Watercolor Salt Technique (Everything You Need to Know)

Watercolor salt technique (everything you need to know)

You might’ve heard that watercolor artists use salt to create texture in their paintings. This is true, there is an endless array of creative opportunities when it comes to using salt! However, you may not be sure how to explore this technique… In this article, I have provided you with a guide on how to use the watercolor salt technique to create spontaneous paintings!¬†

You’ll learn how it works, the step-by-step process, how you can alter the technique to produce different textures, and finally, you’ll learn a few painting ideas.

Let’s get started…

Table of Contents

How does the watercolor salt technique work?

Many watercolor artists use salt to create spontaneous paintings and achieve interesting textures. This works by sprinkling salt onto the paint while the wash is still wet. The salt absorbs the water and pulls the pigment, and once it has dried you’ll be left with textured “spots” or “sparkles”.

what is the watercolor salt technique?

Watercolor Salt Technique Method

Materials

Here’s what you’ll need for this technique:

  1. Watercolor paint- Any color you prefer
  2. Watercolor Brushes- I’m using a round brush, any will do
  3. Watercolor Paper- Cold pressed
  4. Masking tape- To tape down your paper
  5. Jars of water- 1 to clean your brush and one to apply clear water
  6. Paper towel or cloth- to remove excess water
  7. Salt: any salt will do

Step by Step Process

Here’s how you use salt to create texture in your watercolor painting:

  1. Tape down your watercolor paper
  2. Paint your first layer using any color of your choosing
  3. While the paper is still wet, sprinkle salt in the area you want to create the texture. Make sure the paper isn’t too wet or too dry. You’ll want to add the salt while the paper is still shimmering.
  4. Allow it to dry completely without disturbing it.
  5. Once the paper has dried, gently sweep the salt off with your fingers. That’s it! That’s how you create texture using salt.
The images below highlight each step:
Creating texture with salt

Additional questions

What salt works with watercolor?

Most types of salt will work with this technique including regular table salt, sea salt, and iodized salt…etc However, you can always experiment with different types.

Does the size of the salt affect the texture?

Absolutely! The size of the salt grain will alter the outcome of the texture. Generally, the bigger the salt grain the bigger the sparkles will be. Meanwhile, smaller salt grains produce smaller spots. The image below shows a comparison between smaller granules of salt and coarse salt.

Does the salt technique work for all watercolor pigments?

Finer pigments tend to react differently to granulating pigments. Because granulating pigments have larger particles there is less flow, resulting in less obvious sparkles. Meanwhile, non-granulating colors produce large textured spots because the particles flow with the water being absorbed. 

Which watercolor paper texture works best?

Rough paper produces the most texture out of the three. However the watercolor salt technique works on all three surfaces; Rough paper, hot-pressed and cold-pressed paper.

How does the wetness of the paper affect the texture?

How wet the paper is will produce different effects. Adding too much water will cause bigger blooms and could dissolve the salt and cause it to stick to the paper. Adding too little water will result in much smaller sparkles and in some cases, there won’t be any effect because the paper will dry too quickly (especially if you live in an area where there’s less heat and humidity).¬†

I tested out all three levels of wetness with the salt technique and the image below shows the results: 

Watercolor salt technique using different amounts of moisture
salt technique with different amounts of moisture

Can you add another layer of paint on top?

Once you add the salt, let it dry, and remove it, you can glaze the painting with another color. You can even use a damp brush to rewet and soften some of the edges if you desire. However, it’s best not to disturb the painting after you’ve added the salt to a layer of wet paint before it has had time to dry.

Is it okay to use a hairdryer to speed up the process?

I would recommend letting it air dry. The use of heat tools will dissolve the salt and interrupt the reaction process between the salt and the pigment.

Is it possible to sprinkle the salt before the pigment?

Yes, you can, for this to work you’ll need to be careful not to load your brush with too much water. A roughly 50:50 ratio of paint to water should do. Simply wet the paper (not too wet), and sprinkle the salt. Drop in the paint with the point of your brush and let the pigment flow! Next, allow it to dry without disturbance, and then sweep off the salt.¬†

Can you make your own salt?

You can make your own salt if you’d like to experiment with larger grains using sea salt or the salt you have at home. You can use seawater or the table salt you have available at home.¬†

Here’s how to make your own coarse salt at home:

  1.  Add water to your saucepan and bring it to a boil. I used about 1/2 cup of water. You can also use an electric kettle if you prefer. (I used an electric kettle)
  2. Once the water has boiled, turn off the heat and add salt; the more salt you use, the more crystals will form. I added about two heaped tablespoons.
  3. Stir the solution until all the salt has dissolved. Let it sit for a minute or two to allow any sand or specs of dirt to sink to the bottom.
  4. Pour the solution onto a big plate or baking tray. Make sure to leave the pieces of dirt at the bottom.
  5. Place the tray in a cool dry place where it won’t be disturbed.
  6. Don’t place the solution where it’s exposed to sunlight, this is because the heat could cause the salt to melt again.
How to make coarse salt using table salt step 1
How to make coarse salt at home for watercolor salt technique

To make salt using seawater, start by straining the seawater using a cheesecloth to remove the unwanted dirt. Pour the seawater into a baking tray or a container with a large flat surface bottom. Place it in a cool dry area where it won’t be disturbed at let the water evaporate and the salt crystals form. That’s it, that’s how to make salt using seawater!¬†

Here’s an article that shows you more information on¬†how to grow your own salt crystals.

Watercolor salt technique ideas to paint

There are endless opportunities for you to use the salt technique in your paintings! Below, I have listed a few examples below to help inspire you! I tried to make these paintings simple so that you can follow along if you’re a beginner! (I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below).

Snowwing sky

Colors used:

  1. Background: 
    – Cerulean blue
    – Prussian blue
    – Paynes Gray(background branches)
  2. Branch: 
    – Burnt umber
    – Brunt umber + paynes gray

This is a simple painting using just a few basic colors and of course salt! Make sure to tape your paper and prep your workstation. Let’s begin:

  1.  Start by outlining a branch. Make sure to add one or two pointing downward to make it look more realistic.
  2. With an oil pastel, preserve some white areas resembling snow on top of the tree branches. You can also use wax resist or masking fluid as an alternative.
  3. Next, wet the paper with clean water, and with your brush drop in some cerulean blue in uneven “blooms”. Leave some areas lighter.
  4. Load your brush with a darker blue (I’m using Prussian blue), and add some darker spots, especially near the top. Remember to preserve some of the lighter areas.
  5. While the paper is still wet, sprinkle the salt all around the painting. Make sure to evenly spread it out and avoid sprinkling in clumps.
  6. With the point of the brush, paint in some background branches with Paynes gray, before the paper begins to dry.
  7. Allow it to dry then brush off the salt with your hands.
  8. Using burnt umber, paint the main branches coming from the top. Add some Paynes gray to the burnt umber and paint some darker areas of the branches.
  9. Finish off by painting the small branches, letting them dry, then going over the snow patches with the white oil pastel and you’re done!
Images below show the step-by-step process for reference:
snowy scene with salt step 1
Watercolor snowy scene with salt tutorial step 2
Using the watercolor salt technique when painting a branch in snow
Watercolor branch in the snow tutorial with salt

Flower field

You can also use salt to add texture when painting a flower field! Start by painting the background of the field, while it’s still wet, sprinkle some salt, and let it dry. Remove the salt then finish the painting by adding the final details. The salt effect will help add texture!

Water reflections

Using salt when painting water can create that sparkling effect that you see when looking at the light reflecting off of the water. To do this, start by wetting the paper and painting in the water ripples wet into wet. Sprinkle a few specs of salt where the light reflections are and let it set. Once it finishes drying you can finish off the details of the painting.

I hope you enjoyed this article and learned a lot about the watercolor salt technique! For more watercolor learning resources sing up for my email list below:

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