Paint with Salt: Creating Easy and Effective Watercolor Textures | Kate Willis-Crowley | Skillshare

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Paint with Salt: Creating Easy and Effective Watercolor Textures

teacher avatar Kate Willis-Crowley, Author and Illustrator

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

14 Lessons (1h 7m)
    • 1. Paint with Salt: Creating Easy and Effective Watercolor Textures

    • 2. Materials

    • 3. Brush Loading and Over-Loading

    • 4. Getting Started

    • 5. Colour Swatches: The 'Sprinkle and Leave' Method

    • 6. The 'Add More Paint' Method

    • 7. Removing the Salt (Spoon Time!)

    • 8. Drawing On...

    • 9. The Saltwater Method

    • 10. Idea! Saltwater Florals

    • 11. Idea! Seascape

    • 12. Idea! Dragon Skin

    • 13. Idea! Night Sky

    • 14. Thank You

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About This Class

Create stunning painted textures, with salt and basic watercolors, in this easy to follow class.

For your project we'll cover:

  • Preparing materials - all you need to get started
  • The 'sprinkle and leave' method
  • The 'add more paint'method
  • The saltwater method
  • Combining textures with line drawing

I'll also be demonstrating the following creative ways to introduce salt textures into your artwork:

  • Painting a seascape 
  • Painting dragon skin
  • Painting a night sky
  • Painting saltwater floral

This class is ideal for beginners, or more experienced painters looking to add something extra to their skill set.





Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Kate Willis-Crowley

Author and Illustrator


I'm Kate, and I'm a children's author and illustrator. I'm also known by my pen name, INKY WILLIS, and I'm creator of the SCRIBBLE WITCH series.

I've a Fine Art degree, and a Masters in Communications Art and Design from the Royal College of Art, London, though the bulk of my experience is industry based. Clients include Puffin, Bonnier, Chicken House Books, Faber and Faber, and Hachette Children's Books.


I work commercially in a few different styles, using a mix of traditional media and digital. I also make art purely for my own enjoyment, and there's often an overlap between the personal and paid work. 

I've taught art techniques and approaches to classes of school children ... See full profile

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1. Paint with Salt: Creating Easy and Effective Watercolor Textures : Hello and welcome to Paint With Salt, creating easy and effective watercolor textures. If you've never used salt in your painting before, you are going to love it. I'm Kate Willis-Crowley. I also go by the pen name Inky Willis and I'm a professional children's author and illustrator. Creative textures build interest and can help tell a story. In this class, I'll be guiding you through my favorite methods of creating eye-catching textures with just salt and basic watercolor. For your project, we'll be building up a series of test swatches and experiments to fully explore this unique addition towards color. I'm going to get you really familiar with these techniques and share some creative ways that you can start introducing salt textures and effects into your own artwork, whether it's for dragon skin, a night sky, a sea or just a peaceful way to break up flat areas of color. This class is ideal for beginners or artists looking to add a little something extra to their work. It's going to be fun. Let's get started. 2. Materials: Let's look at the materials you'll need for this class. You need some paper, watercolor, sketch or cartridge papers are all great. If you don't have any of those, you can always try these techniques on printer paper. Thinner papers will buckle and bump when wet. But the great thing about salt is it absorbs water. This will help keep your paper fairly flat. You'll need watercolor paints. I'll be using a travel set of watercolor pans, and pans in case you've not had that word are just the solid blocks of pigment. If you'd prefer to use chips of watercolor paint instead, that's totally fine, both can achieve great results. You also need a selection of watercolor brushes. As an absolute minimum, you'll need a couple of medium round brushes. Round brushes are the ones that come up to a point. If you have a watercolor box like mine, there's probably a round brush in there as part of the set. I'm also going to be using a flat brush from time to time. I recommend you do the same if you have one. As this come in handy for painting large areas quickly. You'll need clean water, two cups, and some kitchen roll for wiping and mopping up some spillages, and you'll also need a spoon so that when your salt is totally dry, you can scrape it off. Now very importantly, you'll need some salt. If you just have cheap type of salt, that's okay. It gives really great coverage and you're going to see amazing results with that alone. I'm also going to be experimenting with salt flakes. Alternatively, you might like to try rock salt or any other specialty salts that you might have lurking in your food cupboard. You'll also need a selection of pens and pencils as we'll be drawing on some of our swatches to see what works best in combination with our salt textures. As an illustrator, I'm always thinking about that drawn line and how to combine materials and experimenting widely with various drawing equipment really allows us to find the styles that feel right to us as individual artists. 3. Brush Loading and Over-Loading : Before we start painting, I just want to explain what I mean by brush loading and also brush over-loading. If you're a seasoned painter, feel free to jump ahead to the next video. If not, stay with me, this won't take long. Brush loading is literally the process of loading up your brush with paint or water. I'm actually going to begin by looking at brush over-loading, because when we're using solid watercolor paints, the first thing we generally do is put some water in the mixing tray, and To do this, we want to overload the brush with water by submerging all the hairs into the water. Then lifting that brush and holding it horizontally, we'll just give it a gentle bob just to lose any drips. Then if we keep holding that brush horizontally, we can move it right over to the mixing tray before depositing the water by dragging those hairs against one of the ridges. Depending on how much paint you want to mix, you may need to repeat that a few times to get the right quantity of water. Off course, remember to make sure all the water is deposited from your brush into the mixing tray before you go for your pigment, otherwise, your paint set is going to soon become a very murky swimming pool of color. If you're using paints from tubes of watercolor, this process is a little different. You'll be squeezing out a small amount of paint first into the mixing tray and then adding the water, but still with that over-loaded brush. That's over-loading, and usually we only over-load when we're picking up water, but there may also be times when you want to over-load your brush with paint. For instance, if you want to splatter your paint or when using a particular salt painting technique, which I'll share a little later. Now let's look at brush loading. Once your paint is mixed, you'll want to load your brush with the right amount of paint for the task at hand, and this will vary. For instance, if I'm painting fine detail, then I don't want much paint on my brush at all. Whereas, if I want to fill a large area with color, I'm going to want much more paint. The best way to get familiar with how much paint you need is just to practice painting often. Trust me, it will eventually feel really instinctive. But for now, I'm going to talk about a standard brush load. Basically, the optimum amount of paint my brush is able to hold easily without risk of dripping across my page. To load up my brush, I'm dipping the head of the brush approximately halfway into my pre-mixed paint. Then I'm gently wiping off the excess paint. Because my brush isn't holding too much paint, I can now hold it diagonally in the same way I might hold a pencil. Remember, for loading, half submerge the head of your brush, gently wipe, then hold it diagonally, and for overloading, fully submerge the head of your brush, bob to shake off any excess liquid, then hold horizontally. 4. Getting Started : Getting started. Making a few simple notes alongside your swatches will save you time and effort in the long run. Firstly, I recommend you either number your colors or find your own shorthand way to record. I like to do this by drawing a quick grid to represent my paint set. My paints have two rows of six, so I am adjusting it down like so, I'm putting the numbers 1-12 to correspond with my colors. If you're using tubes of watercolor, then you can either list your paints and number them, or you can make a note of the numbers printed on the tube labels. But beware, these are manufacturer specific, so if you're using a variety of different brands, then these numbers might slip you up. It's also worth making a quick note of the type of salt you're using. I'm splitting my page with table salt on the left and flakes on the right, but of course, go with the layout that suits you best. The key thing to remember is that taking notes now will save you time later. 5. Colour Swatches: The 'Sprinkle and Leave' Method : The first method we're going to look at is the sprinkle and leave method. We're all organized with our color numbering system. I'm going to start by painting a quick swatch of IV black on each side. That's color number 1 in my grid. You can just pick a color. Of course, you don't have to replicate what I'm doing. Just remember that whatever you do, note it down. I'm going to try to keep my swatches as symmetrical as possible. Whatever I paint on the left I'm also painting on the right-hand side. This way, I just need to label my colors on one side, there is no need to duplicate. Then one is still damp. I'm sprinkling a pinch of table salt on the left swatch and the flakes of salt on the right swatch. It's important that once the salt is down that you try not to move it. We want to give it some time to just do its thing. Next, I'm repeating the same process but with some sepia brown. What's interesting is that some pigments are naturally just more granular than others so you might see a slight difference in how different colors respond to salt. I'm labeling that with a two as it's number 2 on my grid. Next, I'm going to combine some sepia brown with some ultramarine. I'm taking a good pinch of salt and making sure I get a fairly even coverage. Then I can label my swatch using a plus sign to show that I've combined two colors together. That's number 2 plus number 8. Lastly, on my top row, I'm going to use a warmer color. This is a really strong pigment called English Venetian red. It's color number 3 on my grids. For my next row, I'm going to experiment with some wet on wet swatches. Wet on wet literally means applying wet paints to an already wet surface. That can either mean painting onto wet paints or in this case, water. At the beginning of this row, I've just written W/W to stands for wet on wet. I'm starting with a base layer of water, then adding a layer of ivory black. Of course, I'm adding my table salt. I'm also writing something that looks a bit like a fraction. This is to record what's on my top layer and what's on my bottom layer. As my bottom layer is just water, I'm writing the number 0 to represent that. You could use a W if you would remember that more easily, zero just works for me. Then above the line, I'm writing the number 1 to show I have used IV black color again. Going again with color number 2 with the wet on wet technique. Then writing that as two over zero sepia brown on water. Then I'm mixing sepia brown and ultramarine. As I write this down is just as before, base layer is water so that's a zero and the top layer is a combination of colors, so I'm writing 2 plus 5. Now, applying the water for color number 3, the Venetian red, and adding that salt. New row. Again, I'm going for a very wet on wet swatches, but this time I'm using paint for my base layer instead of water. Starting with color number 3 and naff the top layer some yellow ocher for even warmth, and applying my salt. I'm writing a three at the bottom of my base color and a four at the top. Then just to see if it makes a difference, which I think is well, I'm switching those. Yellow ocher at the button and the Venetian red on the top, three over four. Now, as my swatches are mainly cool colors, I'm going for something much warmer now. Keeping that yellow ocher on the bottom, but now adding that vivid cadmium red for the top layer. That's 10 over a four. Now swapping those over, so cadmium red on the base with the ocher on top. Now, for these next two rows, I'm going for long swatches because I want to give myself some surfaces to draw on lighter. I'm going for the permanent olive green which is my color number 5, and it's a really rich green. The same again underneath. But we have an upper layer of yellow ocher. Then switching these, so yellow ocher on the base, the olive green on top. As I said, you can just pick the colors that really appeal to you, try any combinations you like. But just remember to note down as you go, is going to save you so much time in the long run. Here I'm just playing about a bit. I'm going half and half with a T for table salt on the left and an F for flakes on the right. Now, just trying a few different color combinations noting down as I go, making sure I have plenty of texture swatches to draw on later. Now I'm going to put this aside until I'm sure it is 100 percent dry. This salt is going to hold moisture a lot longer than the paper. When you do yours, just make sure you give it a good hour at least to dry. Things to remember; keep simple notes as you go, don't move the salt once applied, and once finished, leave until completely dry. 6. The 'Add More Paint' Method : The second method I'm going to show you is what I am calling the add more paint method and you'll soon see why. I'm going to paint three test strips this time. Just like before, I'm labeling to tell the type of salt I've used. Table salt first, then the salt flakes, then a combination of both. To start, I'm going through the steps in method 1. I'm starting by applying my paint. I'm using Prussian blue as a base layer and if you're painting along with me, this would be a good time to use a flat headed brush or a chiseled brush to help cover these large areas quickly. I'm not worrying too much about precision. If the paint isn't typically even, that's absolutely fine. The most important thing right now is speed because we need the paint to still be wet when the salt goes on. Then for the second layer, I'm mixing some permanent carmine with the Prussian blue. Just like before, I'm sprinkling on my salt while the paint is still wet. The same again with the salt flakes. Then lastly, a mix of table salt and the salt flakes. Previously, at this point, I set my swatches aside to dry. This time, as you may have guessed, I'm going to add more paint. I'm preparing some more permanent carmine and I'm going to apply this top layer by overloading my brush with paint, then letting it drip down next to the salt. This way it flows into the salt and gets absorbed, and I'm able to avoid move from the salt out too much. But if you do not, some of the salt grains with your brush don't panic. It's inevitable that some grains are going to be disturbed. Just try to keep it to a minimum. Remember, apply paint around the salt with that overloaded brush and try your hardest not to move the salt. 7. Removing the Salt (Spoon Time!): It's time to grab your spoon and scrape off that salt. This is really straightforward. The most important thing is just to make sure that your paint is definitely completely dry before you start, so that you don't end up smudging your work. Then start by gently scraping the edge of your spoon against the dry salt, and moist should come off just really easily. You might find that some areas are just a bit more stubborn than others and needs a slightly firmer scrape. It's unlikely your salt will be welded to your paper, but if it is, you may want to try again with thinner wood color paint, so just water it down a bit more. Or if you know your paint wasn't too thick, then try with a different paper, but 99 times out of 100 the salt just scrapes right off. Here I'm seeing a really stark contrast between textures created by the salt flakes and the finer textures created with the table salt. I particularly like the way the wet on wet swatches have turned out here. The salt crystals hold the upper color and then they reveal that base color, really cool effect. The same again, scraping up the salt from my AC Moore paint examples, and you'll see this amazing cauliflower effect created by the extra paint being sucked into the salt. Looks almost like lava. I absolutely love this effect. Again, there's a difference between those fine grains and the salt flakes. Combining the two types of salt together makes this wonderful irregularity in the texture. Things to remember, make sure your painting is totally dry, use your spoon to gently scrape off the salt. 8. Drawing On...: I'm now returning to my original texture swatches and I've gathered all my favorite pens and pencils because it's time to experiment with drawing on our salt textures. The point of this lesson is to get to know how different pens and pencils look in combination with the painted textures. So that later when you're using these salt techniques in your own artwork, you can make informed choices about the line characteristics you want. I'm starting with a 3B graphite pencil. This is actually quite subtle which could be useful and I'm going to try to repeat the same squiggles for each test. It might vary slightly so that it's easy to compare. I know I keep saying this but remember to make a note of what you've used. Now I'm using a Kura Toga mechanical pencil with an HB lead which predictably gives a much more precise and graphic line than the graphite pencil. This one's a fineline white Posca pen and it's slightly more transparent than I was expecting which is good to know. I might be able to use this to add subtle highlights to my salt text to illustrations at some point. Now this one is one of my zebra mildliners and these have a thick chiseled end and a thinner pointed end. I'm going to try both mildliners. In case you've not heard of that term, they are like highlighted pens but in subtler colors. I actually love this combination of mildliner and watercolor. Is not overwhelming at all but it builds up the color really beautifully. This next one is a tombow calligraphy pen with a soft nip, they do a hard nip too, but this is the soft one and they can give this really dynamic graphic line. For comparison, I'm going to use a zebra brush pen. This feel a bit different to use but actually they look quite similar. Zebra make a range of thicknesses and this is the thickest. This one is the paper mate flair. It's not calligraphic like the other two I've just used. If you prefer a more consistent line width then this could be the one for you. I must add that because I'm drawing on top of dry paint, I don't need to worry about my pens being water resistant or water proof. If you would like to work the other way round so pen first paint later, then that's a massive consideration. If you are going to draw in pen first, check the pen supply information to make sure your pen is water proof or water resistant. Then make sure you give your ink enough time to dry thoroughly. Another zebra mildliner and now a pigment micron. These are great for an ultra fineline and this is my finest fineliner at 0.05 millimeters. Now another zebra brush pen, this time a medium nip which is slightly closer to the size of that tombow. This is just a regular ball point, so the ink flows really easy to control and it's consistent in that line width. I can adjust the pressure to a degree. This next one is an Illustrator pen by Spectrum Noir. It's alcohol-based and it's actually very quite faint. Let's try a different color in the same range. I'm returning to graphite, this one is an HB graphite pencil which predictably is looking actually quite similar to the 3B. This is the gel pen and I've never been totally convinced by gel pens. The ink flow is sometimes a bit unpredictable but actually it's looking pretty good so I'm going to break the system and try a bit of cross hatching. This is a fineline permanent mark by Pentel followed by a uni pin fineliner. Then just a regular cheap felt tip which actually looks pretty great. As I'm planning on paintings some dragon skin later, I'm just going to draw some little scales. I think it disguises the salt texture a bit too much so I'm not sure I'll be repeating that but this is why this testing stage is so crucial. It's not just about the look of the pens or the pencils, is the feel of them too on top of those salt textures. It really varies a lot. Definitely do your own tests and get to know what feels good and looks good. I'll be using some of these combinations a little later when I share some creative ways to use salt textures in your own artwork. Remember, try a range of pens and pencils and as always, take notes. 9. The Saltwater Method: The saltwater method is a little different. Instead of sprinkling and dissolving one teaspoon of salt in 100 milliliters of water, I'm going to paint directly with this saltwater solution. I'm beginning with a version of wet on wet painting. This time, the base layer is saltwater. I'm going to use this brush just for my salt water. So first off, I'm laying down some saltwater. Then I'm just tapping a small amount of paint on, so we can see it blimp. I'm going to keep my freshwater brushes that free also. It's not an exact science and inevitably, a bit of salt will end up in the freshwater. But I'm going to do my best to avoid cross-contamination. Again, but with a larger surface area of saltwater, and that was roughly the same amount of paint. But notice how it spread to much thinner across the larger surface area. This time, I'm using the same amount of saltwater over that same larger surface area, but I'm adding more and more paint, including a drop of yellow ocher, and it literally expands out like a blooming flower. Now, I'm lying down my saltwater and I'm using a very minimal amount of cadmium red right on the tip of my brush and I'm just repeatedly tapping that onto the saltwater, just to see how the paint behaves. But of course, you're not limited to creating those circular blooms. You can also draw it to your saltwater base layer with your paint, which is what I'm doing now. Another option is to apply your paint first, then your saltwater, and personally, in terms of real-world application, this is my preference. I'm just going to demonstrate by painting a few different shapes, then applying the saltwater. So at first, I'm just gently tapping the saltwater into the paint and now using the saltwater to partially blend two colors together. I strongly recommend that you have a go at this yourself to get really good feel for how much saltwater to apply for your desired outcome. Now for these tests, I'm not worrying about labeling the colors I've used because my focus is really on the bloom and feathering effects that saltwater can produce. Besides, I'm making a quick night of whether my base layer with saltwater or paint. So remember, use separate brushes for your saltwater and your freshwater and also have fun. 10. Idea! Saltwater Florals: Before I start, I prepared myself water exactly as before, with one teaspoon of salt dissolved in a 100 milliliters of water. I want to show you how salt water can be used to paint something beyond circles, stripes, and squiggles. Though of course, those are great too. Unlike salt grains, salt water doesn't particularly helped create texture, but it does have a really beautiful, distinctive character. I'm working from my imagination using permanent carmine to paint the tops of petals. Now switching brushes, I'm adding some salt water. Dragging the brushes through the carmine to extend the shape of those petals. I've kept the paint boat, so there's plenty of pigment for the salt water to pick up. Again with a different petal shape, using that cadmium red. Then, dragging with salt water through the paint to complete the petal shape. Inside that shape, the salt water is feathering. Flower number 3 is going to be different again. Yellow ocher with probably a touch of cadmium from my brush. Then, using the same approach with the salt water. Now for the foliage, I'm extending that leaf shape upwards with the salt water, and again. This makes for a really interesting contrast of sharp and feathered edges. I'm adding some yellow ocher to those front leaves to help bring them forward. Then, using a small amount of salt water to blend and feather that paint. If you're observant, you might notice I'm breaking my own rule about using separate brushes at the [inaudible] , it's so easy to slip up. Especially if you're one of those people who's always accidentally dipping your paint brush into your coffee, and I am definitely one of the those people, so just do your best. Now for finishing touch, I think it would just have these flowers sitting in some phase. I'm using a flat brush just to get that Prussian blue really flat and even. Then, a thinner brush just to finish. There we are, salt water florals. 11. Idea! Seascape : Living by the sea, I can't resist seascapes and beach scenes. There are so many features in seaside scenery that lend themselves to salt texture painting. Sea foam, cloud, sun, these elements are all crying out for some salt. I started by faintly drawing a few key marks indicating where the horizon line is, where the rocks adjusting out, the shape of the water's edge, and wetting the whole page, so that I can start layering up paint without its streaking. I'm also holding my sketch bit up at an angle to help the liquid flow down my page. What my underlying paint be watery and leaves. Because as I said, I tend to work by building up layers, but if you prefer about paint application, then absolutely go for it and let me know how you get on. I'm tightly using my artistic license with the colors. I want a warmth in the foreground and also in the upper sky, so that all the coolness received into the middle of the image. I'm going to stop short of getting into color theory because the focus of this class is texture. But I will say that having some heat in the foreground is a really easy way to give your artwork up to depth. This idea of painting a seascape or a beach scene can be interpreted however suits you. Perhaps as a fine art work in its own right, or if like me, you love a good picture book, then this could work beautifully as the scenery and an illustrated spread. Now, salt is going to play a couple of different roles in this image. Firstly, I'm using it to ask them interest to the sky. I'm also using salt to add texture to my rocky outcrops. I'm sparingly using a bit of salt on the sand as well. Now that's dry, I can scrape off the salt to reveal the texture, and now I can work into my painting, adding definition with pencil. I'm being cavalier with my mild liners, emphasizing that horizon line. Then, adding some warmth to the rocks because why not? There we are, a quick sandy seascape. 12. Idea! Dragon Skin: Let's look at making some salt texture dragon skin. I'm going to focus on the dragon's tail, so that I can really emphasize the skin texture. Let's start it by inking up a twisting tail outline using the Tombaugh calligraphy pen I showed you in the drawing on lesson. I'm working quickly [inaudible] here, getting down a couple of color layers. Then I'm sprinkling on my salt. I'm using flakes for the higher factor part of the tale to give an impression of those bigger scales, then I'm sprinkling table salt across the whole area. I'm painting a boat shadow line, then quickly blending this with water. I've left that to dry completely, and I've scraped off that salt so I can draw on top. I'm adding a bit of definition to the under tail with my Spectrum Noir Illustrator pen. The chiseled end of the mildliners also works really well with the salt texture. It's thick enough to give quick coverage, but it's also transparent enough to let the texture show through. That's my salt texture, dragon skin. 13. Idea! Night Sky: Salt is great for a starry night sky, and I'm going to show you how to paint a super-quick starry scene together with silhouetted skyline. I've roughly, faintly drawn the outline of some [inaudible] and towers across the lower third of my page, leaving plenty of room for that sky. My kids have been watching Aladdin recently and that's probably influencing my drawing. Starting very loosely, I'm holding my sketchbook at an angle to help the paint flow. I'm letting the paints bleed into each other, and I'm deliberately dragging the paint below that skyline. If I were to take it to the skyline exactly, then I'll be more like to slow down with my painting, and then it will be much more likely to streak. Now, sprinkling on some table salt while the paint is still nice and wet and adding a few dots of extra paint on top. You can see that cauliflower effect already with the salt. So I've let that dry off completely and now I'm scraping off the salt before I go any further, and this is because the next stage of painting needs to be a bit more precise and I don't want to accidentally run into a misplaced grain of salt and mess up the skyline. I'm painting the skyline silhouette in two layers: First, a layer of ultramarine blue, and I'm using a smaller brush for those more fiddly bits. You'll notice that my paint layer isn't as flat as it might be, I'm a fan of loose painterly painting and I really don't mind the odd drip. I'm less keen on the dry streaks you get from working too slowly and too [inaudible] , so my priority is always to keep that paint flowing. Then a layer of yellow ocher; yellow ocher is my go-to top layer color, it just seems to make everything hum. This time I'm adding salt simply to make this flat area of color more enticing. Once it's dry, that's it, I'm not asking anymore drawing this time. Here's my quick and salty night sky. 14. Thank You : Thank you for watching. You now have the skills you need to begin introducing salt textures to your artwork, and I would love to see your salt experiments. So please share photos of your work at any stage. Nothing you share has to be polished. It's so motivating to other students to see classwork being shared. If you would like to be alerted to my future classes, then please remember just to press that follow button. I'm on Instagram and Twitter as @inky_willis, where you'll find me sharing illustrations and chatting about children's book. So, come find me there. If you are itching to take those watercolors skills even further, I recommend you watch Jen Dixon's Bootcamp classes here on Skillshare. Jen's classes will expand the versatility of your brushwork. They'll improve your color mixing and just open up a whole host of painting possibilities. So do check those out. Once again, thank you so much for watching and I can't wait to see your salt textures.