Salt Science! - January 26, 2020

Epsom salts - I like the mottled effect that the large grains gave. This was a light wash so shows up more.

I know that one of my favorite things about watercolor is the fun you can have with it interacting with salt. It occurred to me one day that there are other kinds of salt than just regular table salt that might have different effects. Then my husband, Brian, suggested other types of salt than regular old sodium chloride. I was intrigued.

Brian works at a really cool place - an organic pesticide manufacturer. The company grows microorganisms (it used to be nematodes, but now it's something else) that affect crop pests at different points of their life cycle, killing them without dangerous chemicals. Chances are, if you are eating organic produce, the farmer used this company's product. Brian's in shipping and receiving and is responsible for sending out orders all over the world. Like with every manufacturer, sometimes raw materials get contaminated when bags break or spill & they have to be tossed. Brian collected some of this spillage and brought home different salts for me to try with the watercolor.All of these chemicals have scary names but are even sodium chloride sounds frightful until you realize it's just table salt. All of these chemicals are used in the fermentation process for the pesticides. They help feed or adjust pH levels in the fermentation vats. Some of them are things you can get at the grocery or drug store and some might have to be gotten from a person who works at a chem lab. 

I checked for information on all of these chemicals and they all seemed safe if used correctly (baking soda would hurt if you put it in your eye!) and we didn't get sick or grow an extra head after I used all of these.

Ammonium Chloride had the worst-sounding name, but is used as a "fermenting aid" whatever that means. It has a nice "cloudy" effect. Not sure it's worth using again because it's so subtle.

Dipotassium Phosphate (yeast food) seems to bleach out pigment. Brian uses it to make his own homemade Gatorade.
I shudder to think what his insides look like!
 This one was interesting to watch. I sprinkled the same amount of product on each heart. This stuff was a fine powder and kind of went on in little blobs. The white spots started out small, but super-white. And they grew until nearly all of the paint was bleached out. I'm curious if I could make a solution of this and sprinkle it on like rubbing alcohol for a bubble-type effect. I dunno.

Monopotassium Phosphate - used to balance pH levels in fermentation vats
 I love the effect of monopotassium phosphate. It was weird how it collected all the pigment in the middle underneath the crystals and radiated veins out. I'll have to try this one again.

Sodium tripolyphosphate - preservative
 Sodium tripolyphosphate (this stuff is hard to type and I'm a really good typist!) stayed powdery even after it dried. I'm not sure if I put too much on (more than that bit of water could handle) or if that's just what it does. I like the way it looks and will try this one again.

Epsom salts on a darker wash
 Epsom salts are a clear winner for me. The grains are pretty big - rice-sized, so they leave a mark and the crystals don't dissolve. The paint pools under the pieces and that contributes to the mottling effect. It's pretty in-your-face, so I'd use this effect in moderation. Maybe.

Kosher salt
 Here's the stuff I got out of my kitchen cupboard and where my initial experiments were going to begin. I wondered if grain size of salts would be the major difference - here is kosher. I was a little surprised there wasn't more "starring" - does the iodine in regular table salt make a difference?

Superfine or popcorn salt
 This one needs to be tried again. I think the heart shape was just too small to allow me to sprinkle this effectively. I want to try again on a larger painting to see if the tiny grains of salt turn out starry-er. This just looks a little mottled. Oh well.

Maldon sea salt - HUGE variations in grain size.
Maldon sea salt was a gamble - the grains were so big that I didn't know if it was worth it. The effect turned out nice with a big difference in value where the salt did its thing. It might be a bit expensive for me to use too much of (but I could experiment with reusing the grains since they are just SO BIG).

Black Hawaiian sea salt
This was in the cupboard and I had NO idea what would happen here. The salt is black because of charcoal. I think it actually stained the paint. I also think it inhibited the effect of the salt itself since there's not much starring here. I'm not sure what I'd ever use this for but it was fun to try.


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