Are you looking to add add a little extra flavor to your watercolors? Sprinkling a little salt into your watercolor wash will certainly liven up your painting by creating texture. Salt added to a wet wash will absorb the pigment and pull it across the paper creating unique abstract patterns.
These salt patterns often can be used to create the impression of foliage, snow, coral, moss, stars, etc. For instance, I used salt in my "Snowy Owl" piece to create the illusion of snow which combined with the blue tones to create a chilly atmosphere.
One thing to keep in mind when using salt is that it typically creates a very "bold" texture. This can be highly desirable in some instances, but it can also be distracting in others. To soften the effect, you can glaze over it with a color wash or simply water alone.
Now that we have a rough idea of its uses, how do we choose which salt to use? Well, all salts are not created equal. The different physical properties of the various types of salt crystals will each produce slightly different but relatively unique effects. Thus, you should try to choose the type of salt that is best suited for your subject matter. Below, I've illustrated some of the most well known and easily obtained salts for reference:
When applying salt to a wash of color, timing will determine the success. If you apply the salt crystals while the watercolor is still wet, the salt will just dissolve and not create the desired effect. If the paper is too dry, then the salt will stick to your paper and create an almost sandpaper like texture. To achieve the best results, the surface should be damp.
Shown on the right are the results of adding sea salt to a wash that was "too dry." The salt crystals glue themselves to the paper and require you to nearly chisel themselves off rather than creating the desired "starburst" effect. While this is not usually a desired effect, it could be depending on what you are trying to achieve.
If this occurs and is an undesired effect, you can often chisel off the salt pieces prior to applying some water to the area to scumble off the remaining salt residue. Using a paper towel, blot the paper to absorb the water and subsequently allow the painting to completely dry before attempting the technique again.
Lastly, you can store the salt in a shaker or in a salt box. I prefer to have more control over salt distribution by pinching it between my fingers so the salt box works better for me than a shaker.
I hope you've found this tutorial helpful. If you have any further questions or would like to share your results, feel free to do so using the form at the beginning of this post.