The art world is constantly changing as new artists emerge and develop new techniques. One of these popular new techniques is called acrylic pouring.
For entry-level artists, acrylic pouring is popular because it doesn’t take the learned skills of brushstrokes, blending, and form. You simply pour the paint and tilt the canvas to get your desired effect, which often includes cells.
So, how do you get cells in acrylic pouring? To get cells in acrylic pouring, you can use a blow torch or add another liquid medium into your paint such as Floetrol, silicone oil, dish soap, or rubbing alcohol. Each method will produce slightly different end results.
Of the different methods available, none of them is better than the other. Each method works in a different way, and the one you choose should depend on your style and level of skill.
Let’s dive into the details of each method for getting perfect cells in acrylic pouring so you can choose the one most suited to your artistic style.
What Is Acrylic Pouring?
Although the 1930’s may seem like a long time ago, it’s actually fairly recent when you look at art history as a whole. It was in the 1930’s that Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros was credited with developing the technique known as acrylic pouring.
Acrylic pouring is done by simply pouring different acrylic paints on top of each other. You can pour them in specific ways, brush or sweep across them once poured, or use a hair dryer or blow torch to create swirls and cells.
The science behind acrylic pouring lies in the varying densities of paint pigments.
Each paint pigment has its own density. Some colors have a higher or lower density than others, and it’s this different density that creates the colorful layers you see in acrylic pouring and the resulting cells.
The paints that have a higher density will sink to the bottom, and the paints with a lower density will rise to the top.
Some acrylic paints come with their density levels on the label, but we recommend trying for yourself and experimenting with the different colors. It will be more satisfying to play with your paints and see what colors layer best.
Tips & Tools For Getting Cells In Acyrlic Pouring
Cells are achieved in acrylic pouring from a combination of the natural density of the paints and an outside source, such as a blow torch or paint additive.
The paints will naturally reorder themselves according to density and create small cells, or circles of paint where the layers of different colors shine through. These cells can be amplified or helped with one of the methods we’ll review below.
To create cells without adding anything to your paint, the simplest way is by using a blow torch or hair dryer. Blow torches work so well to create cells that we even have a whole article listing the best blow torches to use for acrylics.
By blowing hot air over your paint, you’re causing it to shift and move, forcing a more dynamic layering of the paint according to pigment density. Blow torches also pop unwanted bubbles in your paint, so we recommend checking them out anyway.
You could also try blowing at the paint through a straw. Your warm breath can be enough to cause the paint to move and enlarge the natural cells.
To get started with acrylic pouring, you’ll need to gather the following supplies:
- Acrylic paints (try a thinner, craft brand to help the paint move more fluidly)
- Blow torch or hair dryer
- Bin or surface with depth to suspend your canvas over as you pour the paint
- Small cups for paint
- Palette knife
- Additive of your choosing (silicone oil, Floetrol, dish soap, rubbing alcohol, or other)
Since acrylic is a water-based paint, oil-based additives tend to work best. You can also use a traditional painting medium such as Floetrol, which produces great results with or without a blow torch.
Keep reading below to get details of the different additive methods available and choose the one that best fits your needs.
Floetrol is a type of latex paint additive that improves the flow and leveling of paint. Naturally, an additive like this would work great for acrylic pouring which relies on a good flow in the paint.
A lot of artists use Floetrol to create cells in acrylic pouring because it’s designed for paint, so you know it will work well when mixed. Since Floetrol helps improve the flow, it creates cells on its own without any other additive or the help of a blow torch.
Even though it’s not necessary, you can still use a blow torch on an acrylic pour that has Floetrol mixed in. This will increase your number of cells and help make the cells larger.
Another paint pouring medium that artists use is called Liquitex. This will work just as great as Floetrol. It does come at a higher price tag, but has options for different finishes including gloss, matte, and iridescent.
Aside from traditional paint mediums, silicone oil is the most popular additive for creating cells. Just as with Floetrol, silicone will create beautiful cells with or without the help of a blow torch.
You can use the silicone oil by putting a couple drops directly into your paint cup and mixing or pouring your paint onto the canvas and dipping a toothpick or comb into silicone oil to dab at the paint.
If you use the dabbing method rather than mixing it directly in, you can have more control over where the cells are created, giving you more freedom to create a pattern with your cells.
Some people dislike silicone oil because it tends to decrease the lifespan of your painting. It will degrade the paint and often start to yellow over time, changing the colors and look of your painting.
It also has a very strong chemical smell, which can be very off-putting to some artists and cause headaches.
If you can handle the smell, though, silicone is by far the best additive for creating cells in acrylic pouring aside from Floetrol. Some artists will even use both, adding Floetrol and silicone oil to their paint.
If you’re interested in picking up a bottle of silicone oil, we recommend this Unicone Art Silicone Oil. You can also check out your local art supply store.
There’s also a type of silicone oil called dimethicone that’s traditionally used in hair care and cosmetic products but works great in producing cells in acrylic pouring. We like the live4art brand Dimethicone Oil for artistic use.
3. Dish Soap
Although not as commonly used, dish soap is another way to create cells in acrylic pouring.
To use dish soap, you’ll need to first mix it in with some water until it starts to get bubbly. When adding this mixture to your paint, be careful not to add too much or your paint will be too thin.
Dish soap tends to cause the paints to overmix, but if you want your paints to be more blended and less contrasting, this would be perfect for you!
A blow torch really helps when using dish soap for cells, so we highly recommend picking one up if you’re going to use this method.
Keep in mind that your cells when using dish soap will not be as dynamic and large. This method is ideal if you’re looking to create a more subtle look with your cells.
Even though the cells aren’t as visually striking, people enjoy using dish soap rather than silicone oil because it doesn’t have that strong chemical smell and is more common to already have on hand.
4. Rubbing Alcohol
Another lesser-used additive is rubbing alcohol.
Adding rubbing alcohol to your paint will have the same thin consistency issue as adding dish soap and water. You’ll notice your paints beginning to overmix before you’ve even poured them on the canvas, so keep that in mind with this method.
Artists use rubbing alcohol because it tends to create thinner cell walls and less layers, so it offers a different look from the traditional cells in acrylic pouring.
The most important thing to keep in mind when using rubbing alcohol is to not use a blow torch on the paint or your canvas will catch fire.
Alcohol is highly flammable, so using this additive will prevent you from being able to use a blow torch or hair dryer.
Techniques For Acrylic Pouring With Cells
If you’re interested in learning cool techniques for acrylic pouring and cells, we highly recommend checking out Olga Soby’s YouTube channel. She has multiple videos with techniques for acrylic pouring. This one is specifically for cells:
She also has a comparison video of the results you can achieve using silicone oil, dish soap, and rubbing alcohol to create cells in acrylic pouring.