To Salt or Not to Salt: That is the Controversy

Sprinkling salt into a wet wash is probably one of the best known methods to add the feeling of surface texture to a watercolor painting. But it’s also one of the most controversial. Case in point: A painting I did using salt to create texture recently won an award in a prestigious show. At a critique session in which the juror explained why some paintings were rejected, she commented, “I would never pick a painting that used salt. It’s a gimmick.” Someone in the audience said, “Judy Morris uses salt and you chose her painting and gave it an award.”

El Cielo Azul (watercolor, 29 x 21)

The difference between my award-winning painting and the rejected painting was simple: Through years of trial and error, I’ve learned how to use salt in a way that enhances the textural effects I’m looking for rather than using it as a gimmick or trick. Too many artists use salt to “fix” an area in a painting that’s not clearly resolved. They think, for instance, “I don’t know what to do with this background;” then they throw salt at it.

I love texture and using the salt technique is the best way for me to get the textural effects I want in my watercolor paintings. But using the salt technique is merely the foundation of painting convincing texture. Without adjustments, the texture that appears when salt is sprinkled into a wet wash often times looks like what I call “raw salt.” To avoid this effect, you must integrate the salt texture into the rest of your painting.

Donna Jill Witty is a signature member of the Midwest Watercolor Society (where she?s also on the board of directors), the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society and the Western Colorado Watercolor Society. She studied at the American Academy of Art in Chicago and with several nationally known instructors. A professional artist for more than 20 years, Witty has won a long list of awards and her work has been displayed in many private and corporate collections throughout the United States and Western Europe. She lives in Woodstock, Illinois.

You may also like these articles: