Thursday, 21 January 2016

a pinch of salt . . .

original watercolour by Teresa Newham
I recently took it into my head to create an abstract painting using watercolour and rock salt.  This was one of the techniques I was shown several years ago during a short course introduction to watercolour at Central St Martins - it produced fantastic results but I hadn't tried it since.

splashing & sprinkling
© Teresa Newham

Rather than use my best paper, I stretched some 300gsm Arches, wetted it, and dropped in Transparent Yellow, Quinacridone Magenta, and some Winsor Blue (Green Shade).  Also known as Phthalo Blue, it's a colour I use a lot in printmaking but rarely for watercolours.   As the paint spread, I sprinkled salt over the paper and wetted it again in places with a spray.  Then I walked away firmly, without looking back.

how the base layer dried
© Teresa Newham

Next morning the painting was quite different, with some amazing patterns.  I carefully brushed away every scrap of salt with my fingertips.  As the overall effect was a little gaudy, I covered the whole lot with a wash of ultramarine, graduating towards the centre and out again.   I sprinkled more salt onto the paper, used the spray a bit, and once again turned my back on it.

the ultramarine layer, with salt
© Teresa Newham
I couldn't resist taking a look from time to time at the colours marching across the paper - there were some vibrant hues emerging that usually only appear in the water I use to rinse the brushes - but again I didn't touch it until the following morning.  By now the salt had absorbed so much pigment that it resembled those coloured sugar crystals you can buy for your coffee - these ones, however, were strictly inedible.

salt or sugar?
© Teresa Newham
Some artists say you should keep the salt in place as part of your painting.  But I wanted the effects underneath to be seen; besides, my student portfolio from that long-ago course now has a crunchy layer of salt at the bottom from my early experiments.  It does fall off eventually . . . and removing it was such a tactile experience it felt like an integral part of the creative process!

trying out a mount
© Teresa Newham
I was happy enough with the finished piece to see how it looked in a mount.  For a few days it didn't have a title, but eventually I settled on Cosmos.  Make of it what you will . . .


  1. Just love it. John Martin eat your heart out!

  2. I love it too! Cosmos is a great title :-). One for OS????