the canvas in a range of different directions, watching the paint move and create abstract shapes. Make sure to encourage the paint to flow across the entire canvas, including the corners. 

When you’re satisfied with the composition, place the painting back on the cups or painter’s pyramids to dry. Periodically check back to make sure the paint isn’t sliding off the piece (and if it is, add some shims under your pyramids or cups to create a more level surface). It generally takes around 24 hours for fluid art paintings to dry, although if you added lots of thick, multi-layered puddles, it could take up to 72. 

Tilting the canvas to move the paint around.
Tilt the canvas in different directions to encourage the paint to move and marble. 

Experiment With Fluid Acrylic Painting

Once you understand the basic approach to creating fluid paintings, you can experiment with different pouring techniques, paint colors, and canvas sizes. Try adding metallic paint for a fun accent, or use a hair dryer to create more dynamic effects. You’ll end up with stunning pieces you can display in your home, give as gifts, or sell as an artist! 

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Written By

Katie Wolf

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