Visual Surprise: How to Add Drips & Runs to Your Paintings

If you are a watercolor or acrylic painter, you’ve probably stumbled across the glorious possibilities of paint drips and runs. Lovely texture that highlights the water of watermedia.

However, paint runs are not as simple as they first appear.

“It’s funny how things will run and drip beautifully when you don’t want them to and how difficult it is to get them to do that when you do want them to,” says Simmons in his workshop Innovative Water Media.

Simmons combines watercolor and fluid acrylic paint. In his workshop, he shows you how to creates drips and runs in your fluid acrylic or watercolor paintings.

Nothing Bad Can Happen
Before you start with runs, know that nothing bad can happen. Make sure your painting is bone dry before you start adding runs to your watercolor or acrylic paintings. That way you’ll be working with wet runs on dry paper.

“As long as things are wet, I can’t get into too much trouble,” says Simmons in Innovative Water Media. “I can wipe them off or spray them off if they do something I don’t like.”


Prepare Your Painting
In his workshop, Simmons wants to be able to get the full effect of runs. He doesn’t want to have to carefully go around his subjects. For this reason, he masks.

“It really does simplify things later on,” says Simmons. “It’s really the only way to get the sort of texture I want for the background.”

Before Simmons begins creating drips and runs, he using masking fluid to cover his koi fish and bamboo. Once the masking has dried, he is free to add as much paint as he wants without worry it’ll affect his foreground subjects.

Let Gravity Do the Work
Start your run by holding your paper vertically and then be prepared to move it as necessary. This can be tough when your paper is attach to a 20-pound board. In his workshop, Simmons works on loose paper so he can move it easily.

Even though he doesn’t attach it to a board, he still wants to save a border of white around his watercolor paper. He adds tape around the four edges of his paper and runs a bead of masking to make sure no paint crawls under during the the painting process.

 



Create a Path
Don’t leave things to chance. As much as this technique looks uncontrolled (and sure there are unpredictable parts) you have some control. The way you do that says Simmons is by starting with auditions.

Grab your paint brush or squirt bottle and using clean water start making runs. See how the water wants to flow.

“I don’t expect to use every one of these runs,” says Simmons. “I’ll pick the ones that I like. If I like what happened I can introduce a little paint in there.”

If you start to see runs that look good then dip your brush in very fluid paint and add it to the run.

 



Adjust Value
As you add runs across your painting, be aware of what is happening behind the run. High value contrast calls attention. A very dark run on a very light background will pull the viewer’s eye. If your runs aren’t the focal point of your painting, try and keep the runs and the background behind them, closer in value.

Then adjust as the background adjusts. It lighter areas stay lighter and in darker areas go darker.

 


Keep the Runs you Like (Disregard the Rest)
While a run itself may be lovely, there may be reasons to wipe it away.

In his workshop painting Simmons shows an example of where a few lines merge to create shape. He’s not against shape but he decides to take it out.

“It was a little bit too dark and it was also right dead center in the middle of the painting,” he says. “I don’t like things that are centered exactly. I don’t like coincidences in paintings.”

As long as the paint is wet, you can clear away the runs you don’t want. To clear a run, hit it with a spray bottle and let the paint and water dissipate and flow away. If you need a bit more precision, wipe a run away with a wet paper towel.

Whatever your approach, make sure to clear all the pigment before any of it dries. Especially when working with acrylics.


Paint in Your Own
Runs can be beautiful but they don’t necessarily follow good design. That’s where you come in. Sometimes you will need to paint in your own run.

“Once they’ve established a size and a direction and sort of a feel, then I can add a few on my own,” he says. “Hopefully keep them in the same character as the ones that happen naturally.“

Drawing them has a learning curve Simmons cautions. He likes to start with letting the paint flow itself and then using that information to add in more that fit with the style.

Why you’ll want to learn this skill: Runs will sometimes end at an object. In Innovative Water Media, a run stops at a one of Simmon’s koi fish. Simmons knows that his viewer’s eye will expect the run to come out on the other side of the fish. It didn’t happen naturally so he carefully draws it in.

 



Try Your Own
Runs are a great way to add line to a painting. They are incredibly organic in their look and feel. They also an additional sense of texture to your watercolor or acrylic painting.

Go ahead and give them a try. Remember, as long as you keep your squirt bottle nearby, keep the ones that work and disregard the rest.

If you’d like to see how Nicholas Simmons approaches runs or any of the other half dozen texture techniques he uses in his workshop, check out Innovative Water Media.