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!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Alla Prima Portrait Practice

Oh my poor neglected blog!  It's not that there is nothing to's that too much is going on!  Lots of new paintings to show you.  I'm going to start with a portrait I painted of my sister at my studio a couple weeks ago.

I used an 18" x 24" gallery wrapped canvas.  I started by setting my sister up against a purple backdrop, cool outdoor light on her right and a warm spotlight on her left. (I like contrasting light sources on my portraits!)  I also made her change her shirt, which she was not too thrilled about.  But she's my little sister and used to me bossing her around!

I look at the largest shapes first, blocking it in a little bit on the angular side.  I avoid the features in the beginning, and focus on the shape of the face.  

I continued by looking at the shadows created around her features, not the features themselves.

I slowly locked in the features, adding a bit of burnt umber to the raw sienna I started with.  The paint is still very thin.

As I mentioned - there was a cool window light on the right and a warm spotlight on the left, so I started blocking in colors to match the light source and value on the face.

I continued blocking in color.  As I worked, I adjusted her hairline and jaw shape.  I made sure to extend the color into her neck.

This is as far as I got in our session.  In many ways it looks just like her, but there are a few shapes that need to be refined, especially her jawline and the shape of her eyebrows.  I really appreciate her patience!  I needed the practice :)

Slightly askew detail shot of her eyes...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Etsy Anniversary SALE!

I can hardly believe that it's been 4 years since I started selling my Fine Art on Etsy!  Monday July 9th is the big day.  And as we get closer to one milestone, I'd like to reach another - 1,000 sales in my Etsy shop!  Since I am just about 35 sales away, I am offering a 35% discount on active items in my shop.  

This coupon expires when I reach 1,000 sales or midnight EST on July 9th - whichever comes first!  Happy Shopping!

Enter code 4YEARPARTY at check out!