Watercolor lessons – My Priming Method in three easy steps

I developed my Priming Method watercolor technique over a period of many years, and I now teach it to all of my students. It is a simple but very effective 3 step process: (click on the image to the right for a larger view)

The first step is to apply water to the region you wish to paint and then allow the moisture to be absorbed into the paper.

Next, while the paper is still barely damp from step one, i.e. the sheen of the surface has just disappeared, lay in another light wash of clear water.

In the 3rd and final step of the Priming Method, while the previous wash is still wet and shiny, lay in your pigmented wash. Before moving on to apply further washes it is extremely important to ensure your watercolor paper is BONE DRY.

That’s it! 3 simple but extremely effective steps to mastering watercolors.

My Priming watercolor technique is successful because it allows pigment to be absorbed as far as possible into the inner layers of the paper. I use this method at the early stages of a painting. As the painting advances and I feel I have reached the tonal depth I desire – I then change to a wet-in-wet method for the middle few washes.

Before I create my finest detail with dry brush I fine-tune the colors I have achieved by laying in final washes to adjust color temperature, depth of hue or change of color as I see necessary.

Once totally dry I then use the age-old dry brush method to establish fine detail where needed. Naturally, you can’t wash over dry brushing unless you intend to lift off some of it. Dry brush sits on the surface of the paper and is easily dispersed. You can of course use this to your advantage but generally my dry brush layer is my final layer.

I never have a problem with the fibers in my paper lifting despite using anywhere from 2 – 20 washes! Take a look at my work. I hope you agree this glowing method speaks for itself.

Here is a simple experiment you can try at home. Draw three 1 inch circles. Use my Priming Method in the first circle, Wet in Wet in the second and Wet on Dry in the third. Why not use a transparent yellow for this so you can play with the glow of this in subsequent washes?

Now allow all of the circles to become bone dry. Use a dryer if needed. To check for dryness: Once the heat from the dryer has gone from the paper, touch the paper with the ball of your hand. If it feels cold – there is still moisture in there. If it feels room temperature, then it should be dry.

Now lay in clear water washes over all three of the circles. If you have used transparent colors and my Priming Method – you will find there is very little pigment movement. The Wet on Wet will lift a little more easily and of course the Wet on Dry will move very easily. Now add further washes and hues to your Priming Method circles and see how the yellow underwash glows.

Where my final tones are to be light – I use very little yellow. Naturally where the final tones are dark – I may use three or four priming sets of washes to create enough depth of yellow so it can glow through even the richest dark hues.

Yellow underwashes take away the raw look of colors and establish a look of substance that can almost feel palpable.

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