Saturday, October 27, 2012

the magic of salt in watercolor

I recently came across this beautiful watercolor painting over at Simple Art Project Ideas.

It looks really incredible I think (as though great talent and skill are involved), but it turns out a child can make it!  These are the first tries of my six year old and I which we finished in about half an hour (plus drying time).

The painting is done on a piece of heavy watercolor paper with the edges, tree shapes and moon blocked out with painter's tape.  The crisp borders go on as wide as one would like while the tree trunks and branches use torn tape to give their edges a more natural look.  After the tape is smoothed down, the whole thing is painted and sprinkled with salt.  Yup, salt!  Who'd have thought this culinary staple would create such magic?  We let ours dry for about 40 minutes (more might be necessary depending on the wetness of the piece) and then carefully removed the tape and salt.  Lastly, while we did not, one might then choose to hand paint embellishments on the trees or wherever desired.

In Tamara's piece, as well as in those we created, I thought the crystalline forms looked more like leaves than snow or stars so we tried out some alternate compositions with this in mind.

The most difficult portion of this project was tearing the tape.  When my six year old wanted to do one of her own then, she skipped the trees and just went for cutting a moon to stick in a beautiful night sky.  (Hers is the one in the middle above.)

With this one, I thought it might be interesting to make the "leaves" yellow and so painted an under layer and let it dry prior to adding the final paint and salt.

It needs a little tweaking, but I still love the idea and the possibilities of a tree or alternate scene for each season.  We were using coarse grain salt on these.  I'm wondering what a finer sprinkling might do, especially for the star effect?

Spoiler Alert:  If you're on my Christmas card list, a certain element of surprise in our holiday greetings may now be lacking.


  1. Oh these are lovely, I'm amazed that salt had this effect. We will be trying this out!

  2. These are gorgeous. I'm definitely going to incorporate some salt into our advent paintings. Is it OK if I link to this post? I love your blog; tutorials are excellent.

    1. Thanks Shelia. Feel free to link back here. Glad you're finding the tutorials useful.

  3. Hi there, we've tried this a few times and it hasn't worked - the paint actually darkens around the salt and doesn't repel the paint... any ideas? We are using sea salt... maybe we should try Mortons? Or different paints? Our paintings came out nice, but I think last time I tried this it didn't work either :) anyone have ideas? thanks, sarah

    1. Hmm. I'm not sure Sarah. I'm sorry it didn't work for you. Could be the paint? We use Stockmar Watercolors that come condensed and we add the water ourselves. The salt we used was coarse ground sea salt. Maybe the coarseness matters? We purchased it at Trader Joe's and it's the kind you grind as you use it. The other things that come to mind are perhaps your paint is either too wet or too dry? Or maybe the paper is soaking up the paint before the salt has a chance to. (Are you using watercolor paper or just regular?) Also, when you first apply the salt, nothing happens. We let ours sit for about an hour prior to seeing the results and didn't remove the salt until the whole thing was completely dry. I'd be interested to know if any of those things help. Let me know!

  4. Hi, my daughter and I have tried this a couple times and it doesn't work for us! The paint darkens around the salt and doesn't repel it! Any ideas? We are using sea salt and windsor newton watercolor paints, maybe the Waldorf paints would work better? or mortons salt? I'm open to any ideas you have! your pictures are gorgeous! thanks for sharing (and sorry if this comment posted twice) blessings, sarah


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