5 Painting Tips So You Succeed at Alla Prima

Alla prima: Dawning, Gates Diptych, right panel by Peter Fiore, oil painting.

Dawning, Gates Diptych, right panel by Peter Fiore, oil painting. Article contributions from Kenneth Cadwallader.

This Way of Painting Works for Everyone

It’s exciting to start something new. It’s especially exciting when you succeed at something new. If you are a beginner painting for the first time or someone with more experience who is still trying to find the best way to express your creative side, alla prima painting is the way to go. It is a “jump right in, the water’s fine” approach to art. It is all about creating a work in one live session, working wet into wet. Time is up when the paint dries. Success comes when you step back and you’ve got a finished work of art. You will learn soooo much if you commit to the process and see it through. It’s an exciting way to work. Here’s how to make that happen.

#1 Spend most of your time looking

You’ve got to give yourself permission to sit and absorb. Observe, settle your mind, and develop a very clear mental picture of your subject. That’s the first step for alla prima. Be thorough with your looking. Squint at your subject and observe the light and dark areas. Notice the middle values that exist between them. Still squinting, make note of the general color in these areas. Look for the warm and cool color relationships. If the subject is lit by north light, the light side of an object will be cooler than the dark side. Also pay attention to halation, or how the light values of the subject bleed into the darks and vice versa.

#2 Big brush first and most

Apply paint with a large, soft brush in the beginning and gently soften most of your edges. Elaborate on the transitions between the light and dark values, pushing one color into another to obtain the proper edge. Gradually reduce the size of your brushes, painting smaller and smaller shapes and details.

#3 Focus on your focus

Start at the focal point of your painting. Don’t save it for last–attack it! Block in the main areas and then work away. That’s not to say your focal point is the literal center of the work, but wherever it is–start there and build out.

Alla prima: Quiescence, Gates Diptych, left panel, by Peter Fiore.

Quiescence, Gates Diptych, left panel, by Peter Fiore.

#4 Don’t lock your eyes to one spot

Staying light on your feet is what they say at the gym. Stay light with your eyes too. Don’t lock into one thing. Constantly compare your subject and try to match the colors as you see them. That means shifting your focus constantly.

#5 Be purposeful and stick to your plan

For the best results with alla prima, it’s important to paint deliberately and methodically. That way you can keep the light and dark values from mixing together on the canvas to prevent muddy colors. Use intermediate colors between the values to create the transition from light to dark. I recommend writing down your approach. It will act like your set list, so that you can just refer back to it if you get caught up or confused.

You’ll Know Your Done

The paint begins to dry. That’s your way of knowing it is time to move on to the next section–or the next painting. Try to finish a specific area of the painting before this happens. Don’t worry if you have to paint a little on dry paint to get it right. It’s not that this is a time trial, but if you commit to working alla prima, you get a creative boost–both from working this way and seeing the painting process through. If you want a guide your first time experiencing alla prima, Peter Fiore’s Painting Winter Tangle video download is just what you need. It’s a two-hour demo you can complete side by side with this top instructor. Make room on your wall. You’ve got a new painting hot off the easel and it is coming right up. Enjoy!

Courtney

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