Watercolor lessons – My Priming Method – how it works

My Priming Method gives a magical transparent glow to my watercolors. It allows soft gradations of color which help to describe the form of my subject in such a way that it feels as if the subject has a true substance. Things you need to know about this watercolor painting technique: Your pigments must be transparent or semi transparent.

I use a transparent yellow underwash under all of my paintings when using my Priming Method of application. In essence, my first washes create a yellow tonal painting. Much like a black and white photograph – but in yellow. For this watercolor painting technique to work, you must allow your pigment to be absorbed as far into the inner layers of the paper as possible. I will explain this later in the article.

I use my Priming Method on the initial layers of a painting. As the painting progresses and I feel I have achieved the depth of tone I want – I then revert to wet in wet for the final layer or two – and sometimes drybrush for the finest details. Of course you cannot wash over dry brush unless your intention is to lift some of it. Dry brush sits entirely on the surface of the paper and is therefore very vulnerable and easy to move.
My Priming method – in a nutshell.

Step One: Wet the area you wish to paint. Allow the water to be absorbed so the sheen has just disappeared from the paper.

Step Two: Lay in another clear water wash.

Step Three: While your previous wash (step two) is still wet on the surface, drop in your pigmented wash.

Before you move on to applying another wash or set of priming washes as above – ensure your paper is BONE DRY. I can’t emphasize this enough.

My Priming Method is simple and extremely effective, and will give you glowing jewel-like colors. Your lights will be delicate and softly blended. Your darks will be luminous pools of transparent color. Let’s take a look at the converse: Simply laying multiple washes on top of each other will leave much of the pigment sitting on the surface of the paper. With each subsequent wash you will find much of that pigment will lift and mix with the new wash, dulling the final color and if determined, you could easily create mud.

I developed my Priming Method because I wanted my work to glow, as an oil painting did when the Old Masters enjoyed creating an underpainting. My challenge was to work out how to make this happen in watercolor. Trial and error lead me to this method and here is why it works:

By wetting the paper first, then allowing that first clear water underwash to become absorbed so the sheen has just left the surface of the paper, we are allowing the paper to pull that moisture into the inner layers. Our next clear water wash re-wets the surface and allows us a number of advantages:

– Our paper is primed and ready for the pigmented wash.

– It buys us much more time to work with our pigmented wash (step 3) before it is absorbed and entered that ‘don’t touch’ stage.

Now the inner layers of the paper are already moist so the second clear water wash sits on the surface of the paper for longer which gives us much more time to work on the surface without it becoming scratchy and overworked. We can continue to add more hues, deepen tones, lift color, create paths of color and even a little detail while the moisture is slowly being absorbed.

– Our pigment is also absorbed into the inner layers of the paper and when dry – it is ‘set’ into those inner layers of the paper. There is very little pigment left sitting on the surface, therefore your colors and also your subsequent washes are clean and fresh and unsullied as they glow like jewels. It is almost impossible to create mud with this method.

– Subsequent washes of any hue can change the final hue incredibly so the atmosphere, tone and emotion of a painting can be adjusted with this method without endangering the underneath painting.

The list of advantages goes on, as you’ll discover when you try this watercolor painting technique for yourself. Happy painting!

My Priming Method – how it works - Water Color Art Lessons by Susan Harrison-Tustain
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