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Paint splatter art can be a stress-free, creative outlet for your artistic energy—but it’s also a technique that can produce breathtaking masterpieces full of emotion and movement. Whatever your end goal, learning the basics of how to make paint splatter art is easy. Equipped with paint, brushes, a surface of some sort (a canvas, wall, or even a piece of clothing), and a basic understanding of splatter paint techniques, you can get started with this form of abstract art.
In this guide, we will share the materials you’ll need to get started, as well as a variety of splatter paint techniques you can try to achieve a range of different artistic effects.
Artists that create paint splatter or paint splash art use brushes and other implements to flick, throw, or drip paint onto a canvas, rather than brushing paint directly onto that surface. Also known as drip painting or action painting, this technique rose in popularity during the abstract expressionist art movement, which began in the 1940s. Jackson Pollock, an American painter and leading force behind that movement, created some of today’s most recognizable pieces of paint splatter art.
“Splatter painting celebrates spontaneity, improvisation, and a highly physical approach to making art.”
Unlike some other types of visual art, splatter painting celebrates spontaneity, improvisation, and a highly physical approach to making art, so it requires no formal training. However, it is helpful to have an understanding of the basic techniques that can be used to achieve certain effects, as well as a playful spirit and willingness to get messy.
You can use just about any type of paint for paint splatter art, but acrylic paint is generally the most popular. Acrylic paints are inexpensive, come in a wide variety of colors, and clean up easily. Does watercolor work for paint splash art? Absolutely. Both watercolors and gouache paint generally offer the same benefits as acrylics; however, they can give your artwork a softer look. Also consider latex house paint, which has a stringy texture that can create a unique paint splatter effect, and it’s less expensive than traditional art paints.
Whichever paint you choose, you may need to add a little water for the best splatter effect. Experiment with different consistencies to find your preferred paint-to-water ratio.
Different sizes and types of brushes will produce different paint splatter effects. Generally, smaller brushes with stiff bristles offer the most control. However, you don’t have to limit yourself to a traditional paint brush; you may choose to use other household items. Toothbrushes, for example, work well and are the brush of choice for many splatter artists.
Some artists even choose to use non-brush instruments. Anything you can flick or throw paint with can work well for splatter paint art, from sticks to spoons to straws.
Once you have your brushes and paints, there are a number of techniques you can try. Whether your goal is a completely organic creation or a more distinct image, like a nighttime sky, these five splatter paint techniques can help you achieve your desired result.
- Vertical Splatter Painting Vertical splatter painting involves setting up your canvas vertically—on an easel or chair, for example. Then, stand back from the canvas and fling paint against it. Depending on how far you stand from the canvas, you can create different effects. Standing farther away will make your splatters smaller, while moving closer will give you the ability to make larger splashes of color.
- Horizontal Splatter Painting The opposite of the vertical technique, horizontal splatter painting involves laying your canvas flat on the ground, then flicking or splattering the paint onto the canvas from above. With this technique, you can also drip paint onto the surface of the canvas. Once you load your brush with paint, point it down and squeeze the paint from the back of the brush down to the tip. The paint will drip from the brush, creating lush dollops on the canvas.
- Spray Paint Splatter Art For a graffiti-style art effect, you can also use spray paint in your splatter art. Try using a large cap and nozzle, and hold the trigger a quarter to halfway down. Spray close to your canvas for a variety of drips and splatters.
- Stenciled Paint Splatter Art You don’t have to start with a completely blank canvas. Consider limiting your splatter area by sectioning off your canvas with painter’s tape or a stencil made from construction paper or cardboard. This will allow you to control exactly where the paint will go. Then, splatter paint across the canvas; once the paint dries, you can remove the stencil or tape to reveal the white space in your desired shape.
- Digital Paint Splatter Art Creating paint splatter art on your computer is a very different experience than flinging real paint at a canvas or other object. It offers additional precision and control, and can help you start developing your eye for paint splash art without making a mess. You can easily create splatter paintings in Photoshop and other digital platforms using custom-made paint-splatter brushes. These brushes, made for use with Photoshop, Illustrator, Procreate, and other digital art applications, are widely available on the web, often for free.
Wondering exactly how to make paint splatter? While paint splatter art tends to be organic and freeform, there are many ways to splatter paint on a surface. By exploring different paint splatter techniques, you can add dimension and variety to your pieces of art.
- Use a Toothbrush Dip a toothbrush in some slightly watered-down paint. Then, point the head of the brush toward your canvas. Using your finger, pull back on the bristles of the toothbrush and release them, creating a fine mist of paint. Generally, the faster you flick the bristles, the more splatter you’ll generate. This technique can be particularly helpful in creating a night sky full of stars. Start with a dark background for a night sky, then use a toothbrush to flick white paint across the sky, creating galaxies of stars.
- Flick the Bristles of the Brush This is similar to the toothbrush technique, but uses a regular paint brush. Simply run your finger along the edge of the brush at close range to the canvas for small, delicate splatters.
- Use Two Paint Brushes A slightly cleaner way of splattering paint, try tapping your paint-covered brush with a stick or another paint brush to launch your paint. By tapping the brushes together closer to the surface, you can achieve larger dots of paint, while holding the brushes further away will create smaller splatters.
- Put Your Arms Into It Part of the fun of splatter painting is physically flinging paint at a canvas. The force you put behind the paint—from a flick of your wrist to a full-arm method—can create a range of different splatters. Wrist action creates concentrated splatters, while a full-arm swing yields looser, more spread out results.
- Let the Paint Drip Once you have a decent amount of paint on your canvas, try lifting it up vertically so that paint begins to drip down the surface. Once it begins dripping, you can also rotate the canvas so that the drips move in different directions. You could even use a hairdryer to blast the paint in a certain direction and create more explosive drips.
Practice Splatter Paint Techniques
Watercolour Basics: How to Add Splatters to Your Work
When creating splatter paint art, any painting surface will do, though canvas is generally best suited for these projects. A medium like paper, on the other hand, will saturate easily, and much of the paint may soak right through.
However, you don’t have to limit yourself to just canvas. Splatter paint techniques can be used to add a vibrant splash of color to many other surfaces. Here are a few of our favorite alternative projects:
Add Character to Your Walls
Want to give a blank wall some artistic character? Try splatter painting it. Just be sure to cover your floors, ceilings, and any other areas you wish to remain splatter-free before you begin painting. Use the techniques listed above, or get even more creative by using squirt bottles or water balloons full of diluted paint.
You can enjoy your paint-splattered wall as-is, or use it as a background to hang more conventional pieces of art. Want the look of a paint splatter wall without making it permanent? By making paint splatter wallpaper, you can easily change your room’s look when you tire of the abstract motif.
Create Cape Cod-Style Floors
Paint-splattered floors are a centuries-old tradition unique to the summer cottages of the Massachusetts coast. According to The New York Times Style Magazine, historically, the process would begin by painting a wooden floor a vibrant solid color. “After letting the base color dry fully, whack a paintbrush, dipped in the pigment of one’s choice, against an iron pipe. For small dots, strike a foot away from the floor. For larger ones, add more paint and bring your brush a bit closer to the ground.”
Learn How to Splatter Paint Clothing
If you have jeans or shirts that need an upgrade, try splatter painting them. Lay the piece of clothing flat, then dip a vinyl-gloved hand in fabric paint, and flick the paint over the clothing by making a fist and quickly opening it.
There’s no right way to splatter paint, but these techniques can help you get started in the right direction. With an understanding of how to make different types of splatter effects and a range of different projects, you can embark on a new journey of artistic expression. Above all, don’t be afraid to experiment, get messy, and have fun.
Looking For More Inspiration?
Let Your Creativity Fly with These 5 DIY Paint Splatter Projects
This original version of this article was published on January 30, 2019. It’s since been updated.