May 21, 2010
Trying Your Hand at Alla Prima
I have loved the Alla Prima method of painting forever, Alla Prima is a style of painting where the artist will complete the whole painting in one sitting while the paint is wet, instead under painting and building the colors up in layers and glazing. Alla Prima comes from Italian, literally meaning "at once". The French term is premier coup.
Some of the famous artists who have worked in this style were Frans Halls, Caravaggio, Paul Cezanne, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt and Winslow Homer.
It is not hard to paint this way if you follow some guidelines. If you do you will achieve a fresh spontaneous look to your art. It is fun to do this because it is done in a short time and I think it is the most instinctive way to paint! If you want to give it a try here are some tips;
Use a middle color to “tone” your canvas, that is paint this color over the whole canvas. I love to use a complement color as my tone. For instance if I am painting a seascape that is at sunset I like to tone with Cadmium Yellow because I know I will be using a lot of purple the complement color of yellow. The yellow will show though in the sky and make it glow. If I am painting a landscape with lots of green then a grayed light pink will complement the greenery. By toning my canvas I get rid of any white areas my brushstrokes miss. Plus, I really don’t like working on a white surface, it is harder to judge my values and tones on white.
Lightly sketch your drawing with thinned paint. Use an umber or gray paint on for this.
Before you pick up your brush plan your colors out and decide where they will go. If you get your values right before you start, you will not go wrong.
Next mix your colors on your palette. Doing this will make it easier for you to be spontaneous; your brushstrokes won’t look like you have labored over them. Also put enough paint on your palette so you don’t run out.
Work from dark to light. Paint the shadows and dark areas first.
Use the biggest brushes first than go to the smaller ones for the details.
Use your whole arm when painting, only using your wrists keep you strokes hesitant looking. Feel free, let go and have some fun paint some strokes!
Identify your large shapes first; this is where you want to paint first.
Use a tiny bit of drying medium in your paint mixtures to speed the drying.
Load your brush with lots of juicy paint! Now is not the time to be stingy. Be daring, you will need more paint than you think!
Just because you are painting alla prima, id does not mean you don’t take a break! It is good to take frequent breaks, only paint for a couple of hours and then rest your eyes and arm. Stand back and look at what you are doing.
Don’t push yourself to hard, this can lead to overworking the painting and can actually ruin it. However, NEVER be afraid to scrape something off that you don’t like and re-do it. Trying to fix something by adding more paint and messing around often just leads to one big grey mess!
At last you need to recognize that alla prima is not as easy as it looks. You want it to look effortless when in realty it is not. John Sargent Singer found it necessary to practice his strokes many times to get it just right! So don’t let this discourage you, the pure joy and the rewards you will get if you master this will be worth it!
Remember you can always fix something you don’t like! So why not give it a try!