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For realism and control, try the Priming Method

Permanent Linkby RichardDevine on Mon Apr 21, 2014 11:00 am

I recently took time to write an email to Susan Harrison-Tustain, a watercolor artist who I admire for her detail work and control, concerning how she approaches different kinds of paintings using her unique priming method for watercolor paintings. I wanted to know if she used the same priming method for landscapes that she uses for her botanical studies. Briefly, Susan’s method involves first applying clear water to a section being worked on, allowing that to nearly dry, then applying a second layer of clear water. Care is taken to wet only the area to be painted, such as a leaf or petal, with sharply defined borders. When the area has lost the wet look but is still damp, she applies the color. If another glaze is desired on top (which most often it will be) allow the first glaze to completely dry first. Otherwise the new glaze will loosen the previous glaze.
This method allows for a uniform layer of color and enables the artist to apply graded glazes for nice uniform transition in toning. Great control is also achieved. Sometimes an undercoat of yellow is applied during the priming to achieve a glowing effect.
The priming method is used to achieve high detail and realism and is not for those who like to do loose, spontaneous watercolor paintings. This method seems more in keeping with my style of painting and is one I intend to put into practice in doing my architectural and botanical paintings.
That being said, I also love the loose watercolor paintings, too, and sometimes have a tough time deciding which to use. I think both techniques have their pluses depending on the situation. The loose, free style can be so liberating.
In answer to my query to her concerning how and when she applies her priming method (PM) to landscapes as well as botanical subjects, Susan wrote back that she uses the priming method for all paintings where the area is big enough, that is, areas greater than 1 square inch. She uses the method for the first few layers, then goes on to traditional wet in wet techniques. With the first few layers she has already established a good base with gradations and blending. If she is working on skin or fabric she may continue the priming.
In a second email exchange Susan was quick to add, and rightly so, the importance of Composition. Regardless of technique, composition is critical in laying out a compelling painting. Painting comes after all the pre-planning. Susan believes that what is crucial to good composition is color, color temperature, tone, intensity and edges. Composition is a good subject for another discussion.
My style is one of realism and detail. Most times, nearly always actually, when I start drawing or painting, I may think loose, even start loose, but as I progress, I tighten up my painting, and add more and more detail. It suits my personality and style. The priming method of Susan Harrison-Tustain seems a great way to practice my style. If you think you’d like the priming method or just want to know more about it, you can learn more of Susan’s method by visiting her website susanart.com.

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