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Nature Art: Get the Salt Shaker

Have you tried using salt on your watercolors? It's a great way to add random, natural texture to a painting, which can help make autumn leaves, beach sand, or tree bark look more realistic. Sprinkle salt onto shiny, wet paint and, when it is dry, scrape the salt off. The salt crystals leave behind a mottled pattern. You don't need to use gourmet salt; regular table salt, with its tiny crystals, works very well. In the sample, below, I did try kosher salt and a fancy Hawaiian rock salt that I had here at home, so you could see the marks of different crystal sizes. You can see the salt drying on the colored squares:

Last week I suggested you use transparent watercolor, but this week I'm using the opposite kind of paint: opaque and granulating. I listed the paint names, above, on the sample. Since the salt pushes away the wet paint and reveals the white of the paper, you can see the salt effect best when you use it on a mid-range or dark color. So...pure yellow is out. (Use an old credit card to scratch in some texture, instead.)

If you already paint in watercolor, you know that the surface of the paper will also influence the texture of your painting. Hot press paper is the smoothest, cold press has a bit of texture, and rough is full of tiny dips that catch the granulation of the paint. I used cold press paper for this test. Below are the same samples with the salt brushed off:

 Salt could create beautiful seafoam or sand too, so give it a try in your summertime paintings.

-- Sue Fierston paints and teaches just outside of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As a painter, she works in acrylics and watercolor and is in the middle of a series called "100 Flowers." As a teaching artist, she works with teachers to bring art into their classrooms in grades 4-8. Her posts focus on her nature-themed art collaborations. For a look at her paintings or more about her teaching, check out her website at suzannefierston.com.

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