You may be asking yourself: “What does priming have to do with watercolors? We’re not upcycling a dresser here, I just want to paint some flowers.”
Let me tell you, if you don’t know about priming your watercolor pieces you’re missing out!
How to prime your watercolor piece
Priming in watercoloring does not involve a base coat of paint (like gesso for example) as you may think. It simply means preparing your watercolor paper by coating it with clear water. Do NOT over-saturate or drown your paper – an even coating of water will suffice.
Going in with a large, flat brush will help you in getting an even and modest coat of water. It will also help you work more quickly so you avoid your piece drying unevenly.
We’re going for a satin glow on your watercolor paper – not glossy or pooling. See the photo below.)
If you’ve overdone your priming you can remove excess water by blotting with a paper towel.
Now we’re ready to add some color.
I’m making two watercolor pieces on this paper for comparison. The left is not primed, the right is primed.
In the above photo you can see the color freshly applied and wet. Below it is dry.
When to prime for watercoloring
- Color washes
- Ombrés and gradients
When you’re doing a background wash of color like this priming is key for an ultra-blended and even result. On the un-primed piece you can see slight streaking and it’s “darker” on one side than the other. On the primed piece there’s a much more even tone all over.
(Granted, my example here is kind of ridiculous since it’s all very pastel-y and hardly noticable but I hope you can see what I mean, heh.)
Now, for the next step I’m adding hot pink dots to start my leopard pattern. And again I’m priming the right side to illustrate the difference, still using clear water. You want to make sure the artwork is completely dry before priming overtop so the priming doesn’t disturb or lift the color underneath.
When not to prime for watercoloring
- Sharp details
- Brush script
- High contrast motifs
Now you can truly see the difference in not priming vs. priming. I may have even gone a little overboard with the priming ’cause you can see the first hot pink dots on the right are completely fuzzy and bleeding into the background. But also the more not-bleeding dots on the primed piece have more flow in the movement of the color. They’re much more even than the dots on the non-primed piece.
I go in before the hot pink spots dry completely with a black-brown color to add the final detailing to the artwork and make it look like proper leopard spots.
Bonus tip: The key to painting leopard spots is to sort of outline the bigger lighter-colored dots with four smaller darker-colored dots. Make sure the smaller, dark dots aren’t perfectly round and separated. They can be a bit bean-shaped and connected for a more natural look. It’s also a great idea to vary the sizes of both the big light dots and the smaller dark ones.
As you can tell the non-primed artwork is much sharper and crisper, full of contrast. The dry paper sucks the color in instantly and makes it less even and blended – which is great for a lot of projects and motifs.
And the primed artwork comes out more soft and blended. The clear water in the paper allows you to make seamless color washes and build color more slowly. This too has it’s uses.
Before I let you go here’s a little card I made using the artwork from the demo. I ended up going with the unprimed piece for a sharper, high contrast look. It’s quite different from anything I usually make but it sort of just happened, haha.
That’s it for today. I hope you feel inspired to try priming your watercolor art next time you’re making a nice blended background or something similar.
Thanks for stopping by, lovely. Have a great day!