Create a Painting On My First Try? Yes, Please!

3 Jul 2011

Artist Al Gury is known for his direct or alla prima painting knowledge. The oil painting, above, shows his decisive ability to create complex colors and shapes through successive layers.

Artist Al Gury is known for his direct or alla prima painting
knowledge. The oil painting, 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 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 oil painting, flower still life.
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. So now I 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. As are so many amazing artists that I've learned from in American Artist. The oil painting techniques that Justin Wiest shares in our issue of Portrait & Figure Painting Highlights show me how to work from the general to the specific. And in the January 2008 issue of American Artist, there are a mix of painters featured who reveal how they temper their love and enthusiasm for their subject matter with the well honed observational skills of an alla prima painter. Trust me, I was taking notes! Enjoy!

 


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Comments

on 4 Jul 2011 3:29 AM

Al Gury's book Alla Prima is one of my library treasures. It's the way I want to paint in my next life.

on 4 Jul 2011 3:31 AM

Al Bury's book Alla Prima is one of my library treasures. It's the way I want to paint in my next life!

on 4 Jul 2011 3:34 AM

Oops, sorry for the double post.