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Golden Staining Effects


Staining Effects with Golden

In the 1960s, Sam Golden worked closely with artists in NYC who were developing the new colour-field painting techniques, such as Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler. For Frankenthaler in particular, he made an additive that allowed her to use water-based colour on raw canvas to produce her most famous paintings.


Golden Staining

On the left, a droplet of water sits proud of the raw canvas surface, while below it some diluted acrylic colour refuses to hold a unified film, as the water tension pulls it apart. On the right, water and diluted colour, both with Golden Wetting Agent added, are made “wetter”, allowing them to flow into the fabric.

Raw canvas is water-resistant, and people of a certain age will remember camping out in canvas tents. For staining effects that require diluted acrylic to flow across raw fabric, the water must be made wetter. What, I hear you say – how can water be wetter than it is? Water has a tension that keeps it in droplets on a non-absorbent surface.  This tension must be broken for the fluid to sink into the fabric.



Golden Wetting Agent needs plenty of dilution – just 3 to 4 drops per 250ml of water. You can add it to pre-diluted colour – Fluid Acrylic works well – so it’s ready to pour across a raw canvas surface.

The product Sam Golden made for Helen Frankenthaler has changed name and formulation slightly throughout the years, from “Acrylic Flow Release” to “Wetting Agent” (and later in 2022 “Wetting Aid”). This is a strong surfactant, a material similar to soap, in a very concentrated form. It cannot be used directly from the bottle, but must be added to water – just a few drops per cup (250ml) is sufficient to “break” the tension of the water, making it “wetter”...



Golden Fluid Acrylic colour, diluted with water plus Wetting Agent, spreads effortlessly across the raw canvas. Colours blossom into each other – some more vigorously than others, depending on the pigment. Quinacridone colours like this Quinacridone Red move very rapidly through the wet surface, due to the small pigment size. Tipping the canvas encourages colours to mix and blend.

Once Golden Wetting Agent has been added to your water, you can use it to thin acrylic colour for use on raw fabrics such as cotton canvas, or use the additive plus water mixture to pre-wet your surface. For staining effects, it’s best to start from a liquid acrylic, such as Golden Fluid Acrylic, as the heavy structure of tube colour is less easy to reduce.


Many of the Golden pastes and some gels (eg Pumice Gel) make excellent textured grounds for staining techniques. Here Golden Fiber Paste is trowelled on, left to dry, then coated with water plus Wetting Agent to produce a complex surface for exciting and random wet-in-wet effects.

Golden have developed several other products for staining techniques that give dynamic results. Some of the Golden pastes, such as Light Molding Paste, Fiber Paste, and Coarse Molding Paste, provide perfect surfaces for thinned colour. These pastes can be applied with a painting knife, spatula, squeegee or stiff brush, each lending a distinctive surface texture. The pastes can even be coloured with a small amount of acrylic colour (around 20%), and once the paste has dried overnight, it’s ready for working on.

Golden Absorbent Ground looks like gesso but gives a chalky, receptive ground for liquid acrylic painting. Here the surface is wet using water plus Wetting Agent, then colour applied directly to the surface before being brushed about in a wet-in-wet method.

While standard gesso is not absorbent enough for staining and liquid painting techniques, Golden Absorbent Ground gives you a more conventional looking surface while offering the increased absorption that is required. Absorbent Ground is best applied in one or two layers over the top of an initial layer of gesso or size. A light polish with some fine 600 grit sandpaper before painting gives a nice result.



Staining techniques put colour to the fore, with boundaries often blurring and running together. They can produce interesting initial layers for working over with more solid colour, or work as ephemeral paintings just as they are. Check out the works of Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, and Kenneth Noland for some colour-field inspiration!


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