Achieve big, beautiful cells in your fluid art.
Cells are created when you mix acrylic paint with additives and pour them onto a surface. The best additives include, pouring medium and silicone oil. There’s a lot of secrets to getting the right mix, but it isn’t as hard as you think! So let’s dive into how to create your dream cells in your artwork at home.
Firstly, why do cells form?
There are a lot of reasons why cells occur in acrylic pouring. One main reason is that cells develop from mixing acrylic paint with additives. The additives have oil-like components which react with the water-base of acrylic paint. When the paint settles and bubbles rise to the surface and awesome cell patterns emerge.
A lot of people want to achieve the “best cells” and get very frustrated when they cannot create them.
Well…. let me tell you, you have come to the right place to learn!
Not only will I tell you about how to get the best cells, but also, how to stop them if you don’t want them sometimes.
Cells are really popular in paint pouring because they make a unique pattern which you can not get with many other art forms.
Today we will be discussing;
- How cells are created
- How density affects acrylic cells
- How to get lots of big cells
- Acrylic Cell Recipe!
- Why are acrylic cells so popular
- Why some people avoid using silicone
- Alternatives to silicone oil
- Different pouring mediums and cells
- Techniques that create cells
- Which method is best for creating cells
- What kind of silicone should you use
- What causes cells in acrylic pouring
- What can be used as a substitute for silicone
- How to avoid creating cells
How are cells created in acrylic pouring?
Cells are created by mixing acrylic paint with an additive like pouring medium (and optional silicone oil too) and pouring the mixture through a range of different techniques onto a surface.
How density affects acrylic cells
Cells size, colour and shape will vary depending on the consistency and the density of the paint.
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Every color (pigment) of your chosen acrylic paint will have different specific gravity. The higher their specific gravity, the lower the paint will sink in the mix. Which means that when you layer your paint on the canvas the thinnest paint will rise to the surface and the densest will drop to the bottom.
This is due to the ingredients separating from each other, the different colours overlap and reveal cells.
This action causes cells to occur.
If you wish to know more about the density of the paints, there are many YouTube videos which give more information. There are also brands such as Golden, which is known for labelling each and every paint color with the specific density on the labels. This makes them a popular choice of acrylic paints among artists.
However, for the purpose of beginning acrylic pouring, the act of trial and error is a very effective way to learn about colour densities. For example, a painting with deep purple, dark blue and black will rise to the surface more than its white (denser) counterpart. In your learning you will quickly realise to use more white in the mix, so that it lifts the overall color of the piece.
One way you could try and check density is by weighing each of your acrylic paint colours, by using a kitchen scale before layering them in your cup.
How to get lots of big cells!
You will get lots of big cells by adding both pouring medium and silicone oil to your acrylic paint mix. When you pour this mixture onto a surface the cells will very quickly reveal themselves.
However, it is a common misconception that you need both silicone oil and pouring medium to create any cells.
You do not need both. You can still create many cells without needing silicone oil at all! Pouring medium alone is very effective. Silicone oil creates larger cells, whereas pouring medium creates lots of little cells.
Another way to achieve cells is by pouring a line of paint, and blowing it with air. When the paint moves from being blown, the two layers collide creating all new cell patterns as seen below.
Acrylic Cells Recipe
Here is a recipe, but remember recipes aren’t always accurate because every paint differs in density. In one standard (large) cup, add approximately half paint, to half pouring medium, plus a dash of water, plus a few drops of silicone.
Another recipe which works well is a ratio of 1/2 a cup of paint to 1 cup of pouring medium. Plus a dash of water and drops of silicone oil. Mix very well.
Remember silicone oil is optional!
The cells in the above painting were achieved with no silicone oil. Just floetrol (pouring medium).
Why are acrylic cells so popular?
There are many reasons that artists do or don’t want cells included in their work. It is known as more of a love-hate relationship because they bring amazing color and variable combinations, but can cause unwanted distractions too.
Their beauty is in their randomness. It is the spontaneous nature of cells that artists get addicted to.
The fluids interact in unknown ways and you do not know how a piece will look until they hit the canvas. The outcome is very uncertain and cells results are one of the joys of acrylic pouring.
There are ways that you can make cells where you want them to appear, but in most cases, it is just luck.
Above all, cells are the most popular because they captivate and amaze audiences. People are enticed by the intricacies and the random nature of the cells and how they appear.
I am sure that once you have mastered this technique it will probably become one of your favorites too all while impressing others with it!
Why some people avoid using silicone?
Using silicone as an additive is a much-debated topic in acrylic pouring. Many artists avoid it as it can reduce the archival quality or the lifespan of the artwork. It can also have a yellowing effect on the paint itself and can degrade the artwork over time.
This doesn’t really bother me, I have used it many times, years ago and the artworks still look great today. But this might bother other professionals.
It is also a strong chemical, if you are highly sensitive to chemicals then again it is probably not for you, but this will depend on the specific brand that you use. You can always opt to use protective gear like a mask when using it too.
Alternatives to silicone oil – blow torching
There are many alternative options to silicone oils. You can use a Bunsen burner or professional kitchen torch instead.
The reason that torching your acrylic pours is preferable is that it can remove and pop bubbles on the surface of your artwork. By popping the bubbles, it will prevent holes and defects from appearing in the finished piece. It is also a more controlled application of cells, you can choose where you want to put them!
Make sure you are careful when using a butane torch and do not leave the flame unattended. Also, keep it away from flammable substances and work in a well-ventilated area! Read the instructions and follow them carefully.
To use this method, lightly wave the torch over your finished canvas once you have applied the paint mix. This should be done approximately 5 to 6 inches above the canvas.
Do not hold it over one area for too long, as this can lead to yellowing, dimples in the paint, or even damage and burn your paint and artwork.
A gas-powered torch that you can direct on your canvas is the preferable method. The small butane kitchen torches are perfect for this!
If you want lots of smaller cells then this method will also work in your favor. But if you want fewer, larger cells, then this is not the approach for you and silicone may be better.
There are many factors that influence the creation of cells, and that is what we are going to be continuing to look at below. If you want to experiment with acrylic pouring and demonstrate all of the patterns that you are capable of making, then remember that this is just one of them.
Different pouring mediums and cells
Using different pouring mediums can have a great effect on the creation of cells in your work. The main considerations for mediums in cell creation are their density and chemical properties.
A few common mediums are listed below for you defining their qualities and how they can possibly affect cells in your fluid painting. There is also one alcohol additive that has been praised by artists when they are looking to create eye-catching cells in their own pouring paint.
Different pouring mediums and additives:
- Floetrol – By just using floetrol, water and acrylic paint, you will achieve many cells. This can be found affordably at hardware stores and is a great pouring medium. It has a medium consistency, which is known as all-purpose. Floetrol is known for creating many smaller cells. But sometimes it needs a bit of extra manipulation, like blowing the paint to reveal them.
- Other Pouring Mediums – Also just as effective and similar to floetrol. But instead you will find these at art shops they may be more expensive too so just be aware of the price tag.
- Water – If you thin your paint with water then only expect to see small cell activity. If you use too much water it can have a negative effect on the integrity of your paint, and make it less vibrant and less likely to stick to the canvas. It can also cause the paint to crack. Some people only use distilled water to avoid the bacteria that may come in tap water but I have neve rhad an issue with just using tap water.
- Isopropyl Alcohol – Similarly to water, you should only use minimal alcohol in your pouring paint. It can cause problems when the paint dries if you use too much. With a higher percentage of alcohol you will need a lot less added to your mix! But alcohol is known for adding additional cells.
- Silicone Oil – Known for creating bulk, slightly larger cells in acrylic pouring. There are many different brands and you only need to add a few drops!
- 100% Dimethicone (In some hair oils) – The verdict is that yes this additive does create larger cells too. If you want to explore new substances give it a try.
Techniques that create cells
There are many ways to create cells when acrylic pouring. Each and every product with each technique is slightly different in its makeup which is why there is not one best method that will work for everyone, there is a range of ways to create in acrylic pouring!
- Dirty Pour – The dirty pour cup is created by pouring multiple paints together. The density of the different paints can organically create cells as the heaver paints fall to the bottom of the cup and the lighter ones rise to the top. By pouring the paint into the cup from high up you can also force the paint to mix which also creates cells. Alternatively you can give it an ever so slight mix, or wobble of the cup to help the paint combine slightly in the cup. Don’t actually mix the paints together though, or they may turn out muddy and brown.
- Flip Cup Pour – The flip cup pour starts with a dirty pour cup of paint. The cup is then flipped over all at once on the painting surface instead of poured out. If you want to get even more cells, cover the canvas lightly with a single color of slightly more fluid acrylic pour paint before doing the flip cup.
- Strainer/Colander Pour – Start with a dirty pour cup and pour it through a strainer or colander onto the canvas.
- Bottle Pour – Cut the button 2 inches off a one- or two-litre bottle. Turn this bottle bottom upside down and pour your paint onto the bottle so it separates into multiple streams over the bottle bottom. As the paint flows into each other at the bottom of the bottle it will create cells between layers.
- Swipe Pour – This is one of our favorites. Pour your paint onto your canvas using any of the techniques you have learned. Then pour a single color along one of your edges. Now gently take a spackle knife or a painter’s knife and pull that new paint lightly across the other paint on the canvas. The new paint will flow over the previously poured paint and create an amazing webbing effect.
- Dutch Pour – Cover your canvas lightly with white paint. Now pour a few additional colors into the center of the painting surface. Once this is done around the outside of the paint you just poured, pour a good helping of the white. Now blow the white paint from all directions over on top of the colored paint. Most people use a hairdryer to do this. Once this is done blow from the center of the new pile of paint to the edges of the canvas. Because you are forcing the paint to flow over each other you will get cells to form.
- Using a Hair Dryer – Using a hair dryer to blow your paint creates hundreds of cells and helps blends your paint colors in an interesting way. Using a hair dryer at least 10cm away from the paint, allow the hair dryer to blow the paint at an angle. Do not face it directly down, have it on a 45 degree angle so that the paint blows outwards. Make sure you move the hair dryer consistently and move quickly because this is a fast paced technique!
Which is the best acrylic pouring method for cells?
Generally speaking, there is no perfect method for creating cells. This would all depend on your individual taste and how you want the cells to look in the finished product.
The techniques which seem to create the most cells are the Swipe Method, Flip Cup Technique and any techniques where the paint gets blown (like the dutch pour).
It is important to note that I have tried the Swipe Method without silicone and it didn’t work. Silicone oil is a must for this technique.
You can test the methods I have described to see how they work on your canvas and from here decide what is best for you.
I can however say that my favorite methods for creating cells so far is the flip cup, wave technique (blowing waves) and dutch pour (blowing the paint with a hair dryer).
What kind of silicone should be used
Silicone oil can be found in many different products and is pretty easy to source. Often people use WD-40 spray lubricant from the hardware store, which has a very high concentration of silicone. I don’t like using this personally though. I much prefer actual silicone oil art brands. Using WD-40 is an aerosol and it gave me headaches when I tried it!
WD-40 is definitely an easy to source entry-level option for anyone who is just starting out on their acrylic pouring journey and wants to experiment with cells in their artwork. I recommend using art branded silicone oil though. I use also found this one available on Amazon.
This method of achieving cells is also debated as something that will actually diminish the longevity of your work. If you want to keep your art for a long time then silicone oil may not be the best option for you.
Other types of silicone oil that you can use include hair oils. These vary greatly in their make up which is why before purchasing you should look at the ingredients list, Dimethicone should be pretty close to the top! This is the type of silicone that is used in a hair oil.
To get the best effect you will usually want to add 2-3 drops of the silicone oil or silicone-based product to your paint when you are mixing in the pouring medium to start creating cells.
This can vary, depending on the brand of paint that you are using, the consistency of the medium, and a range of other factors that will affect the finished product. The right mix will come down to experimentation to find what works best for you.
A good starting point is to add acrylic paint, and your chosen pouring medium in a ratio of 1:1.5 with 2-3 drops of silicone oil. Only place the silicone oil in the colors where you want your cells to appear.
Experiment with the different mixes side by side to see how the results vary. If you want bigger cells in your work then do not stir the acrylic paint once you have added the silicone oil. This will make it split off into smaller cells on your canvas.
How to avoid making cells in acrylic pouring?
Sometimes you may not want to create cells in an artwork, but still want to create a flowing acrylic look. If you just use your pouring medium and use a technique such as ring pour, you will end up with much less cells.
If you don’t want cells, make sure you don’t add any other additives or use cell creating techniques. For example if you blow air on the paint, use a blow torch or add silicone oil the cells will be strengthened.
Another option is PVA glue, it barely creates any cells at all!
Frequently asked questions
What causes cells in acrylic pouring?
There are many factors at play when we create cells in our acrylic paint pouring. They tend to form most prominently when there is a significant difference in density between the paint colors.
There are several tried and tested methods of achieving cells in your acrylic pour, but the number of cells that you get and the size of the cells are determined by that all-important difference in density of the colors.
Some paints are denser than others, and it will take a little experimenting with different brands and different consistencies in order to see what gives the effect that you are searching for in your painting.
The main methods at play when we are trying to achieve cells in acrylic pouring are by varying the density of the paint, blowing the paint, adding a silicone oil, or use of the torch method.
We have talked about density, but adding silicone will stop the colors from mixing and separate, forming cells. The heat from a professional kitchen torch will do the same.
When using a torch it is important to note that you do not want to hold it to the artwork for too long as it may cause irreparable damage. You may also use a hot-air dryer as a substitute too.
What can I use instead of silicone in acrylic pouring?
You do not always need to add silicone oil to your paint in order to get beautiful cells in your artwork, this is just one method. The reason it is so popular is that it is cheap and effective. For beginners, it is also the easiest method to use.
The same effect can sometimes be replicated with no silicone additive by using Floetrol or another type of pouring medium. The best pouring mediums are designed to give the best consistency so they do not often create separate layers to produce cells.
As mentioned above, varying density in the paints that you are using and applying heat may also give you cells in your work.
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