Salt absorbs water. Everyone who has taken a fifth grade science class knows this. But most of us probably haven’t thought much about the water/salt absorption principle since graduating from fifth grade. It’s just been consuming some much needed real-estate in our brains. Well, here’s a practical application for one of those things that seemed to be taking up valuable space in your memory.
|Salt in Action|
Because salt absorbs water, and watercolors are basically just pigment and binder dissolved in water, it makes sense that the two will react when used together. By adding salt to a watercolor painting, you can create unique textures and patterns impossible to create in any other way.
Before I detail the (simple) process of adding salt to watercolor, let’s take a look at the different types of salt. You’ve got your regular old table salt. But because the salt grains are rolled into tiny little balls, they have a very uniform shape and little surface area. These are both undesirable qualities for creating unique effects. Then there are the fancy salts, sea salt and such. Great tasting, but expensive. Don’t waste your money for our purposes here.
|My slat shaker used to|
contain a candle.
What we need is kosher salt. The salt crystals are rough and each is uniquely shaped. Kosher salt comes in different crystal sizes. Large crystals are fine to use, but I prefer the smaller crystals. It’s personal preference, really. Either is fine.
Begin by laying down a watercolor wash on the paper. As soon as you finish, while the paint is still wet, sprinkle the salt into the wet paint. For this I recommend using either a shaker or pouring some salt into the palm of your hand and rubbing your hands together over the watercolor wash. This will give you a more even distribution of salt.
Once the salt is on the paper, walk away and let it dry. The salt will begin to absorb some of the water and paint, creating a crystallized effect. Make sure you let it dry completely before returning to your work.
Once dry, you can brush the salt off the paper and continue working. If the paint is not completely dry, it can streak when you try to remove the salt. So be sure it is dry.
|A lot of salt on the left, a little on the right|
The wetter the paint is when you add the salt, the more water each salt crystal will absorb. And thus the visual effect of the salt will be more pronounced. If you only want a small amount of texture, let the wash dry slightly before adding the salt.
The resulting texture is very versatile. I’ve seen it used in tree trunks, grass, pixie dust, sand, backgrounds, etc. I’ve even used it to paint a crab’s claw (above). So be creative here and see what works for you.