Winter Salt Art Paintings: Birds

One of my favourite art activities involves combining watercolour paint (or in this case, blue food colouring and water), and salt. It creates a beautiful frosty effect that is perfect for Winter themed art. I chose birds for the theme for this project, but it could work equally as well with drawings of Arctic animals, animals that hibernate, or a nighttime forest scene.

I first did this activity with Grade Twos, and then later with Grade Fives. I’ve also done it with my own preschool-aged children. Although the skill level of the drawings may increase with age, it is truly an activity that can be successfully completed by all age groups.

Preparation: Once I had decided that the class would draw birds, I wanted to have a variety of resources for them to reference while working. I got a stack of non-fiction books from the library about birds. We examined various photos and discussed different types of birds and their colours and shapes. I also photocopied a few, “How to Draw Birds” step-by-step instructions, for students that needed a bit more guidance with drawing a bird shape. I used the opportunity to discover what birds the students were already familiar with, and in particular, to teach what species of birds were local to our area and may stay for the winter. Students were free to pick their favourite bird to draw, regardless of whether it was a local winter bird or not.


  • Example photographs/books of Birds
  • Step-by-Step “How to Draw Birds” reference sheets
  • Thick paper (construction paper/watercolour paper)
  • Pencils/Erasers/Black Permanent Markers/Crayons
  • Blue liquid food colouring/Water/Paintbrushes. (Could also use Watercolour paints)
  • Salt (I used a combination of Epsom salt and regular Sea Salt)
  • Laminator (to preserve finished product)


The students drew their chosen bird on the paper with pencil. My main instruction was for them to ensure that they didn’t draw the bird too small. We did not do this step, but it would be nice to outline the bird and add details with a black permanent marker.  The students then coloured their birds with regular crayons. (Oil Pastels would work equally as well. Markers however, would not work as you need an oily medium to resist the painting in the next step.) The students then cut our their bird leaving a large margin around the bird.

Most watercolour and salt art projects have a background of wet water colour and then salt is sprinkled on top. Once dried, the salt then flakes off leaving behind crystal like prints. The effect is beautiful! However, this is not what I wanted for this project. I wanted a true frosty, icy-type effect. In order to achieve this you need a lot of salt. A lot. I don’t have the exact measurements that I used, but experiment with different ratios until you get a result that you’re happy with.

  • In general, fill a medium-sized container with water and add enough blue food colouring to achieve a med-to-deep blue colour. Don’t be skimpy, squeeze away! You can test the colour by painting a little bit on a piece of paper. Add more food colouring as needed.
  • Add salt! I used a couple table spoons of regular kitchen sea salt, but the true effect of this project needs large crystals of Epsom salt. The sea salt will mostly dissolve in the water. The Epsom salt will mostly sit at the bottom of the container. This is OK. Have more Epsom salt ready to add as needed once the students start painting.
  • Call the students over to paint their birds in small groups of 2-4 at a time. Have them dip their paint brushes in the salty blue water and paint all around their bird. Then have them use their paintbrush to scoop up some salt from the bottom of the container. Spread the salt all around their bird drawing in a thin layer. As the bottom layer of salt gets used up, add more to the container.  Carefully move the completed bird pictures somewhere to dry.
  • Once dry, the salt will be gently sticking to the pictures, but is in a fragile state and will eventually fall off. In order to preserve the icy effect, the artwork needs to be carefully laminated ASAP.

The photographs don’t quite do this art technique justice. Give it a try and see the textured frosty effect for yourself! 🙂