Add Snow Effects To Your Winter Painting

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Acrylic and oil artists can thin their white paint to splatter a canvas and achieve a wintery snowfall.

A watercolorist doesn’t have it that easy.

If you’re a traditionalist, there is no tube of white paint lurking on your tabouret.

Placing tiny dots of liquid Mastik is out of the question, and you certainly aren’t about to paint around diminutive snowflakes.

A neat thing about watercolor is the special effects an artist can achieve by utilizing various substances to alter the paint. One of the easiest and most powerful special effects is available at the local grocery store, and a lifetime supply of this awesome substance will cost less than $2.00. This miracle product is common, everyday salt.

Add Salt to Spice Up Your Watercolors

When added to wet paint on paper, salt absorbs the paint directly under and around it. When the paint is dry and the salt is brushed away, the result is an abstract pattern of light and dark paint. If you use the salt lightly, the result will be a scattering of lace-edged light shapes with a snowflake appearance. A generous serving of salt will give an overall abstraction of the area in which the salt was scattered. If you’re lucky, it may look like a snowstorm.

Experiment With Salts, Paints And Papers

The result of using salt to texture your painting is unpredictable, and variations are based on several factors. The size of the salt crystals, the amount of moisture in the paper, the paper itself and the individual characteristics of the paints will all make an impact how the salt works.

Your Choice In Salt Makes A Difference

The size of salt crystals used will make a difference in the final outcome of texture. Table salt is finely ground, and the effects will be minimal or very fine specks. Rock salt is large and generally not used for watercolors. Sea salt granules fluctuate in size by the manufacturer, so you need to play around with various brands to find one that suits you. Kosher Salt, which is available at grocery stores, is a perfect size to give great textural results.

Paper Selection For Salt Work

If you are using a rough press paper, the effect of the salt will not be as visible as it would appear on cold or hot press paper. The roughness of the paper is already doing its job, so salt texture is best suited for lightly textured paper or paper that has no texture at all. However, papers all have individual characteristics, so it’s a good idea to test your technique on scrap paper, using the same paint and salt as you intend on your final painting.

Moisture Level And The Salt Effect

Using salt to texture your paintings is a learned skill. There is no way to describe the amount of paint to apply to the paper or how long to wait before adding the salt. It’s something you just have to practice. You eventually will know when the paper is just right to sprinkle the salt.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind. The paper should not be flooded with paint. The salt crystals can only pick up so much liquid. If you put the salt on prematurely, there will be no texture when the paint dries. Conversely, using too little paint or waiting too long to apply the salt will result in little or no texture.

The perfect time to apply the salt is when the paper still has a sheen of wetness. Have your salt ready to apply and a plan of the area that you want to have this lacy effect. Keep practicing and you’ll soon be able to find that sweet spot between oozy and arid.

The Interaction Between Paints And Salt

Since paint pigments vary from manmade chemical combinations to natural earth minerals and organic components, the manner in which each reacts with salt will differ. Some coarsely pigmented paints will absorb less readily into the salt and some staining dye-like paints will stain the paper before being absorbed by the salt.
Fine pigmented paint that is non-staining often has the most dramatic texture effects when used with salt.

Experiment with your palette to find your favorites and make note of those whose effects are less than stellar.

Salt Effect Basics

Using salt to create textural effects is simple. Lay in an area of paint with enough water to make the paper moderately wet. As the paint begins to soak in and dry, sprinkle the salt on the paper. Now, go browse the latest art magazine you’ve been dying to read, or work on another painting.

Wait until the paint is completely dry, and use a paper towel or tissue to remove the salt granules from the paper. This is a one-time deal. The process does not work well if you try to re-do the area with a second salt application.

It’s best to use the salt technique early on in your painting. If you’re really unhappy with the results, you haven’t wasted a lot of time and energy on a piece that’s less than satisfactory.

Use Your Textural Effects Wisely

Not only can you use salt technique to create snow, you can use it to give a lovely textural effect to still life backgrounds. Use salt to lay in a basic color story for your background and glaze, accent and subdue areas to make an interesting and appealing background that adds interest but does not fight with your composition.

Carefully positioned salt work can add texture to small areas. Perhaps the center of a fantasy flower would benefit from the instant texture provided by salt. Use painter’s tape or liquid Mastik to define an area for salt texture. This is good for borders and areas that need restricted, hard edges.

It’s easy to overuse a technique like salt. Salt texture can become a gimmick rather than an effect, and your incessant salty appearance can detract from your composition and brushwork.

Get out your saltshaker and stir in some life and fun into your watercolors.

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