White. Blue. Black. Gold. Repeat. Different amount and density of paint mixtures in specific colours are poured into a plastic cup until the vessel is almost three-quarter full. With steady hands, the artist places a framed canvas on top of the cup and swiftly flips the whole thing upside down.
The cup is left in that position for a couple of minutes to allow for the paint to work its magic. “White has a heavier pigment and sinks to the bottom. Along the way it will drag the dark blues and gold down together so there’s some nice mixing happening in the cup. Something magical. We’ll wait and see,” begins acrylic-pouring artist, Arhnue Tan, her eyes dancing excitedly.
Two minutes later, Tan lifts the cup, releasing a stunning composition of colours in the process. It’s a beautiful mess that reminds me of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. With no clear idea of what to expect, the 35-year-old gently moves the canvas around as the fluid paint begins to form a nice texture all around. White nets start to form on top of the dark blue surface while on the bottom, what looks like cracked eggshells begin to emerge.
“It will continue to ‘evolve’ until the paint is dried. Knowing your materials will help you achieve all types of lacing and cellular patterns on your painting. It’s all a play on density, colour mix and the different formulas,” explains Tan, before revealing with a flourish: “There you go — the flip-cup painting technique.”
There are many different techniques when it comes to acrylic-pouring and each one yields different outcomes. The most basic technique, says Tan, is known as a ‘dirty pour’, with flip-cup, flip-and-drag and swirl movements adding to the varying levels of difficulty.
Pouring is magical
Pouring art is an unconventionally innovative way to create artworks. The defining characteristic of this painting technique is that you don’t apply the paint with a brush or palette knife. Instead, you use gravity to move the paint across a canvas.
This method allows for the colours in their various densities to blend naturally as they come in contact with each other. You can either use one colour at a time, or multiple paints to maximise the colour blending.
This is a very experimental form of art with a high risk of failure. Subtle effects such as change in colour or muddy splotches from the interaction between different liquid colours can also affect the outcome during the drying process.
“I’ve wasted so much paint experimenting with different techniques and colour combos. It’s both fascinating and frustrating at the same time because you simply don’t know what to expect,” shares Tan, before regaling us with her many incidents of unsuccessful ‘pours’.
While the practice of pouring is definitely not a new way to apply paint, it can get pretty challenging and costly to achieve consistent results. However, it’s vital to the process and conducting continuous experiments is integral towards understanding what are the most critical controlling factors, which preside over the basic paint-pouring itself.
For example, Tan relies a lot on her intuition when it comes to getting the formulas right. “There’s a certain formula for every mixture and it differs with every brand. It’s like cooking where there’s lots of agak-agak (estimation) and practise. You’ll slowly find what works and what doesn’t, what creates different outcomes, and what brings out your favourite effects.”
There are as many methods as there are product combinations to try. It’s important to appreciate each acrylic paint colour as it has its own unique formula, and pigments vary in their density and ability to move and spread. Then you need to factor in the addition of water and other mediums. Toss in the impact of the painting substrate and also your current state of mind. Suddenly, predictable pouring seems unattainable. Enthuses Tan: “The key thing for me is knowing when to stop because with dirty pours for instance, I can just go on and on with the composition.”
Born in Penang and of Chinese and Indian descent, Tan moved to Subang, Selangor at the age of 10. “I studied Economics and Finance in Melbourne and got myself a job soon after I graduated. I worked as an investment analyst for over 11 years. Work was very demanding and time-consuming,” recalls the self-confessed avid traveller.
She left her job at the beginning of 2016. “I started to wonder what I was doing with my life. As I enjoyed travelling and diving, I decided to spend the entire year doing the things I like. I went on eight diving trips that year and it was the time when I started taking art classes.” She began with oil painting before graduating to watercolour and sketching.
“To be honest, I was afraid in the beginning. But when you put pen to paper, you’re halfway there. After a while, you kind of can ‘draw’,” confides Tan. It was sometime early last year that she began attending acrylic-pouring classes conducted by a European lady. “I was taught the basics and had to discover my own styles, learn different techniques and familiarise myself with the flow of the art,” recalls Tan.
She remembers quite vividly her trip to the art store where she splurged on various acrylic paints and art materials. “RM1,000 later and I asked myself what on earth I was going to do with all that stuff! So I went home and tried every possible combinations and mixtures on the floor. I ended up having a lot of fun with my new-found techniques.”
It wasn’t long before she started posting her works online where she managed to garner encouraging feedbacks and made some sales along the way. Several months later, Tan was approached by the Craft Crowd, an art and craft set up, to organise workshops on acrylic pouring. With the help of social media and a little luck, her classes became a hit!
“I think being able to create something truly inspires me. In fund management and investment, you have a tangible outcome and your clients pick up those numbers. But this is where I can ‘produce’ something tangible that is unique and can inspire others,” says Tan.
The bubbly artist recently conducted a pouring workshop for 10 wheelchair-bound seniors in an elderly care centre that was looking to bring something different for the old folks. “When the paint started coming into the cup, their eyes lit up. When they were pouring, they literally moaned at the sight of what they were creating. It was the first time that I was doing something like this and it really warmed the heart. It just shows me that I can do so much more with pouring art,” shares Tan, her smile wide.
The artist believes that acrylic pouring can be simplified in such a way that it can become accessible to everyone. If you don’t mind a bit of mess and spending a fair bit on paint (which can be quite expensive), it really is rather fun to try.
Tan returned to a full time career last year. But that’s not to say that she’s planning on giving up on this art form any time soon. In fact, she’s hoping to take it to the next level. “I see myself pouring more and exploring different styles this year. This is more than just a hobby. There’s something going on for sure. I just don’t know what it is,” confides Tan, concluding mysteriously.