How to Avoid Muddy Colors in Acrylic Pouring

"I keep trying but each go is unsuccessful. I'm getting frustrated... I am usually just ending up with mud." This is what a paint pouring friend said to me not too long ago as she asked for some advice on how to avoid muddy colors in acrylic pouring. 

Does that sound anything like you? 

Are you frustrated because nothing is looking right... or are you always scraping away?

If so, you are in luck my friend! This post will help you learn why your colors are turning into mud and find a few solutions to fix this issue for good.

What is a muddy pour?

muddy pour is a paint pour who's bright and vivid colors have turned dull and have a brownish, grayish, or blackish hint to them. Just a few of the colors can turn muddy-looking or you can get a piece with an overwhelming muddiness. The piece you see below is an example of a bright and colorful acrylic pour that turned muddy and vomit-looking. 

5 Reasons why your acrylic pour is turning muddy

So why does an acrylic pour turn muddy?

Muddy pours are a result of 5 primary factors... choosing the wrong combination of colors, over-tilting/over-manipulating a painting, working with low quality paints, not getting the right paint consistency, and not taking into account the density of your paints. 

How to avoid getting a muddy pour 

#1. Color choice

The main reason for getting a muddy pour painting is your color selection. It is super important to choose colors that work well with each other and NOT JUST look beautiful next to each other

Some colors look beautiful when sitting next to each other, but once mixed, they will create a disaster on your canvas. This is caused by a phenomenon I like to call the "Color Tug-of-War"

Without addressing Color Tug-of-war, creating vibrant color-bursting masterpieces... or even just creating a decent looking pour painting is basically impossible. 

See, Color Tug-of-war is when the color choices in your color palette are tugging at each other rather than working together as a team!

There will always be a stronger team of colors that will end up tugging the losing color team into the ground... 

And Disaster Will Happen!  

Colors will turn up all muddy and will make your paintings look ugly!

So how do you fix "Color-tug-of-war"?

  • Solution #1. Well, this requires some color theory knowledge and strategically choosing your colors (which might take some time to learn), but as a general rule, I suggest that you choose colors that are on the same side of the color wheel.

    If you are a beginner, get yourself a color wheel and start learning a little about primary, secondary, and tertiary colors as well as learning some color theory for acrylic pouring by reading this "How to Choose Perfect Acrylic Pouring Combos" post. 
  • Solution #2. Be extra careful when layering your complementary colors. Complementary colors look beautiful next to each other but turn into mud when mixed together. Layer them as far apart from each other as possible. 
  • Solution #3. If you want a QUICK SOLUTION to avoiding muddy colors, then take a look at my NEW Color Roadmapping Formula that will transform your vomit-looking fluid art into vibrant color-bursting masterpieces EVEN IF you have no artistic bone in your body. 

Sometimes even professional artists or those who have already taken a color-theory course before still have issues with color tug-of-war when it comes to acrylic pouring. Why? Because the color theory courses that are available at schools and online (that most people have taken) are mostly meant to be used only for regular acrylic painting, NOT fluid art. 

So if you are a beginner, or even an experienced painter who has a color wheel but feel like something doesn't click, then check out my "Color Roadmapping Formula".

#2. Over-tilting/Over-manipulating

Over-tilting/over-manipulating the paint when layered inside a cup or when on a canvas is also one of the main reasons that colors can turn muddy looking.

The more colors that are mixed into each other, the more muddiness you will get. So when you keep tilting an acrylic pour painting, the colors will continue mixing more and more with each other.

  • Solution #1: Control the urge to over-tilt your paint pour. The more tilting you do, the more muddiness you will get! This is easier said than done because it is sometimes hard to know when to stop. But here is a tip for you... the more fluid your paint is, the less you should tilt. 
  • Solution #2: Layer the colors carefully over each other. By slowly pouring the paint colors (one at a time) down the sides of your cup rather than dumping them from high above the cup, the paint colors will layer nicely on top of each other rather than sinking and mixing into each other creating mud. This is specially true when using complementary colors like blue and orange, yellow and purple, or red and green.

#3. Paint consistency

The thinner and more watery your paint mixtures are, the easier they will mix with each other, regardless of how little you manipulate it or how little you tilt your canvas. 

  • Solution #1: Thicken up your paint mixes. When adding your pouring medium or water into your paints, add them slowly and little by little. It's easier to get the right paint consistency by adding a little bit of pouring medium and water at a time then trying to thicken up a paint mixture that is too thin by adding more paint. But if you already have a paint mixture that is too thin, just add more paint until you mixture thickens up to the right consistency.

    Here's a video that shows how I test my paint consistency (and other beginner mistakes).
  • Solution #2: Change your craft paints for medium body paints. If you are using craft paints (those that usually come in a bottle) and you are having trouble getting your paint consistency to thicken up, then it might be time to exchange them for medium body paints (like the ones that usually come in a big tube). 

#4. Paint Density

When doing an acrylic pour, you have to take into account the density of your paints. This step is sometimes overlooked by beginners as it requires some knowledge about the types of paints that are being used for a pour. And many times, even the paint manufacturers don't even list the paint density of their paints on their website or on the paint tubes. No wonder that this is sooo overlooked!

So what is paint density?

Paints that are more dense than others will sink to the bottom (like pebbles dropped into a cup of water) while the less dense paints will rise to the top (like leaves floating on the surface of the water). 

So when you layer paints inside a cup, the denser paint will sink to the bottom, passing through all the other layers of paints below it and getting mixed with the other layers of colors as it sinks through. 

Generally speaking, pigments are denser if they have a titanium, cobalt, or cadmium base.

  • Solution. Layer your paints according to their density. First, search the densities of the paints you are using. If you don't want your colors to mix with each other, make sure the denser paints sit right on top of the canvas and the less dense paints sit right on top of the denser paints. 

#5. Paint Quality

A muddy pour can sometimes be caused by cheap paints that have are not highly pigmented.

  • Solution #1. Buy higher quality paints. A muddy pour can sometimes be easily fixed just by using good quality paints. Yes, it might be a little bit more costly to purchase higher quality paints like Amsterdam, Liquitex Basics, or Winsor & Newton, but in the end you will end up spending less money because you will not throw away ruined canvases.
  • Solution #2. Don't dilute your paints too much. If you add too much pouring medium, you will end up with a paint mixture that doesn't have enough pigments in it, leaving your painting looking washed out. Only add about 1-4 parts of pouring medium to 1 part of paint. If it needs to be thinned down a little bit more, add a few drops of water until you get the right paint consistency.

What to do if you end up with a muddy pour?

So, you’ve already poured your paints, tilted your canvas, and realized you got a muddy pour. Here are a few things you can do.

  • Pour more paint on it. If you are not happy with some areas of your painting because they look a little muddy, then you can always pour more paint on them while the paint is still wet. Layer a few more colors in a cup, pour them on the muddy areas to cover them up, and tilt again.
  • Scrape it. Yes, scraping might seem like a waste of paint, however, it doesn't have to be. You can save your scraped paint in a jar and use it as a background in another pour. It's better to scrape it now when the paint is fresh and can be saved, than to let it dry and go to waste anyway.
  • Pour over it. If your painting muddied while it was drying, you can always pour over it after it has completely dried. Just add a layer of acrylic spray varnish on the dried paint and let the varnish completely dry before pouring over it. 
  • Embellish it. If your pour painting is not too muddy, you might be able to cover some of the muddy areas with embellishments. Here are some ideas on how to embellish acrylic pours.

Final Thoughts

Still struggling with muddy pours or choosing beautiful color schemes?

Do you have a color chart but something just doesn't click for you? 


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