Artist Al Gury is known for his direct or alla prima painting
I love saying the phrase 'alla prima' but it's way harder to actually paint that way! Direct or alla prima painting is all about painting in the moment, in one go. Easy and freeing, right? But I'm a planner by nature! If I didn't overthink, I don't know what I'd think about. So I've turned my need to deliberate into an asset by coming up with a few strategies for alla prima oil painting that will hopefully lead to me getting a satisfying painting on the first take.
My Alla Prima Painting Rules:
–Time it. I'm not one to hurry needlessly, but when I give myself a time limit, it forces me to loosen up and just concentrate on going, going, going. It is sort of like being on autopilot, and surprisingly enough that helps me. The tradeoff being that I have to make whatever happens work for me. But the plus is that I feel like my oil painting instincts are stronger for it.
–A dollar for every stroke. For this one to work, you have to act like a cheapskate when it comes to putting brushstrokes on the canvas. Commit to the idea that every brushstroke—artful or sloppy—is going to cost you, so it had better say something. If I think that I'm forking over a dollar for every touch of the brush, it raises my awareness of what I'm doing every step of the way.
|Al Gury's alla prima oil paintings appear
more complex than the actually are, due
to his skillful economy of brushstrokes.
–Layering for drama. The 'wow' moments of an alla prima painting are left until last. I often forget that layers are key and end up overblending without simply stepping away and sort of rebuilding the form in my head, to see how the shapes are built with successive layers. It is like when you are painting flowers, specifically roses. You can't paint every individual petal, so I remember to layer big shapes for the visual effect of the unfurled flower. I also know to start loose and general and then bring in the drama with brushwork that is all about texture or exciting hints of color at the end.
–I will not pull over. Mistakes? Wipe them out. Or paint them over. But don't stop! Stopping means thinking and reassessing and perhaps making a muddle of the freeness that I have on canvas. So I don't put the brush down until I'm done.
I'm still intimidated by alla prima, but invigorated by the challenge it presents, too. And what is great is that you can apply the concepts of alla prima to any medium, including watercolor and acrylic painting. That same excitement will be there! For more instruction on acrylics and watercolors, consider Julie Gilbert Pollard's Unleashed Ultimate Collection, which will show you how to work from the general to the specific. and hone your observational skills just like the best alla prima painters. Enjoy!