Throw Caution to the Wind

Alla prima (Italian for “at the first” or “at the beginning”) is a technique of direct painting in oils. Often called wet-into-wet because wet paint is added on top of wet paint, alla prima painting requires no preliminary underpainting and is usually finished in one session. It’s often used by artists working outdoors or painting portraits from live models. Alla prima paintings are often characterized by bold, sweeping strokes. And, usually, the center of interest (like the face in a portrait) is more carefully rendered while looser, bolder brushstrokes radiate to the outer areas of the painting. These looser strokes are rarely representational but provide a backdrop of color and texture—a visual atmosphere—for the central image. Working alla prima can add spontaneity, immediacy and energy to your painting, but requires that each stroke be decisive. And, in turn, you must have a good sense of both color and tonal-value relationships to get the results you want.

Whether you get bored waiting for layers to dry or just want to expand your repertoire, try your hand at the fast-paced alla prima method and breathe life and energy into your paintings.

Joanne Moore is managing editor for The Artist’s Magazine.

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