Create a Painting on Your First Try

How to Oil Paint in One Sitting

How to Oil Paint Alla Prima | Create an Oil Painting in One Sitting | Al Gury | Artist Daily
Artist Al Gury is known for his direct, or alla prima, painting knowledge. The oil painting (titled Last Night), above, shows his decisive ability to create complex colors and shapes through successive layers.

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 how to oil paint 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. I’ve come up with four strategies for how to oil paint, alla prima-style, that will hopefully lead to me getting a satisfying painting on the first take.

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

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 each touch of the brush, it raises my awareness of what I’m doing every step of the way.

How to Oil Paint Alla Prima | Create an Oil Painting in One Sitting | Al Gury | Artist Daily
Al Gury’s alla prima oil paintings appear more complex than the actually are, due to his skillful economy of brushstrokes. (Pictured above: Poppies by Al Gury)

Layering for Drama

The ‘wow’ moments of an alla prima painting are left until last. I often forget layers are key, and I 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.

This 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, reassessing and, perhaps, making a muddle of the freeness that I have on canvas. 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 and any subject matter!

To start your alla prima painting foray, consider How to Paint Flowers in Oil. This video workshop—preview trailer below-—shows you an accessible way to work in alla prima for your first time, and with a gorgeous subject to boot!

You discover how to oil paint with immediacy and keen observation, just like the best alla prima painters. It’s an exciting prospect, right? Enjoy!






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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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