Watercolor Technique and Experimentation – Part 2

In last week’s watercolor post, I promised that I would talk to you about the “salt thing”. I’ve read about this technique and even seen some success stories with it. The premise is that you sprinkle salt over wet paint and let it dry. The salt attracts the pigment in the paint, so that when it dries and you clean the salt off, there are darker spots where the grains of salt were. This creates a pebbly or fur-type appearance. Supposedly. I have yet to see evidence that this technique works, but I’ll walk you through my experimentation.

Firstly, I put some paint down (a warm brown tone, because I though this was going to work for fur) and sprinkled salt liberally across the wet surface. After waiting for it to dry, I brushed the salt off and looked in disappointment at the result. There was little to no effect whatsoever. Oh, well, it was no big deal. New techniques aren’t going to work the first time and I wasn’t going to stop there. I performed similar experiments, with different degrees of wetness of the paint and darkness of color. I determined that the wetter the paint, the more drastic the effect of the salt. Further, the darker the color, the better the salt attracted the pigment. Not that these results are exemplary, per se, and obviously still not evidence that I’ve achieved a fraction of what I should be able to. Using my reference, I have achieved a wonderful effect using a pale grey tone. Inspired, I decided to try it in context, meaning I would use the salt on a section which is meant to be fur and not just a test square.

Watercolor Marmot
Salt Technique Experiment

I was painting a yellow-bellied marmot at the time, a large ground squirrel found in the Northern United States who happens to have quite dark fur on his back, and I decided to paint the fur the way I usually do for his tail and stomach and using the salt thing for his back. The result was so bad that I almost forgot I tried this when flipping through my sketchbook. The pigment did not become drawn to the salt despite the fact that it was dark and very wet, and instead it looks like a flat black coat of paint on his back. Why hasn’t the “salt thing” worked for me yet? I’m not sure, but one day I’ll find out and, if that day comes soon, I’ll write about my findings, to update you. Additionally, if any of you happen to know how to make a fur-like appearance using salt, please let me know in our comments.

Sometimes, art is just like this. It seems straightforward, that I’ll just look at resources and references, practice what I’ve learned, make adjustments and improvements, and eventually graduate beyond the initial material. In reality, art is a lot more loopy than that. I mean, it isn’t a linear progression towards a great product. It’s a lot of trying and failing, and false progress, and real progress that gets forgotten or it is difficult to replicate. Each day isn’t better than the last, and each project doesn’t necessarily build off of the last one, growing stronger and more skilled. It’s a more complicated and unpredictable process.

If you have any questions or suggestions about any of what I’ve talked about in our last two watercolor posts, please leave us a comment, or even leave a suggestion for something you would like to read about. Thank you for reading and, until next time, goodbye.

2 thoughts on “Watercolor Technique and Experimentation – Part 2”

  1. Hey Amber,

    Great blog!

    I think what you’re saying about the unpredictability of the art of mastering art is so true! Personally, I’ve struggled on and off for years trying to write the mythical “great American novel.” Then, I came across a quote from a renowned author who said, “You never learn how to write a novel. You only learn how to write the novel you’re on.”
    I believe the same can be said about mastering art, or music, or just about anything else.
    The path of improvement isn’t usually straight and narrow.
    When success is finally achieved, that feels good, for sure…but it’s the unique impression of the crazy personal journey that got you there that you’ll likely grow from the most.

    Thanks for keeping your blog so personal, informative, and thought-provoking…it’s very helpful!

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