Watercolor Salt Technique for Easy and Effective Texture

Salt Effects in Watercolor Painting

How To Use Salt for Easy Watercolor Texture

salt effects on watercolor, painting and photo by watercolor artist Deb Watson

Paint a watercolor wash onto your paper. When the painted area begins to dry (the wet shine disappears), sprinkle on salt and leave it undisturbed for ten minutes. Isn’t that easy?

Just Right Wetness – experiment with watercolor and salt on scrap paper (go wild!) to find the perfect wetness for the most salt effect. (The humidity level can be a factor in how long to wait.)

Too wet or too dry = no effect but once you find the perfect wetness, you’ve mastered salt.

Understanding Salt Effects in Watercolor

watercolor salt flowers - photo by watercolor artist Deb Watson

Each salt crystal absorbs a tiny bit of liquid wash, creating a flower like blotch. The larger the crystal, the larger the blotch it will create.

And, larger salt crystals may leave a darker center outline (see photo) where the larger crystal sat. If you’re working on flowers, that can create a beautiful flower with a center already in place.

What kind of salt works best with watercolor?

Any kind of salt should work with watercolor. The bigger the salt crystal, the larger the blotch it should create.

Regular table salt will give you nice salt effects on your watercolor wash.

Larger salt crystals – try any, from the gourmet salt crystals in your grocery store to the very large ones used to make ice cream.

Should You Leave Salt on a Watercolor Painting?

acid free spray to neutralize salt effects on watercolor paper photo by watercolor artist and teacher, Deb Watson

Once your painted, salted area is completely dry, most artists will brush the salt off into a trash can. Be careful not to scratch or tear your paper while removing the stuck on salt. Your scraper can be helpful in getting the salt off the paper.

Using salt will definitely affect the pH of your paper, whether you leave it on or brush it off. This may erode the paper over time.

You can mitigate this somewhat by spraying the finished painting with a pH neutralizer. Your local craft store carries this in the scrap booking section.

I’ve tried two types of spray and neither affected my painting. You should test your spray first on a piece of scrap painting, as paint, spray and papers can vary a lot.

What are the best watercolor painting subjects for using salt?


Salt effects work well with a wide range of different watercolor subjects, from fun kid’s projects to masterpiece watercolors.

Here are a few of my favorites. If you have more, I hope you post a comment below and share yours.


Using salt on your background wash is an easy way to create a unique and interesting texture. An abstract, textured background is fast and fun and looks wonderful behind a very realistic subject.

watercolor painting with salt effect background of a friend's grandson done by award winning watercolor artist and teacher, Deb Watson.
A friend’s grandson.

Landscapes – Combining Texture Techniques

Original watercolor painting of trees with salt effects, done for a fund raiser by award winning watercolor artist and teacher, Deb Watson

Trees are especially easy to make realistic with salt.

Add salt to each layer of color (Arches paper and a light touch will help save the underlying layer’s texture) for building up your tree texture.

In this painting, I started the distant trees with a loose wash of color and salt. The I painted the orange and darker green and again added salt. The smooth water keeps it from being too much texture.


Painting flowers can be magic with watercolor salt texture. You can use salt to create texture in the flowers (see the hummingbird flowers at the top) or add interest in the background.

Once the salt has done it’s work, you can paint behind faint salt effects, like tiny blossoms, to make them stand out even more.


Salt texture is a fun and easy watercolor technique that anyone can use. You are only limited incorporating it into your painting by your imagination. Try lots and lots of different ideas and you may come up with a unique watercolor look that’s all your own.

Painting is the grandchild of nature - Rembrandt van Rijn