Watercolor Painting Technique: Creating Texture with Salt and Plastic

One of the endearing qualities of watercolor paint is that you can use a number of deceptively easy tricks to create some unexpected textures in your watercolor paintings. Not knowing the secrets, your audience will marvel at how difficult it was to complete your painting and how long it must have taken!

Sprinkling salt

A little table salt sprinkled on damp watercolor paint creates a delicate flower-like spot. Each crystal of salt chases away the pigment to make a lighter area beneath it. You can use this texture to create a field of flowers, snow, or leaves on a tree. It also creates interest in a background or foreground where not much else is going on.

Salt doesn't always work the way you hope it will. It involves the right pigment at the correct dampness and speed that the paper and air dry. Sometimes you just can't predict what will happen, and that's half the fun. But if you use the following steps, you should get an interesting result from using salt:

1. Wet a piece of 5-x-7-inch watercolor paper with clear water.

2. Place the paper on a flat surface and paint the area where you want to use the salt.

3. Wait for the magic time when the paint is damp and shiny. If the paint is dry, this technique won't work. If the paper has puddles, pour them off or absorb the excess water with the corner of a paper towel.

4. Add the salt. Less is more. Take a pinch of salt in your fingers and sprinkle a few grains rather than dumping a whole shaker on your painting.

5. Let the painting dry without disturbing the salt.

6. Brush away the salt after the paint dries.

If you apply the salt too thickly or add it when the paint is too wet, it tends to stick and not brush off when dry. The salt won't hurt the painting, but it will give it some real texture and a little crystal sparkle.

Reusing plastic grocery bags

Here's a great way to recycle all those plastic bags: dry cleaning bags, kitchen food wrap, newspaper sleeves, grocery bags, and so on. Basically, you crumple the plastic and push it into wet paint. After the paint dries, you remove the plastic, and it leaves behind lighter areas and a textural pattern. This technique makes great texture for rocks and mountains.

To use plastic in your painting:

1. Tear or cut the plastic into a manageable piece and wad it up. About 6 inches square is a good size.

2. Wet your watercolor paper and paint some colors onto it with a half-inch flat brush.

3. Set the wadded plastic in damp paint on your paper. Remember that the paint must be damp to make this work. If the plastic won't stay in contact with the paper, set something like a can or bottle on it to weight it down.

4. Leave the plastic on the paper until the paint dries, then lift it off. The plastic leaves a shape behind wherever it touched the paper.

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