Sea Salt Water Process


After studying the ‘Sea Work’s’ process of Paul Kenny I decided to develop my own salt water technique. It is the process of evaporation of salt water solution to create crystallisation patters. Due to the dynamic nature of water and heat, every image is unique via this evolutionary process. The images can be enhanced by the addition of objects behind the glass slide, or pigmentation being added to the salt to enhance it. They are produced on a flat bed scanner with the lid open in the dark, to highlight the crystallised structure of the salt.


For the purpose of this study the following question(s) were addressed:

  1. How is this process achieved?
  2. Can homemade salt water replace sea water?
  3. Are there any additional effects that I can add to improve the process?


Using knowledge gained from the dissection of the sea salt print process. Would it be possible for me to recreate a set of sea salt print images that equal or perhaps surpass the work of Paul Kenny.




Facts from an interview will Paul Kenny:

  • “I’ll do some drawings for reference, picking up stuff I might want to use in an image later.”
  • Collects objects, plays with scale and layout back in the studio to create a negative on a glass plate which is then scanned into the computer.
  • “I use a glass photographic plate and repeatedly drop sea water onto it and allow it to dry to salt crystals before applying more water. Sometimes I might include stones or for one image I used a feather I’d collected. The idea is to try and find the awe-inspiring in something which is easily lost, something you would just walk past and not really notice.”
  • Colours are gleaned from his various beach finds like a rusting green Heineken can which creates the startling green pulses through his image Night sky over Heineken, (2010).
  • Once scanned into a computer his images are blown up to a dramatic size, several meters square by Paul and his printer Jack Lowe of Hoults Yard, Newcastle
  • “The colours I get are from within the sea water from the Northumberland coast and I bring it back in bottles to use in the studio. But bizarrely enough I brought some back from Greece and the colours in it were so different, it’s only when you look at these things at an almost microscopic scale that it’s true beauty is revealed.”                        (The Journal, 2011)


Firstly I created my own salt water by mixing 50g of salt with hot water then stirring to dissolve. I then let it cool and began to drip the salted water onto glass plates that I removed from photo frames. I dried these on the radiator to speed up the process


Plate One:



Plate Two:




Mini Plates:




Here I have tested two different ways of scanning. Firstly I closed the lid of the scanner over the top of the salted plate, when reviewing the scan I found that the white background was not creating the desired effect. So I decided to fully black the room out and scan the plate with the lid open, I found that this created a more desirable result. The black background enabled a more contrasted image, with the detail of the salt becoming more punchy and detailed. All images were scanned, cropped, enlarged and edited. However I later realised that I made this harder work for myself as I did this individually for each image rather than cropping them during the scan. This was definitely a time effective technique, as cropping after scanning took more time to edit.


For my first two scanned images I decided to crush u a silver metal beer can until it was flat and the laid this onto the salted plate. I am pleased with the distorted effect that this created only I found the colours to be slightly mundane. However I think that the light from the scanner has picked up the detail of the crushed can well, making its identity unrecognisable as seen in scan 1&2.

I have also made use of some foil sweet wrappers in scan 3, they have been folded into shapes they placed behind the crystallised salt. Again this was proving to be rather mundane and not very colourful. So I decided to remove these items and I have opted for a salted pane of salted glass and I had added colours by using the magic wand tool in Photoshop as seen in scan 5&6. I am very pleased with these results, I considered painting the plates to add colour and I have also tried to colour the salt solution with food colouring with little success. I have carefully selected the colours and kept them as pastel colours so that they are not too over dramatized and still look natural.


For scan 7 I collected some paving stones from the garden, cleaned them off and then laid them onto the salted plate. I believe that this carries a very natural and comforting feel. It is as though it is a picture taken of the sea pebbles in their natural environment as similar to Paul Kenny’s sea Works. The different shades of orange add more detail and tonal range to the image.

As seen form my daily recording of the salt drying process, I also bought a set of bathroom tiles and chopped them up into mosaic pieces and created an arrangement on one of the plates of glass as seen in scan 8. I covered the arrangement with more salt dripping to allow to the salt to set into the pattern. On evaluation I am pleased with the effects. However, I decided not to use to salted tissue paper and discarded this.


I collected some leaves for scan 9 in hope that the light from the scanner would shine through the leaf and create a vein effect due to the transparency. I am happy with the image as I was being experimental by putting my hand behind them to help flatten them out. However, the leaves did not transmit light through them as well as I had hoped so I decided to create a last scan with just my hand as the background. I like the distorted effect as though my hand is placed in water with an almost abstract appearance.

The last set of images were created by scattering chopped up pieces of CD, some diamante’s and using several metallic surfaces such as copper and stainless steel for backgrounds. The front of the plates were made more interesting by the addition of food colouring drips and blown bronze and silver food paint to highlight the salt crystals.


I am extremely pleased with virtually all the images created using this process. I found it very creative, relaxing due to its layered nature and overall a pleasure to create. I believe a few of my images hold comparable aesthetic value to the originals of Paul Kenny. Although a specialist Artistic method, with limited use other than as demonstrated. I will attempt to find place for it, if even as an overlaid after effect in future photography. It would certainly be of use for projects with a more artistic or graphic design based theme.






[1] HIOTT, B. (2016) Paul Kenny: Sea Works 2 (Transitions). [Online] Available from:                                                                                     [Accessed: 03 February 2016]

[2] PAUL KENNY PHOTOGRAPHY. (2016) Sea Works 200-2004. [Online] Available from:                                                         [Accessed: 03 February 2016]

[3] THE JOURNAL. (2011) Interview: Abstract Artist Paul Kenny. [Online] Available from:                                                                                                                          [Accessed: 03 February 2016]

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