Salt On Watercolors

painting of a thistle made with watercolors and salt

Posted On April 16, 2019

You can achieve amazing effects adding salt on watercolors while painting. It has to be done while the paint is still wet and then you need to leave it to fully dry which takes about 20 minutes. After it is dry you can remove the extra salt using a clean dry soft brush. You can also scrape the paint here and there to achieve different effects.

This is a really fun technique and you should experiment with it and see where it takes you. Fine kitchen salt creates a fine delicate pattern while sea salt creates bigger shapes. Also, the effect is different when you use the salt on wet paint to the one when you use it on only moist paint.

You can also scrape a bit of color off using fine sandpaper or firm eraser. This is a perfect way to depict mild illumination on your painting for example on the sky, foam on the waves… Scraping is done only on the completely dry painting. If you try and scrape off the paint while the painting is still wet you will damage the paper.

sketch of a thistle made with watercolors
sketsch of thistle made with watercolor and salt


On this painting, wet paint was textured with grains of salt and dry painting was scraped with fine sandpaper to create fine patterns depicting pollen and seeds floating through the air.

To create this painting you will need the following:

  • Stretched cold pressed 285gr/m2 watercolor paper
  • Decorators brush 25mm wide
  • Round brush number 12
  • Round brush number 6
  • Palet for mixing the color
  • Watercolor gouache
  • Thin black marker pen
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Straw

Colors you will need are:

  • Raw sienna
  • Cadmium Lemon yellow
  • French ultramarine
  • Indigo
  • Bright red
  • Alizarin red
thistle sketched with watercolors
hand adding details to the sketch of thistle made with watercolors and salt

Sketching And Preparing For Painting

In order to preserve the shape and form of parsley stems while painting the dark background paint it with round brush number 6 and cover it with watercolor gouache. If you feel unsure sketch it first with a pencil. Let a few drops of the gouache fall on the paper here and there to represent the tips of tiny seeds floating around.

Leave it all to dry for a couple of minutes and wash the brush immediately so the gouache doesn’t ruin the bristles. Speed is essential when using this technique so it is better if you have all the colours already prepared before you start. That way you won’t have to stop your work in a delicate moment because you need to mix more paint.

Prepare the colours for the background: pale yellow ( cadmium lemon yellow and raw sienna ), warm grey (French ultramarine and bright red ) and cold grey ( indigo and alizarine red). Go over the entire surface of the paper with clean water using a flat 25mm brush. Painting quickly apply yellow paint with wide vertical moves thinning the paint on the top end of the paper.

Before it is dry randomly add drops of warm and cold grey on the paper, darkest near the bottom of the paper and lighter one near the top end of the paper leaving some of the yellow paint visible in between. Let the colours gently blend with the wet surface and then add some grains of salt on it. leave the painting to dry for at least 20 minutes.

sketch of a thistle with watercolors and salt
hand adding details to a sketch of a thistle

Building The Composition

After the painting is dry remove the extra salt from the paper revealing pale spotted pattern. Use the round brush number 12 to paint feathery round shapes of thistle with the mixture of ultramarine and bright red watercolor. To create paler tones add water to the mixture. For the thistles at the bottom end of the painting add more ultramarine to the mixture. Leave the painting to dry.

To create the thin branches in the background use the straw. Add spots of the darker blue mixture here and there near the very bottom of the paper. Then take the straw and place it near every spot of blue color and blow upwards through it thus making the thin spiderweb-like shapes to spread in all directions.

When the painting is fully dry scrape off the gouache using a clean finger. 

Paint the parsley with a lighter spread of raw sienna using round brush number 6 leaving some small areas uncolored here and there on it. Leave it to dry. Use the thin marker to emphasize the edges of parsley and its contour. That helps to create a sense of depth and perspective on the painting.

hand removing salt form a painting of a thistle made with watercolor and salt

Finishing Touches

Continue working with the marker pen to draw tiny spikes and leaflike curvy shapes on the thistle. Scrape off the top layer of paint on the top end of the thistle using a small piece of sandpaper in order to bring in the light and express the texture of the thistle. Make sure that the paper is completely dry before you do so if it is moist or wet the sandpaper will damage it.

Create dark green mixing French ultramarine and raw sienna to add shade on the stems of the parsley in order to give them tridimensional form. Move away from your painting and see if it gives the desired effect of composition you wanted. If you feel the need to add more details do so using the thin marker pen but make sure not to overdo it. The beauty of this painting lies in its’ cloudy and delicate appearance so too many details would ruin it.

I really hope you will have fun using this technique. It gives so much room for experimenting. This is just one of many ways of using salt with watercolor.

If you have any questions or need any help regarding the subject feel free to leave them below in the comment area and I will be more than happy to answer and help in any way I can.

Written by Magdalena

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