How do you get that surfboard finish so popular on paintings? You know, that super clear, glossy, smooth top coat. The best results can be obtained using commercial resins. They come in two parts – a resin and hardener. They are, however, very toxic to work with. I prefer to use acrylic non-toxic fine artist alternatives that may not look as perfect, but will also last without yellowing or cracking.
My favorite technique is to lay the painting flat and very level, and propped up on containers to get it lifted off the table or floor. By the way, it is easier to work with rigid surfaces like panels. If you are using a stretched canvas then you need to prop up the center of the canvas to keep it from sinking downward while laying flat. I then pour Golden’s GAC800 without diluting it with water onto the painting’s surface. I spread it out evenly with a plasterer’s knife, and then immediately spray lightly with isopropyl alcohol to eliminate any bubbles. This takes a day or two to dry but has a smooth glossy finish.
The GAC800 is the only pourable acrylic that I know of that can be poured in deep layers without crevising. So you can also take duct tape and tape around the outside edges of the painting creating a wall that stands out from the top surface of the painting. By applying a small amount of a thick acrylic gel where the tape and painting meet you can keep the pour from later leaking out. While the gel is still wet pour the GAC800 into the pool or well that’s created by the tape. You can get a very thick poured layer this way. The thicker the pour, the longer you need to keep the painting level and flat while drying – which may take weeks if it’s more than an inch thick. When the GAC800 is used thickly it will appear slightly yellow and cloudy, not really visible in a pour with no walls or duct tape, and is favored by artists that like the “wax” or encaustic appearance.
If you don’t like the cloudy look of GAC800 you can use other pourable products but you can’t pour them thickly in one pour, or they might crevice as they dry. Instead pour several thin layers. My favorites for these are Golden’s Clear Tar Gel and Self Leveling Gel.
More pouring articles:
5 Acrylic Pour Painting Techniques for 2020
Pouring Acrylic – the HOT new painting craze
How to Make Acrylic Paint Look Like Enamel or Resin
Acrylic Illuminations, Book on special acrylic painting techniques, including pouring and other luminous effects.
Complete Painting Instruction
Complete Painting Instruction
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Hi, Nancy, I’m so enjoying your articles!
I‘ ll be doing my 1st pour ever, and it may be a little different from those I’ve read in your posts, so not sure if you’ll know, but here goes –
I’m getting a Clear Tar Gel jar tomorrow, and need to know what percent water to gel to mix for a water based variation.
I’ve a watercolor wash with acrylic accents on a Golden Absorbent ground. I usually follow Golden’s info, first putting an isolation layer on via a 1:4 water to Soft Gel Gloss coat, then secondly varnish.
However, before varnishing (if needed) I want to possibly create a “surfboard finish” via the Clear Tar Gel / water coat.
I’ve also an acrylic wash/painted piece I’d like to do the same procedure with.
Should I then varnish one or both?
And could you explain a little more how to build a pool to hold the pour? I think you’d suggested masking tape?
Thanks again for all your assistance! It’s great appreciated & helpful!
Hi Felipe, Glad to hear you are braving the pour!
(1) First experiment on a small piece you can easily discard later for a test. Clear Tar Gel works best undiluted in humid climates or rainy days, but where I am in Santa Fe, in the winter I add about 20% water. You really do need to test it for where you live before using a lot of medium on a painting you want to work.
(2) If your watercolor wash is actually using watercolor paint, then you will need to spray the isolation coat and absolutely not use the Soft Gel Gloss with water isolation coat. Go back and read Golden’s instructions for watercolor paints. The isolation coat you described is fine for over acrylic. But when you brush it over watercolor, because watercolor is resoluble and not waterproof like acrylic, it will possibly smear. To spray an isolation coat you can use an inexpensive sprayer at Home Depot called Pre-Val. Into the Pre-Val put GAC500 with Airbrush Transparent Extender (Golden has changed the name of this product, so you’ll have to read their current instructions for spraying an isolation coat to get the newest info).
I’m happy to provide some free advice here. Beyond these few questions I’d like to suggest checking out my consultation services. Please check it out here https://nancyreyner.com/work-with-nancy/
This way, I can best answer your other questions using a private consultation with my online meeting room. It’s fun and that way I can ask you for more details to give you the best answers. In the meantime I hope the above information is helpful for your latest artworks.
That does help, tremendously, Nancy! Thank you! ?
Thank you very much for this article. I’m having problems dealing with the bubbles. Every time I lightly spray isopropyl alcohol just after the pouring, the bubbles disappear but the alcohol creates holes, irregularities in the surface that stay when the painting is dry. I work on wood panels. At what distance do you spray it? Do you spray the whole surface or just where the bubbles are?
If you spray alcohol on a freshly poured layer of acrylic medium, it will eliminate bubbles. However if you spray the alcohol too heavily or too late the bubbles disappear but leave holes as you mentioned. Make sure you use a very fine sprayer to spray the alcohol. I use the spray applicators from makeup counters. Use the lower percent of isopropyl alcohol (around 70% instead of the 91%). Do not dilute the alcohol with water. You must spray the pour before the top layer starts to “set up”. Where I live in Santa Fe it is warm and dry. I have about 2 minutes once I pour to spray. If I spray after that it will “pit” or leave holes. I have everything ready when I pour so I can work fast and not waste time. There are several ways to avoid pits and bubbles when pouring. However the methods depend on several factors such as which pouring medium you are using, the humidity and temperature when you pour (which affects the drying times) and your timing. If you are using Golden’s GAC800 then you do not need to add water to dilute. If you are using other pouring mediums, I suggest adding about 30% water to the mediums. Adding water will slow down the drying of the pour, and give you more time to spray with alcohol. I hope this helps your issue.
Thank you for your amazing videos. I mix paint with Liquitex pouring medium and paint on cradle wood panel. I do several layers on the top of each other. I have a few questions regarding to that:
1. Does Liquitex pouring medium act as a sealer or should I seal the wood panel with one of those items you mentioned?
2. Is Golden GAC800 similar to Liquitex pouring medium? if not what’s the equal product of Golden company to Liquitex pouring medium?
3. What method do you recommend in order to create transparent layers working in pouring style? any medium or paint you recommend? I’ve been using less pigment to create that effect but like to you your approach.
Thank you so much in advance,
I’m glad you like the videos! Thank you!
Pouring mediums are very different than sealers. A pouring medium pours out fairly thickly while a sealer is meant to be thin and dry fast. This way it seals! A pouring medium takes awhile to dry and while it dries it can absorb previous layers into its layer. However, once it dries it can then act as a sealing layer. So with a wood panel that is unsealed, you would not want to pour a pouring medium directly onto it, or it can turn yellow as impurities from the raw wood get absorbed into the medium. Instead you can first brush apply GAC100 or another type of sealer you may be using. Once it dries you can then determine if you need another coat or two. It depends on how much of that first coat has absorbed into the wood. I would recommend at least 2 coats of a sealer on raw wood. Ampersand seals most of their panels, but not their Hardbord brand. Golden GAC800 and Liquitex pouring mediums are both very good, but also very different. I’m not familiar enough with Liquitex to give you an accurate answer. I have heard good things about the Liquitex, but think it is more similar to Golden’s Clear Tar Gel or Self Leveling Gel. The GAC800 is very unique in that it can be poured very deeply without crevicing. It has a cloudiness and slight yellow color that is visible only when poured 1/8″ thickly or more. Once it is mixed with a color you will not notice these aspects. For pouring transparent colors (mixtures of color and medium) I go for the GAC800 first. If I am pouring over gold leaf, for instance, and do not want any cloudiness at all, I will use Clear Tar Gel (diluted with about 40% filtered water) and pour it thinly. If I want thicker layers I will add more thin layers and build up to the thickness I want. The Clear Tar Gel is a bit trickier to use than the 800, because it you pour it too thickly, or if it dries too quickly it could crevice. Once you play with it a few times you will get the hang of using it successfully.
For pouring, try the following tips to help with your issue on clean edges:
(1) First make sure your table and surface to be poured are level. Prop up accordingly to level it. Don’t guess – use a leveler! (2) only pour enough pouring medium to cover the surface. After awhile you get to know how much. (3) Pour in the center in a big puddle, then spread out using a plaster knife or other spreading tool, moving out from center outwards to edges, then back to center and repeat. This way less ends up at the edges then if you poured the medium all over and close to the edges at first. (4) Work very very fast so once it is all spread out, you can then deal with any spills on the edges while still wet (5) use a wet rag and wipe off the drips onlong the edges (5) stick around for 15 minutes or so to make sure new drips get wiped off right away. (6) once your painting is finished use an electric sander or sanding paper by hand to get rid of anything you missed. Hopefully you didn’t miss much because it’s easier to wipe away in step 5 then sand here. Use waterproof sandpaper so you can wet sand which is non-toxic. Your edges should look really good this way.
I have your book & pouring DVD and love them both 🙂 I have done many pours but I am never happy with the edges of my paintings. I tape around the edge of the canvas before pouring and take off once dry which leaves an edge that I can cut off but I have seen other artists achieve a nice smooth, seamless edge and have no been able to figure out how to do it so I thought I would ask the professionals 😉
Hi I have tried Gac 800 and was please with the overall effect it gives, however it sometimes becomes pitted with small indents. I poured the Gac 800 over a well dried layer of black paint, mixed with Gac 100, water and small amount of retarder. I sprayed the 800 pour with Isoprophyl alcohol to remove air bubbles. In the later stages of drying the surface becomes covered in small dents or holes. Do you have any reason for this or solutions?
I have tried Gac 800 and was please with the overall effect it gives, however it sometimes becomes pitted with small indents. I poured the Gac 800 over a well dried layer of black paint, mixed with Gac 100, water and small amount of retarder. I sprayed the 800 pour with Isoprophyl alcohol to remove air bubbles. In the later stages of drying the surface becomes covered in small dents or holes. Do you have any reason for this or solutions?
Thanks for this post! I wish I'd found it before being frustrated by the crevising you describe 😉
Yellowing will occur two ways: the GAC800 has a slight yellow and cloudy appearance to it. When it is poured thinly this is not noticeable. When you pour it thickly (1/4" or more) it is noticeable, and is often thought of as desireable by artists replicating a wax or encaustic effect. I like it too. Once it dries, though, it shouldn't yellow more. I am thinking that in your case, the yellowing is occuring from impurities in the bottom layers coming through the layers and creating more yellowing. The best way to solve this is to apply a transparent stain sealer (like Golden's GAC100) over your photo, before you apply the gel. There will still be some yellowing, though, if there are any impurities in the photograph you have collaged. The best thing to do would be to stain seal the wood, then gesso, then apply your photo printed onto a clear acrylic skin (see Golden's site for Digital Mixed Media) and then keep applying the layers as you have. This way there is nothing that may have impurities that are applied after the stain sealer.
I have been having difficulty with my GAC 800 pour yellowing after several months. I adhere a photo on top of a wood panel, then cover that with a thin coat of heavy gel and paint washes over that. Then I pour GAC 800 to give depth and a resin like finish. The problem is after a few months, there is sufficient yellowing which is ruining the piece. What to do? Thanks. Adele
Yellowing is an issue with any acrylic paint or product, when water soluble impurities come up through the surface into the acrylic layer. This will usually happen, unless you first apply a stain sealer such as GAC100, Polymer Medium Gloss, or a commercial stain sealer such as Kilz. The yellowing becomes most visible with thicker applications of clear gels and mediums, or white pastes.
A varnish is the best way to protect a finished painting, and has nothing to do with what acrylic paints or products you have used in the painting. A varnish is the last layer you apply, and a varnish is removable. This means that if you (or anyone else) ever wants to clean the accumulated dust off your painting, they can remove the varnish layer that collects the dust, and replace it with a clean varnish coat. This is the only way to clean a painting. If your last layer is GAC800, which is not a removable layer of acrylic, it will not act as a varnish. Only products called varnish that mention how to remove it in the label will work.
Longevity is obtained by using as many archival processes as you can. The most important ones are (1) apply a stain sealer first to eliminate yellowing (2) apply a good quality coat of gesso on top of the stain sealer to help adhesion (3) use quality paints, and select colors that have a good lightfast rating (4) apply a good quality varnish that has UV protection – and apply it over an isolation coat so it can be removed if necessary for cleaning. (5) wait 2 weeks to allow the painting to fully cure before wrapping it in plastic or storing it without access to air.
Please note I wrote a blog article November 8, 2008 called "Making your artwork last" that has more details on this topic. Here is a link to it. http://nancyreyner.blogspot.com/2008_11_01_archive.html
I wanted know if yellowing is an issue with GAC-800. Also, does one need to varnish the painting after the coat of Gac-800 is applied & set?
Basically I want to know about the longevity of the artwork, if GAC-800 is used as a topcoat.
You are right – getting a smooth even glossy finish is a bit tricky, but can be easily obtained with a little practice. Try working on small "test" surfaces (that you don't care about) until you get it right. You will get different results with pours depending on the climate. The easiest one to use is GAC800 – as is described in the blog post. If you use the other 2 I mentioned (Clear Tar Gel and Self Leveling Gel) you need to practice. For what you are trying to obtain, both these gels should not be brush applied, but mixed ahead of time with 20% water (not 50% as you did), left overnight to de-bubble, then slowly poured over the surface. You can gently spread it out evenly with a large spatula. Spray with alcohol very lightly and immediately. This all needs to be done fast, so pour and spread within minutes, then spray the alcohol before the top paint skin sets – that's probably all under a few minutes. So you need to have everything easy to grab fast. Do not spray the alcohol BEFORE the pour – spray immediately afterwards. I use the higher percent alcohol (90 something…). Unless you use the GAC800 for a pour you need to pour out a thin layer (maybe 1/16").
If this all sounds too difficult here is another idea for you. Apply a thick (any thickness but at least 1/2" more than your thickest collage item) layer of any gloss gel (start with the Regular Gel Gloss). Let this dry a few days or more until clear. Then pour a thin layer of the GAC800 on top to smooth out any texture.
I hope this helps.
I recently purchased your wonderful book. This blog is just wonderful, so full of useful technical info and inspiration!
I have been trying the tar gel coatings for work on paper mounted on panel. I would like a thick depth and clarity that I can't get from the GAC. I tried brushing it first with no added water, and had no crazing, but also it dried too quickly to be perfectly smooth–the brush strokes got gummy even on a small panel of only 10 inches square.
I next tried two coats, the first brushed and a day later a second coat of tar gel poured (diluted with half water). Disaster! The pour is crazing and cratering.How do you know how much to pour? And if you start at one edge, with the panel tilted, there is always more at one end. It seems the cratering may have been caused by setting the panel back down flat and the backflow–?
I also tested the alcohol spray. I misted the first dry coat before pouring, and it got tiny crackles where the alcohol was a little heavier. After the pour I misted very lightly again over a few bubbles. They immediately went away, but I'm wondering if the alcohol could have had an effect on the crazing. I use alcohol for image transfers so I know there are many kinds. I used the 70% rubbing alcohol–was this the right kind?
This is all so tricky, it seems like I will have to practice many times before getting it right and there may always be a risk of ruining the art. My goals are twofold: I want to be able to work on paper on panel and show it without glass, both for economic reasons and because I don't like how glass distances you from the surface. I also want to create very deep-space collages with skins overlayed, and use a a final bath of translucent gel to encase the whole.I don't like the brush strokes of matte or gloss medium over collage, it tends to distract from the underlying textures of the edges. But perhaps tar gel is the wrong medium–?
I'd love any thoughts you have on this!
Self-Leveling Gel is very clear, while GAC800 has a slight cloudiness to it that is not easily visible in thin pours, but looks almost wax-like in thicker pours. Unlike the Self-leveling Gel, however, GAC 800 is made specifically for thicker pours and will not crevice. If you want a thick pour with self-leveling gel you would need to slowly build up using multiple thin layers. Another idea is to use a thick gel like Heavy Gel Gloss which goes on thickly by knife (not pourable) and you can apply an ample layer of this first, then after it is dry "smooth" it out by applying a thin layer of the GAC800 as a last layer which will fill in any texture made by the knife application of the Heavy Gel.
Would self-leveling clear gel work as well or would it not be able to be put on as thickly? I think GAC 800 may not be as clear as the self-leveling clear gel?
Yes, acrylic will not usually adhere to an oil painted surface, so this technique is meant to be applied to surfaces primed with acrylic gesso, and/or painted with acrylic paints or products.
Thank you for this entry. I have been curious as to how this was achieved. Am I correct in assuming you would only do this over acrylics and not oils?