The Delicate Saltwater Paintings of Mai Hirashima

From stain remover to mouthwash replacement, saltwater has many uses in our everyday lives, and thanks to Japanese self-taught artist Mai Hirashima, we can also add ‘art medium’ to the list as well.

Mai Hirashima uses saltwater as paint, carefully applying it on black paper canvases, using small brushes and thin bamboo skewers, and then applying heat to cause the water to evaporate and the salt crystallize in the desired shape. It’s a laborious and time-consuming process, but the results are nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Photo: Mai Hirashima/Twitter

The young Japanese artist came up with the idea of painting with saltwater while contemplating ways of recycling crystallized or contaminated cooking salt. Just because it wasn’t edible anymore didn’t meant it had lost its usefulness completely, so she started mixing it with water experimenting with it as an art medium. At first, she started making salt corrals, but gradually progressed to the much more detailed and refined saltwater paintings you see in these photos.

In an interview with Japanese site Irorio, Hirashima said that she was also inspired by cooking salt-baked fish and seeing how the salt adhered to the fish skin and crystallized into miniature corals. At first she starter splattering saltwater on various surfaces and letting it dry, and became mesmerized by the abstract shaped that it crystallized into over time.

Mai Hirashima begins the artistic process by preparing the saltwater. She then paints the outline of her composition using a paintbrush, and either letting it dry or applying heat from a stove to make the water evaporate faster. She then fills her designs, using a bamboo skewer to apply thicker layers. The artist achieves different shades of white by applying one or multiple layers of saltwater.

Since she uses no adhesives or coatings, Mai Hirashima’s artworks are not only incredibly fragile, but also temporary. They are most vulnerable to humidity, which is why she usually doesn’t work during the rainy season, but her artworks will naturally degrade over time as well.

Applying heat to help the saltwater evaporate faster is also very tricky. If she holds the black paper canvas too close to the flame, she risks burning it. Even though it would be easier for her to wear heat-resistant gloves during this stage, she prefers to work barehanded, so she can feel when the heat is to high.

Hirashima says that, depending on complexity, completing one of her saltwater paintings can take between 12 hours and a month.

Asked if she sells her saltwater paintings, Mai Hirashima told Irorio that most of her clients had been friends and acquaintances, but that she would like to start selling to the general public as well. However, she stresses that clients have to be aware of the ephemeral nature of her artworks. They have to be kept dry to last longer, but even so, they will degrade over time.

Prices depend on size and complexity,  but they start at 4,500 yen ($42).

You can check out more of Mai Hirashima’s amazing saltwater art on her Twitter and Instagram.

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