Action Painting – A Straw, Acrylic Paint and a Toothbrush

Straw and watercolour painting Dec 20141611 006

Today’s exercise is a variation on the drip technique and really easy to do. You can probably remember doing this as a kid. I used acrylic paint, a straw and paper to get this effect. You can use watercolor just as successfully.

The idea is to make puddles of paint on your paper and blow patterns into them with a straw.

1611 005

You can add more or less water to your paint in some areas or change colors to get different effects. You can be even more creative by drawing on the paper with a wax candle to create another layer before you drip the paint. I did this on the work above.

It’s fun to allow one colour to dry and then put another on top. There is no end to the variety of compositional ideas for future paintings to come out of this process.

For more on Action Painting see my previous post, “The Painting That Creates Itself.”

Here is a 2 minute YouTube video showing a person creating a drip portrait by using a toothbrush,  enjoy!


The Painting That Creates Itself

Art from Inutitiuon Ex1a


Today’s practice exercise is all about Action painting.  It’s about dripping, dabbing, smearing and spilling colours all over the place with no particular idea or plan.  Don’t be surprised if you come up with something worth framing, I did.

Action painting (sometimes called gestural abstraction) was used in the 1950s by Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

Both artists created masterpieces by pouring, dripping and spilling paint over the canvas. And you can too, all you have to do is give up control and allow the paint to create its magic.

I have found watercolor to be the most exciting medium for this exercise, especially when used in conjunction with a wax candle although this is optional.

It all takes about 30 minutes plus some time for the first application of paint to dry.  For success my tip is always to “put the paint down and leave it!

This is what you’ll need:

  • 1 sheet watercolor paper (any size but A2 is best), newspaper or butchers’ paper is okay for other mediums.
  • Masking tape
  • A board to tape the paper on
  • 3 different sized brushes including 1 large one
  • 3 or 4 tubes of cheap watercolor paint
  • Plastic containers for water and paint
  • Rags
  • Rubber gloves if desired
  • 1 cheap household wax candle (optional)

First, tape your paper to the board. If you don’t have a board you can just lay the paper down somewhere where you can make a splash without worrying. I put down an old sheet or a piece of plastic to catch spills.

Draw over the paper with the candle (the marks will be invisible but will reappear later.) You can use straight lines as I did or any type of squiggle works. I usually shut my eyes and use my left hand for this just to continue with the “giving up of control” theme we are using in this exercise.

Now choose a color and mix it with water. Drip, splash from the brush or pour the paint over the paper. Make sure not to overdo it and leave some white paper. Now choose another color and drip a small amount of this color over the existing color and allow it to blend by itself. Do not touch the paper at all, allow the paint to run together.

Art from Inutitiuon Ex1c Art from Inutitiuon Ex1d

For the first painting I used blue and purple and the second one red and blue. The first was created by pouring and the second by dripping. With the first one I used a spray bottle of water to soften the edges and create a staining effect.  See how the colors are starting to run together?

You will now start to see the lovely candle marks and the way they separate the paint by creating resistance. It is best to have a break now for 30 minutes at least to allow the painting to dry.

To create impact and after the painting had dried, I used the complimentary of the dominant color (opposite on the color wheel) to create energy on the page. This works if one color is dominant and the other is used in small amounts and is why a Christmas tree catches our eye.  The green of the tree is the dominant color and the decorations are a dash of red. Great energy!

Here is an image of a color wheel for you to find your dominant color’s opposite.

Colour Wheel

Can you see how the opposite of blue is yellow/orange and the opposite of red is green?

Don’t forget to drop the complimentary color on at the end and after the work is dry.  Use a small amount for maximum impact.  Allow the paint to run together without touching it.

Here they are finished.  The first one looks like a vase of flowers, oh my goodness, the painting has created itself!

Art from Inutitiuon Ex1a

Art from Inutitiuon Ex1b

Action painting can also be done using enamel paint, acrylics and even house paint.Here is an example of a work done using acrylics.

1111 001

If you would like to read more on action painting, here’s a great link:

It is a site for kids but the methods are also excellent and easy for adults.