Monday, July 30, 2012

What does "alla prima" painting mean?

I have to admit, I had heard the painting term "alla prima" many many times, and never stopped to think about what it really meant.  There are several definitions of alla prima out there, but the most succinct definition I have heard is "all at once".  Which means you consider everything and cover everything in your painting in one sitting.

On a recent visit to my parents' in Western New York, I was lucky enough to attend a one-day class with my mother at a studio where she regularly takes painting classes, Partners in Art in North Tonawanda.  This was a one day class on "Alla Prima".

I have done many many paintings in one sitting in the past, but it was wonderful to be on the student side this time!  I really enjoyed watching the teacher, Joan Horn, demonstrate and work with her students.  I have also learned a lot about setting up effective learning and work stations in my own studio!  She's been at it since 1995, so I feel very privileged to have seen her classroom space, one that has been refined and improved continuously.

So Joan got us started by having us tone a canvas with a pretty generous amount of sepia toned paint and thinner.  This layer was left to dry for a few moments while we watched her block in her initial shapes.  SHAPES - NOT line drawings!  We looked for the mass of the objects right away.  (STOP DRAWING! Was shouted across the room several times once we got back to our easels!)

After lightly wiping our pre-stained canvas, the goal was to block in all the shapes.

(my mom starting on her pot and peppers!)
Very thin paint.

Keeping the paint thin, we mixed a very dark dark and blocked in ONLY the darkest darks.  My set up was very light, so I only had a few spots to block in.  These shapes were more specific, and we took our time to make sure they were in exactly the right spot, because everything else was to fit around these initial shapes.

Keeping the paint thin, we blocked in the background colors and local colors on the objects.  The colors should be close, but don't spend too much time mixing the colors - the goal is to cover the canvas with as close as possible colors to make sure your tones, values, and temperatures are harmonious.  Our brush was pretty dry, and we scrubbed the color into the appropriate areas.

Once you were happy with the initial layer of thin paint, it was time to go back and add in some more details and highlights with slightly thicker paint.  Hopefully, if the initial massing in and the drawing in of the darkest darks were correct, all of the other pieces of the puzzle should fit together nicely.  My total time in front of my easel was probably between 90-120 minutes.  In the past week or so I tried a couple more alla prima still lifes in my own studio - I'll share those soon!

1 comment:

Joan Horn said...

It was such a pleasure having you with us, even if only for a day. Your blog describes the process perfectly! I'm going to show it to my Alla Prima group on Wednesday! You are welcome to join us any time you are in town!