Using Salt | Watercolor Technique
The salt will absorb some of the pigment and leave interesting shapes and texture behind. The effects can be subtle or dramatic, depending which type of salt you use and how wet your paper is.
Read on to learn how it’s done.
What You’ll Need
The salt technique couldn’t be simpler. All you need are your watercolor paints, some good brushes, watercolor paper, and salt. Any kind of salt. In fact, the more types of salt you experiment with, the more creative your final piece will be.
Salts with crystals of different sizes and shapes will enhance your work in different ways. Experiment with ordinary table salt, kosher salt, “designer” salts, pickling salt, rock salt—whatever you can get your hands on (reference image below).
How It’s Done (option 1)
- Paint your underlying colors.
- Decide where you would like texture, then shake on the salt while the paint is still wet.
- After applying the salt, let the paper dry.
- When your work is completely dry, lightly and carefully brush the salt away. Use a credit card for those stubborn pieces or a metal slab.
- Finish the painting.
That’s all there is to it!
How To Take It A Step Further (advanced option 2)
Because there are so many types of salt available, start by experimenting. Make up some swatches and see how the different types of salt—from fine to coarse—will react with the paint. Some leave larger marks than others, and they all have different shapes.
Another variable to play with is the amount of moisture on your paper. You need at least a small amount of moisture for the salt to stick, but beyond that, anything goes—from slightly damp to pools of water or paint.
Pro tip: Try adding the salt when the paint is wet and then again when it’s partially dry.
You’ll find that, as a rule, working with very wet paint leaves larger marks with slightly blurry edges. On paper that's just damp, you can expect smaller, crisper marks.
Retrieved from youtube
When you have a good sense of the effects of your various combinations of salt and moisture, go ahead and put your colors down.
Pro tip: There are really two ways you can go with this. You can start out with a general idea of what you want to create. Or you can lay down some paint, see how it flows, and then use your imagination.
- Imagine yourself lying on your back in a field of grass, looking at clouds in the sky. The key is to look at your work same way, and see what jumps out at you.
- Find the images in the paint, just as you used to find animals in the clouds.
- Then imagine how salt effects could transform your work from the images you see in your artwork.
For example, in the image below, the artist saw mountains and a waterfall under a night sky.
You will want to have a clear vision of where you want texture before you start adding salt.
Retrieved from youtube
She used several sizes of salt to add texture to different areas of the painting. She accented the top with one type of salt to create the night sky. On both sides of the page, she used different salt types to represent foliage—heavier in the middle and lighter on the bottom. In all, she used 4 different salts.
Retrieved from youtube
To finish her piece, the artist used detail brushes to delineate the moon, the sky, and the mountains.
The watercolor salt technique has a lot of fascinating applications. You can use it to create sand, snow, stars, clouds, water, flowers, foliage!
We’ve rounded up some great examples of how salt can transform a basic piece of art. This is how you go from average to pro!
In the painting below, the artist used salt to create a galaxy and added shooting stars with a brush and dotted stars with either a white pen or using the flicking technique to get the splattered stars. Finished with a sprinkle of salted star dust.
Retrieved from micad97 via instagram
The next piece is a great example of how to use salt to create a snowy feel. The artist used it on the ground, on the trees, and could have even created footprints in the snow.
Retrieved from paper.and.pigment via instagram
In our final example, it looks like the painter used a salt with large crystals and added it when the paint was extremely wet.
Pro tip: the salt effect is most dramatic when there is lots of water on the page. Look below.
Retrieved from annea.art via instagram
The overall effect is a striking border that’s suggestive of looking through a frosted windshield.
No Excuses, Get Started:
The salt technique is an easy and versatile way to add interest to your watercolor pieces with minimal cost and effort.
Don’t be afraid to experiment! The limited control you have over the salt and the impreciseness of watercolor almost force you to be flexible with your vision and to try new things.
(And let us know how you do in the comments below!)
Written by Paula Clark