Using salt for texture


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  • For the life of me, I can’t seem to get the knack of using salt for texture. Should I put it on right after I finish an area, or wait until it is almost dry? Should I be using a more coarse salt? Thanks for your advice.

    Any salt will do, though you can get slightly different effects from the different kinds.  Making it work is a little tricky and I still don’t get it right every time.

    The salt effect occurs because it soaks up some of the moisture, leaving hard edges and light areas.

    If you add the salt too soon, it just all melts away.  Too late and it doesn’t soak up enough moisture to make a difference.  So you have to learn when to add the salt.  Obviously drying times matter, so some papers don’t work well because the paint dries too fast for you to get the salt down.  Changes in humidity can mean you might have to wait longer or add sooner.  Essentially, you have to learn what the look is for the right time to add.

    You need to start with quite a bit of water, the paint should be wet enough to move around, though it doesn’t need to be drippy.  Then you let it dry to the point where the paint doesn’t move easily, but there is still a shine to it.  That’s when you want to add the salt.

    I practice by painting blocks of color on the paper I’m using, and adding salt at different times.


    Sandra, I fully agree with you about all little details that make the salt working or not working with watercolours, e.g. overall humidity, painting with more water and waiting a bit before adding the salt. It works differently on different papers. Some pigments also go under the salt and make the final impression flat, without creating any pattern.

    I prefer using the salt with certain pigments that are likely to give a granulated effect on any paper. When the painting is completely dry (note it is very important to have it completely dry), I gently go over it with transparent layer of any colour that I want to finish with (glazing!).

    The best way to try the salt out is to take different papers and different granulating pigments, and to combine pigments vs. papers vs. time. Here, the time dimension means applying the salt 2 minutes after adding the layer of pigments, or 5 minutes, or just before the layer gets dry. In that way, you will get the results that can be easily compared and used to extract the wanted effects. From my experience, the salt shouldn’t be touched before the painting get fully dry.

    Good point about the paint being completely dry.  I have wiped out some beautiful salt effects by glazing over it too soon. I found that you just shouldn’t plan on glazing over at all if the paper is one where color lifts easily.

    Thanks for your insights into my salt dilemma. I tried it again today, but think I must not have it wet enough. I’ll spend some time experimenting before I want to use it again. When it didn’t work today, I just squirted some water on the area and when it dried, it gave a little texture. I learned that purely by accident several paints ago.

    Have to share my salt story from yesterday. This time I applied the salt when the areas were wet and waited. I dropped quite a bit of salt on each area, and when it dried the salt had absorbed all the color and the areas were almost white. :0 I think I’m getting there though.

    Lol! Been there and done that – except of course that I can’t do it when I want it! I’m still trying to get what Jean Haines calls the sliding salt technique, too.  You never learn so much that there isn’t still more to learn!

    Who knew salt could be so tricky!

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