Artsy Experiment! Let’s paint with salt water

Edited to add side by side photos of today’s paintings! The painting on the left was done with fresh water and the one on the right was done using saltwater and the same paints.

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The saltwater painting was much brighter and you can see the extra granulation in the sky area. This effect would be really fun if you used YUPO paper I think! The bottom sample is the saltwater one.

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Read the rest of this post for more info and to watch the step by step painting video!

Howdy friends! I am so excited to try this experiment today! We will doing a painting using salt water as our medium rather than fresh water. This morning I painted this painting in the customary way with watercolor using fresh water like we always do. This will be our “control” so we can see how different doing the exact same painting with the salt water will compare.

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I painted some swatches of the colors I am using with salt water.  Colors that were normally granular (ultramarine blue, cobalt teal and burnt sienna) were super granular afterward and smoother color got a bit of sediment to them.

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Tune in at 12:30pm ET on YouTube see thee what happens when we paint with the saltwater in our painting. I am really excited to see how it turns out! The replay will be available in the player below after the broadcast.

Supplies (affiliate links used)

  • This is the reference photo I am going to use
  • Here is a pattern you can trace *This is a jpg so print it out whatever size you like.
  • I am going to paint on my 6″x9″ Aquabee paper
  • Use any watercolors you want! I will use Phthalo blue (or cerulean) Cobalt teal (if you have it, no worries if you don’t) yellow ochre or Naples yellow, burnt sienna and sap green. Feel free to experiment as that is what we are doing today!
  • Temporary palette or white ceramic plate you can wash when you are done. *Only put out a small amount of paint because we will be contaminating it with salt, that’s why I recommend you work fresh from the tube. (BTW by temporary I DO NOT mean disposible, I mean one you do not leave/store your paint permanently in.)

I suggest having one bucket of fresh water (for cleaning your brush) and one bucket of salt water for wetting the paper and mixing on your palette. You can dissolve 2 tablespoons of salt in a cup of water at room temperature so I’m going to try that. I might need to dilute it more bit that is about max saturation especially because I prefer to paint with cold water as not to disturb the sizing on the paper more than I have to. Alway rinse off your brush in the fresh water before grabbing salt water to paint with so you can keep the salt water clean.

The possible downsides to this experiment…

Just like with any experiment there may be side effects. That’s why I suggest you use a separate glass, ceramic or plastic temporary palette you can clean when you are done and work with small amounts of paint fresh from the tube. Salt gives out paint a beautiful granular effect but here are some of the negative effects the salt might have:

  • Salt is corrosive, salty roads accelerate rust on your cars so it won’t be wise to use salt water on a metal palette especially if there are chips in the enamel coating.
  • The ferrule of your paintbrush is metal but I don’t think it would be as susceptible to rusting as I tested my brushes with a magnet to see if the ferrules would stick and they didn’t so maybe they are made from a brass or aluminum (or other non iron containing alloy.) It is the iron in metals that make magnets stick and are the most prone to rust. Still, I am using inexpensive brushes for this experiment and I will wash them when I am done.
  • Salt can damage fabric if not washed off so I reckon out 100% cotton paper may eventually suffer from the exposure.
  • I also wonder if the salt water could rust the iron, nickel, cobalt, cadmium or other metal based pigments in your paint over time as it interacts with moisture in the air as salt will bond with atmospheric moisture (think of clumps in your salt shaker in humid climates.) Salt doesn’t attract moisture though contrary to popular belief. Table salt is a neutrally charged,as is water, and they can merge when the molecules bump into each other in the air. It’s not going to pull all the humidity in the room in you your painting. Phew!

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Keeping those precautions in mind I don’t think there is any reason not to try this for your own enjoyment as an artist.  I plan on keeping both paintings to observe over time and see how the paints/paper change over the years. the only thing you have to lose is a piece of paper! I think it’s a risk worth taking in the pursuit of art and science! I hope to see you at 12:30 and til then happy crafting!

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