I was preparing to leave my job of thirty-five years as an art director to start a new career as a professional oil painter. I had years of design experience, but for two decades I had worked primarily in digital media.
Prior to the rise of alla prima painting, artists commonly used a layering approach, which involved painting one layer, letting it dry, then painting another layer on top. Artists sometimes built up over 50 layers of paint. As you would expect, this is a very laborious and time-consuming approach, especially considering the slow drying time of oil paint.
Many artists seem to struggle with painting alla prima. This usually comes down to a lack of understanding about how to control and manipulate paint. Other times it is because of an inability to paint loose and relaxed. In light of this, I put together some alla prima painting tips. I cover:
There are many ways you can start an alla prima painting, but I think one of the most effective ways is to capture your initial impression of the subject as fast as possible with thinned paint. Then you can go over the painting with more detail.
One of the key advantages of working alla prima is that you not only have the option of applying paint, but you can also take it away. To do this, you could use the tip of your palette knife or the blunt end of your brush to scrape away paint from the canvas.
When people think of painting alla prima, they usually picture an artist painting in a flurry of activity as color quickly fills the canvas. But alla prima does not need to be fast. Nor should it be slow.
When painting alla prima, there will always be an element of unpredictability, no matter how much control you paint with. It might be the way colors mix on the canvas, edges getting lost or some areas drying faster than other areas.
Alla prima is a direct painting method, meaning that colour is applied to the canvas as it is perceived from the subject or scene. It encourages the artist to be decisive about the placement of paint, to rapidly put down spots of colour in the right hue, value and form. It takes skill and practice to execute well.
Below you will find the top essential things to keep in mind as you begin alla prima painting! If alla prima painting is new for you, this guide will help you learn what alla prima (and premier coup) is and give you actionable tips to get started. If you do have some experience, then look at these as great reminders!
The alla prima painting technique is often known as the wet on wet technique. Essentially, this means that you work with wet paint on top of other wet paint. This can be done with a variety of mediums including watercolors, oils, and even acrylics. However oils are by far the easiest to achieve this wet on wet painting technique with, as oil paints take longer to dry.
One common mistake that people make when learning how to do alla prima paintings is that they try to add too much detail too soon. It is important to remember that alla prima paintings are meant to be completed in one sitting. This means that you should not get too bogged down in the details of the painting. Instead, focus on the overall composition and color scheme. You can always add more detail later on if you need to.
So, focusing on value first is key. In alla prima painting you have a limited frame of time in which to work and thus want to be able to focus on the essentials. Making value a priority while you work will increase your chances of making a successful painting.
Try not to be stingy about the amount of paint you avail yourself to. Having a healthy amount of paint on your palette is important in alla prima and painting wet on wet! If you just mix tiny mounds of paint you will be struggling most of your session to continually remix more colors.
You already only have a limited amount of time in an alla prima painting session. You do not want to waste it on struggles related to thin paint or needing to continually remix colors. Just mix and use a lot of paint. Not only will you be happy that you did so, but one tends to learn quite a bit more when using a decent amount of paint.
Whether you are working on something where your motif is ever changing (like a sunrise) or a still life that remains constant, the fact of the matter is that alla prima painting is a one session painting. The time of a session could vary from 30 minutes to 4 hours depending on what you are painting.
Try not to paint too tightly when doing an alla prima painting. Especially if working with wet on wet technique. If you work tightly you for one will probably run out of time to complete your painting before your session time is up. More importantly however, an alla prima work is meant to have some gesture and life to it. 2b1af7f3a8