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POURING ON THE ABSTRACT: Using Self-Leveling Gel

11 Oct 2017 1:46 PM | Nicole The Creativity Coach (Administrator)

Paint by pouring is one of my favorite ABSTRACT ART PROJECTS!  We've been sharing this project for over 10 years at The ARTbar and at various centers around the community.  It’s intuitive, it’s fast, and it always turns out amazing! 

It’s no surprise that it is ALWAYS a highly requested project from all the centers I visit so we end up doing it several times a year!

The process itself is very easy.  You simply mix a colored pigment into a liquid gel. And then you pour it on!  Anyway that you like!  

Keep in mind that canvases should stay in place for at least 24 hours to dry before they are moved.  So although the process itself is fast, the total drying time is not.  However, most of the paint will set (not DRY) after a few hours so you can carefully move your canvas to another location to dry at that point.


1.  Start with a Deep Breath and a Connection to Your Heart:

I encourage people to choose colors that represent something to them (whether they are painting their feelings or an abstract of a special memory).   Their abstract painting will then be more meaningful to them, like a secret representation of something important to them.

2.  Pour the Gel into Mixing Cups

The gel is what creates a pouring consistency to your paint.  If you pour paint directly on a canvas, it may drop in globs and just stay there, like a splatter effect.  Using gels allows you to try different effects and consistencies.

Liquitex Pouring Medium is one of my favorite gels for pouring abstract paintings  (see link below).  Pouring Medium is designed to have a fluid movement and to self-level over the canvas, creating a smooth, glossy sheen that almost looks like resin.  (However it is not as hard as resin, so you could leave marks if you pressed something sharp into the dried surface, like your fingernail.). Dried paintings with Pouring Medium will still look wet because they are so shiny!

To create colors to pour, I like to use small plastic condiment cups and thin red sip straws (coffee stirrer straws).  When teaching this project, I will give each person 3 cups (each with about 1 oz of Pouring Medium) and a small pile of stir sticks for them to create 3 colors (step 3). 

You can use as many colors as you want with this technique!  But starting with only 3 is a good way to control the use of paint and the cost of the project.  They could then share leftover paint from each other if they want to add more colors.  

3.  Add the Color:

Choosing colors is the fun part!

You could choose any type of pigment that is water-based or acrylic so use the best acrylic paint that you already have on hand.  Inexpensive acrylic craft paint is usually easily available and will still work fine.  Depending on how thick or thin your paint is, it may change the consistency of your Pouring Medium, so ONLY ADD A FEW DROPS (no more than 20% paint, that's a 1:5 ratio of paint to gel.)

Pouring medium looks like a cloudy white when it is wet, but it dries SUPER CLEAR and GLOSSY.  So keep in mind that your colors will dry darker than they look when you are mixing them. So don’t be alarmed if you mix in a few drops of red and it looks more like a cloudy rose color.  Don’t keep adding more red to get the color you like!  You will just end up with globs of paint that won’t pour smoothly.  Remember that the cloudy white of the gel will dry clear and you will get your original paint color back. I promise!

It’s also fun to play with mixing colors at this step and make custom blends— it feels like a super fun chemistry session!  Add a small drop of a few different colors to create a new color.  It’s also a fun way to experience the color wheel.



Make sure to mix a contrast color, such as white, yellow or black, depending on the colors you pick.  I also recommend choosing a metallic color for special effects, such as bright gold or silver.  

2). USE DRY PIGMENTS vs Paints: 

My favorite way to add color to Pouring Medium is to work with a dry ground pigment of color (see my recommendations below).  This way ALL the liquid is pure POURING MEDIUM, keeping the perfect consistency.  

Dry pigments sometimes look a little different when mixed with liquid, depending on the mineral.  They are darker and more concentrated in their dry mineral form.  

It may be helpful (and fun!) to create a color chart first by dipping your clean brush in the pigment and then mixing it into a drop of gel on a scratch paper.  Make sure to label the color so you can find it later if you want to use it.  Dry pigments are especially  fun for creating custom colors  -- even if they turn out as a surprise sometimes! :).  

My favorite dry pigments are Polished Pigments (see link below) since they come in so many intense, beautiful colors and contain a little mica for a subtle shimmer/metallic effect.

4.  Pour It On!

This is my favorite part of the class!   There really isn’t much instruction to give for this step.  You can pour it on, drip little drops, drop color on top of another color, drag the red straws or toothpicks through it for marbling, and even blow through the tiny straws to move your color around the canvas.  Another fun effect is to pour some clear gel and watch how it moves the colors you already poured. 

I was just going to make some videos to share with you, and then Michaels happened to share the same project on their blog.  Click here to watch their videos of different pour techniques.  But make sure to come back here for my special tips & product recommendations (and better pricing).

IMPORTANT:  My only caution is not to STIR the colors on your canvas too much or you will get one muddy color, instead of the beautiful dance of colors that you started out with.  

When the painting is done, let it dry for at least 24 hours.  You can then easily use scissors to trim off any excess paint that may be hanging off the canvas.  When it dries it will still look wet!

5.  Reflect on Your Finished Painting

So many times we are tempted to judge the finished outcome of our art.  Did it turn out how I wanted it to?  Did it turn out as beautiful as someone else’s?  Paint by pouring, like most abstract techniques, is about letting the painting become what it is supposed to become in that moment.  It requires you to let go of some of your control.

After creating your painting, this is a good time to reflect in your journal:

  • How did the process of pouring feel?  
  • What does your painting represent to you?  
  • How is abstract painting like life?


Well, that’s basically all you need to know to create a beautiful canvas with Pouring Medium!   Go ahead and try it — I know you’ll have a lot of fun!!

Here are some more pictures from a recent class:


Checklist of Supplies Needed (note: NO paintbrushes for this technique!):

  • Canvas (for this project I prefer the thicker canvases, called “gallery wrapped” in a small size such as a 4" or 5" square)
  • Liquitex Pouring Medium (see link below;  thank you for purchasing through us!A
  • Any paint or pigment  (any will work but the Primary Elements pigments are the BEST!)
  • Coffee stirrers, toothpicks or skewers (to move paint around)
  • Disposable mixing cups (I like the little sauce cups from Smart ’N’ Final)
  • Magazines or wax paper

Optional Supplies:

  • A level - to make sure the surface of the table and canvas is level (add toothpicks under one side of painting if needed)
  • Masking Tape - to tape off bottom of canvas to keep it neat in case of dripping underneath
  • Thumbtacks - to insert into the 4-corners on the bottom of the canvas to raise it off the surface (then your canvas won’t get stuck in dried paint)
  • Styrofoam meat trays (Smart 'N' Final) - they have a nice flat surface along with a lipped edge to capture running paint


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These are my favorite supplies for this project.  Purchase all of them together and you'll be all set for a paint party or to make a 9-piece gallery display for under $75 (and all in a day's pour!):

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