Alla Prima

study of peonies, oil on canvas, 10x10

study of peonies, oil on canvas, 10x10

Alla prima, also known as direct painting, is using oils wet-into-wet thus allowing an artist to  finish a painting in one sitting while achieving a soft focus, atmospheric look. It is not easy to do–yet often, beginners wish to try this method instead of working in layers to build value and color. Here are some tips to keep in mind if you are trying this method for the first time:

  • ALWAYS begin with a value study–do it in acrylic if you wish to start painting on top of it immediately to ensure that your underpainting does not mix with your color layer
  • Do not skip the value study / underpainting–defining your values at the beginning will ensure a strong painting with depth and a wide range of values
  • Begin working in color with a limited palette, this painting is made up from burnt sienna, cobalt blue, alizarin crimson, yellow ochre, cadmium yellow and titanium white
  • Start with your darks and then go into the medium value colors, place colors NEXT TO one another, SLIGHTLY overlapping so that you don’t get gaps where edges of color meet, but being careful not to overblend or pile paint on top of other paint which could result in muddiness
  • Really observe the colors you see and use what you know about color theory and the complementary colors to work out believable, harmonious color in your shadows and highlights
  • Don’t overuse the white and don’t get too light too soon, establish your darkest values before you put any of your highlights on the painting
  • Stay loose, keep some soft edges and suggest nuances rather than painstakingly rendering every little detail
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