John Salminen on Painting With a Mouth Atomizer

By John Salminen

"Gloucester Boatyard" (watercolor, 22x30) by John Salminen

"Gloucester Boatyard" (watercolor, 22x30) by John Salminen

In the last stages of painting Gloucester Boatyard (above), I decided to add emphasis to the center of interest—the boats in the midground. One way I accomplished this was to use a mouth atomizer to darken the values around that center of interest, creating a spotlit effect. I chose to darken the values with a mouth atomizer rather than a wash because, with the atomizer, I could direct a delicate mist of paint without smudging the underlying painted surface I’d worked so hard to create.

What Is a Mouth Atomizer?
A mouth atomizer is a device consisting of two tubes, either hinged or permanently fixed at the proper angle with a crosspiece. With the tubes forming a right angle, the artist submerges the end of the narrower tube into paint or other liquid and then blows into the wider tube, creating an evenly sprayed mist.

Pat Dews mouth atomizer

Pat Dews mouth atomizer

I prefer the Pat Dews atomizer (above), which is fixed at the proper angle. It’s more expensive than a hinged atomizer, but I find the fixed-angle version more durable and easier to use.


John Salminen is one of America’s most highly recognized watercolorists. For more information, visit his website at www.johnsalminen.com. See also his full demonstration of the painting Gloucester Boatyard appears in the Brushing Up column of the October 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.


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