Exercise: Dripping, Dribbling and Spattering

29 & 30/01/16

Exercise: Dripping, Dribbling and Spattering

Look at the work of Jackson Pollock whose paintings are explosive in effect. Think of how these colours have been applied and work out how you could create your own effects by dripping, dribbling and spattering paint. For this exercise, prepare a large sheet of paper or cardboard and spread around plenty of newspaper.

Dripping, Dribbling and Spattering 6 x prepared A3 sheets of acrylic paper

Dripping, Dribbling and Spattering
6 x prepared A3 sheets of acrylic paper

I prepared 6 sheets of acrylic paper, two with black, one with a neutral dark grey, one with a red coloured ground and two left white. I was hoping to see which would give a dramatic effect and any other observations I could notice.


Using acrylic paint I mixed up pots of colour with water and five of the prepared sheets of paper – I left the neutral grey ground until the next day due to space. Scratching around in the studio I collected some simple implements to use: a couple of wide flat brushes (3 & 1.5″), a round size 12, a smaller jar for pouring and a small plastic cylinder (a bristle/hair cover for new paint brushes) about .25mm in diameter – think short straw!

I began with spattering using the widest flat brush and flicking the paint across the paper. I tried holding the brush thin side ways on, which gave a range of elongated spatters, radiating out in straight marks, the same but thick side ways on made thicker marks. All was going great until I tried the dribbling by pouring paint from the pot onto the paper. It refused to make the long trails that Pollock was famous for. The consistency of the paint appeared to be crucial, along with the thickness of the spout/pot it was poured from. I only seemed to succeed in making elongated blobs! So instead I tried blowing through the small cylinder to make the paint travel about on the paper, similarly to when we made blow-straw paintings when we were children.  This didn’t work too well either as I think the tube wasn’t long or small enough in diameter. I used a mixture of paints such as: acrylic mixed with differing amounts of water, acrylic inks, acrylic mixed with poster paint to thicken the consistency. However, I had fun with this and realised I’d spent a good couple of hours “playing”! It then became apparent that the paint needed to dry before much more could be done.

Whilst experimenting on day one, I made mental notes of what else I could use. For day two, I collected an old tooth-brush, a couple of straws, plastic spoons and a couple of plastic bags into which I would snip a small hole to dribble paint through.


Below are the results of each of the paintings, some are very different to the end of the first day as they didn’t quite dry and the paint may have moved, or, if they did dry, more was done to work on them. The last piece of paper with a neutral grey ground was also begun. It is interesting to see sections of the paintings too, as cropping can achieve successful compositions where the whole may not have worked so well. Some photos are close-ups to focus on the paint effects that occurred.

Painting with Red Ground

I managed to enlarge and crop a previous photo to show how this looked at one stage on day 1, this was very different in the beginning and was very wet so the paint ran a lot.


Painting with Black Ground 1

Black Ground 1 With white paint, dribbles, spatters and drips

Black Ground 1
With white paint, dribbles, spatters and drips


I actually liked this as it was – it gives an impression of outer space with all that goes on there. There are sharp spatters with a large brush, differing sizes of drips that gives the feeling of distance. The consistency of the paint was just right in this instance, although I didn’t have the right vessel to allow thin pouring of paint.




Black Ground 2

The second black ground painting was started day one with bright colours. However, as the consistency of the paint was a little too thin, this vibrancy receded and became dull, the blue was probably the most prominent and worked well against the black. On the second day, I had adjusted the consistency to being more creamy and using the new tools, particularly the plastic bags to dribble paint, the colours did eventually come through. This is one of the instances where cropping would probably improve the composition.


Painting with Neutral Grey Ground

In retrospect, the ground was a little too dark – my intention was to use a traditional colour as a base ie burnt sienna/ultramarine blue/white. My mix was a little too blue with insufficient white – lesson learnt. This attempt was done all on day 2, hence I had a better array of tools to use although, more could be done and will be if time allows. This was the most successful result for dribbling paint a la Pollock, the yellow worked well, however, the blue was a little too thick. I dropped in some red which started to merge with the other colours itself, then I used the straw to blow the paint around a bit. I also used the toothbrush to flick the paint on the paper with my finger/thumb. This proved a little tricky to get right, and gave a very fine spray of colour. It was particularly nice on the yellow paint as it gave pinkish flecks although could only really be seen close up.  At this point I decided to let the paint dry – from the experience of the other paintings, I knew this would take at least overnight, so I call this one unfinished.

Painting with White Ground 1

This one was done in one go hence only one photograph. I also think it worked well straight away and didn’t feel I had to do much more to it. It’s a shame I didn’t have a larger piece of paper or position the top of the pattern a little lower, however, when you’re not sure what’s going to happen it’s not easy to plan. Some of the dribbled paint is the right consistency to swirl quickly over the paper which gave an attractive arc, however, it was also a little thin for a larger amount and pooled unintentionally. In the end though it looks pleasing. I was also happy with the colours and tones that materialised. The colours graduating from yellow to orange to red to violet seem harmonious and the splashes of green lift it and complement.

Dripping, Dribbling and Spattering Spatter, drip and blow paint on white ground - first day

Dripping, Dribbling and Spattering
Spatter, drip and blow paint on white ground – first day


Painting with White Ground 2

With this one I struggled with the paint consistency a lot. Dribbling the paint ended up with pooling and no discernible lines. The spatters worked so I allowed the paint the merge and blend as it wished over the top of them. This was fascinating to see it evolve, a couple of times I had to move the paper to give me more room to work on something else, this disturbed the fluid paint and changed the appearance quite considerably. I used some thin and some thick paint along with some acrylic ink, applied them and just let it get on with it. The paint still wasn’t completely dry 24 hours later, so as a skin had formed on the top of the paint I used a hair-dryer to speed up the process. This in itself was interesting as the still wet paint under the top skin moved in response to the warm air and seemed almost alive and breathing. I tried to video the reaction, however, by the time I’d sorted out the camera, tripod and angles the paint had begun to congeal and dry so I missed the opportunity to record it. The photos below include some close-ups to show the variety of effects caused by the differing paint consistencies and accidental colour mixing.


Lessons Learnt

  • The consistency of the paint has to be appropriate for the effect wanted – thinner paint is needed to let paint run, a single cream equivalent for dripping and swirling, thicker paint for more impasto/3 dimensional effects etc.
  • To achieve a continuous dripped line, use an appropriately sized vessel to pour and don’t hold it up too far from the support.
  • To avoid unwanted pooling, use a solid support or stretched paper.
  • Consider whether you want the support to have absorbency or not.
  • Different coloured grounds give different effects, darker ones may be more dramatic with bright colour, mono-tone/single colours can be effective, coloured grounds with complementary pigments can be eye-catching, plain white grounds can give a luminosity with certain colours eg yellows, oranges, pinks.
  • When using darker grounds consider the opacity or transparency of the paints used.
  • Working large can be more successful as less limiting.
  • Look for everyday objects to use as tools eg plastic bags, straws, toothbrushes.
  • Consider the effects required and whether to work wet in wet or to let layers dry.
  • Different paints may be used eg oil, acrylic, household paint, enamel, poster etc.
  • It’s not as easy as you would think!

How could you exploit some of these paint effects your future work?

  • They could be a good starting point to a painting by allowing freedom and fluidity.
  • Atmosphere and texture may be created by using some of these effects depending on colours and tones.
  • They themselves could be used as a ground to a loose painting.
  • Maybe use fixed pastel as a ground to build layers and then add spatters etc.
  • Keen to try them out and loosen up.

Going back to Jackson Pollock, below is one of my favourite paintings of his. I first saw this as a print that I had to measure up to send to the framers for a customer. This photo, unfortunately, does not really show the vibrant colours that make up the image. It makes me think of a fresco of long limbed African native dancers and is joyful to see.

jackson pollock art - Google Search:


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