Mini Tutorial: Fluid Art with Air Compressor

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I get asked about the supplies I use on social media a lot. For those of you who have interacted with my Instagram account, you know that I am always open to sharing pretty much everything I do in the studio. Though, as my exposure grows on various platforms (like Tiktok!), I don’t have enough time in the day to respond to all of the comments and questions like I wish I could. So, I’ll try to post more tutorials like this in the future to make sure that I answer as many questions at once as I can.

Fluid Paint + An Air Compressor

This is my favorite way to work with fluid paint. Sure, a flip cup or dirty pour has its value, but when you use an air compressor you give yourself more control in the design of your artwork. I know that not everyone has access to a compressor so I will post alternative tools as well.

MATERIALS AND SUPPLIES I USE:

*Links contained in this post are affiliate links and I will earn a commission if you make a purchase.

  • 2 Gallon Hot Dog Air Compressor (Amazon)
  • Fluid Paint Mixture
    • Soft Body acrylic paint (your choice in 2-4 colors plus plain white)
    • Flood Floetrol (Amazon or local home improvement/paint store)
    • Water
  • Cake Frosting Spatula (Amazon)
  • Squeeze Bottles
  • Cups for mixing
  • Stir stick (I use free paint sticks from the paint store)
  • 9″x12″ Stretched Canvas (Blick)
  • 20 Gauge Fineline Precision Applicator (Amazon or Blick)
  • Black Acrylic Paint- Brea Reese (Amazon) or Liquitex Basics (Amazon)
  • Gloves and plastic covering for your work area

General Directions:

Mix Your Paint:

My fluid paint recipe is really simple and cheap(ish) to make. You don’t need to get all fancy with Liquitex Pouring Medium or anything like that. Floetrol is an excellent affordable mixing medium.

You are going to need more white mixture than colors. The white is your base. I store my white paint in 16oz squeeze bottles and my colors in 4oz bottles. I can get maybe 7-9 complete 8″x10″ or 9″x12″ paintings from 1 16oz bottle of white mixture and a few 4oz colors. Depending on how creative you’re feeling, mix accordingly.

Basic Paint Mix Ratio: 1/3 paint + 1/3 floetrol + roughly 1/3 water

To begin, take a cup and your first color of paint. Mix 1/2 acrylic paint, and 1/2 floetrol with your stir stick. Once smooth, mix a little bit of water in and stir. Lift your stir stick and watch the paint run off the end. You want a smooth, yet thick stream of paint running down. If it doesn’t fall easily, keep adding more water. By the end, the mixture is about 1/3 of each paint, floetrol, and water. I never go over 1/3 water, but you can play with less to experiment with thicker consistencies. I know some artists that feel water should never be used in fluid mixtures, but my style aims for more of a wispy watercolor end result so I like a thinner consistency.

Once your paint is mixed, pour it into a squeeze bottle and move onto the next color. (If you’re lazy like I often am, you can just pour everything into your squeeze bottle and shake the crap out of it to mix. Then let the bottle rest for a while to reduce bubbles.)

Assemble your air compressor Parts

If you splurge and get a full compressor, you’ll need to put the hose and hand gun together. You can find plenty of YouTube videos to help you assemble the hose and handgun. Just remember to wrap each threaded component with thread seal tape to prevent air leaks.

Compressor Alternatives:

  • A drinking straw- depending on your lung capacity this can work for small pieces.
  • A can of compressed air (Amazon)- works for small pieces, but can be wasteful if used often.

Air compressors are loud, so plan on operating away from people and use ear plugs. Always make sure to drain the tank to prevent moisture build up once you’re done. Also, I fill then tank and then shut off the compressor so it doesn’t auto-fill and scare the crap out of me when it kicks on.

Test the air compressor handgun after filling the tank to see how sensitive the trigger is. Sometimes, this particular handgun does an abrupt blast of air when I’m not expecting it. I’ve linked the kit I use, but you might want to upgrade to a better handgun.

Cover Everything In Plastic or Construction Paper

When you are blowing paint around with air, things can get messy. Cover the walls and your work surface. You’ll thank me later if your compressor handgun gets a little sensitive and lets out that big blast of air.

THE BACKGROUND:

That was a lot of prep work! You ready to actually paint now?

  1. Place your canvas on a couple of cups to raise it off your table.
  2. Fill your compressor and shut off the tank.
  3. Using the white mixture and the cake spatula, lay down a thin cover of paint. Spread it out with the spatula. You don’t need too thick of a layer. Just enough to cover the canvas threading.
  4. Place a few drops of your colors left and right of the center of the canvas.
  5. Using your compressor hand gun, let out a gentle stream of air at first and increase pressure as needed to blow the colors to the edges of the canvas creating a fan like look.
  6. Deposit more color if desired and blow with the compressor again.
  7. In the center, deposit a drop or two of color and using a gentle stream again, blow the color in a circle by moving your hand in a circular motion. You can add more drops of color for each circle you create, or just use the circular motion on color that’s already laid down.
  8. Once you are satisfied with your arrangement, let the canvas dry completely. (Usually 12-24 hours. You can put a fan on the canvas if you want to speed up the process. This may cause paint to crack if your mixture is too thick.)

Line Work

Once your canvas is dry, take your fineline precision applicator and fill it about half full with black acrylic paint. Then add a little bit of water and shake the bottle with your thumb over the top to mix it. The paint needs to flow easily out of the tip, so mix and test the tip. If it’s too hard to squeeze paint out, add a little more water and repeat. It the paint is too thin and pours out of the tip, add more paint.

Once filled, test the applicator on a blank canvas to get the feel for it. You’ll need to practice using different pressure with the tip, as it can “catch” on the canvas texture of you aren’t used to it.

My general process with art is to create a little controlled chaos and then organize it with line work. With this particular piece, the goal is to bring out the circular shapes made in the middle of the canvas. Choose an area and start doodling. Let the colors guide where your lines go, but then add your own little embellishments to it.

Once finished, let the canvas dry and then apply your favorite varnish. I like Liquitex High Gloss varnish (Amazon or Blick) for all of my work.

And that’s all! Let me know if you have questions.

***

If you enjoyed this little tutorial and want to learn more, let me know through Instagram or Email, or consider becoming a Patron of mine (See details below!) Now go get messy and share your creation on Instagram using #messyeverafter!

-Kelly

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Further Reading:
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