Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Watercolor tip: use salt to make snow!

Salt soaks up water, right? Well, using salt on your watercolor paintings is a fun way to create abstract, starburst patterns. If you use salt on a blue sky scene, it looks a lot like snow. Below are the steps I used to create this little winter-scape painting.

For the house shape (this has nothing to do with salt yet) make two angular shapes with a dark brown and a slightly lighter brown. Achieve the lighter brown by adding water to the dark brown in your mixing tray. This two-tone look adds to the sense of depth and perspective. For the snow-covered roof, use a light wash of blue to indicate the shadows of the snow. Leave some of the roof, where the sun would hit, empty (white) to make the snow look bright. For snow on the ground, use a very light wash of blue to indicate some of the shadow areas.
Now for the sky. Put a couple of dabs of blue watercolor in your mixing tray. Use your brush to transfer the water from your water cup into the mixing tray. If you are using dry water colors, just add drops of water to the color block. Either way, think of the brush like a miniature mop, soaking up some water and carrying it over to the mixing tray.
Once you have a good amount of really watery blue color, you are ready to add the sky. I was working in a small area so I only needed about a tablespoon of blue water color. Use a wide, flat brush (see mine above) to apply the blue color to the sky. Work as quickly as you can to avoid blending problems. Imagine pushing and guiding the water color across your painting. As soon as you see that your brush is out of color, quickly dip it back in the color tray to get more. This step, if you work in a small area like I did, should only take you about 20 seconds.
Now for the salt. Before the blue sky drys, sprinkle course Kosher salt on top of the sky area. Leave your painting to dry completely, with the salt on it.
When your painting is dry, brush off the salt. If it sticks to the paper, use the handle end of your brush to gently pick the salt off. To finish my painting, I used guache to fill in the yellow windows, dark door, chimney smoke, and decorative red border.

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