It’s exciting to start something new. It’s especially exciting when you succeed at something new. If you are a beginner painting for the first time or someone with more experience who is still trying to find the best way to express your creative side, alla prima painting is the way to go. It is a “jump right in, the water’s fine” approach to art. It is all about creating a work in one live session, working wet into wet. Time is up when the paint dries. Success comes when you step back and you’ve got a finished work of art. You will learn so much if you commit to the process and see it through. It’s an exciting way to work. Here’s how to make that happen.
1. Spend most of your time looking
You’ve got to give yourself permission to sit and absorb. Observe, settle your mind, and develop a very clear mental picture of your subject. That’s the first step for alla prima. Be thorough with your looking. Squint at your subject and observe the light and dark areas. Notice the middle values that exist between them. Still squinting, make note of the general color in these areas. Look for the warm and cool color relationships. If the subject is lit by north light, the light side of an object will be cooler than the dark side. Also pay attention to halation, or how the light values of the subject bleed into the darks and vice versa.
2. Big brush first and most
Apply paint with a large, soft brush in the beginning and gently soften most of your edges. Elaborate on the transitions between the light and dark values, pushing one color into another to obtain the proper edge. Gradually reduce the size of your brushes, painting smaller and smaller shapes and details.
3. Focus on your focus
Start at the focal point of your painting. Don’t save it for last–attack it! Block in the main areas and then work away. That’s not to say your focal point is the literal center of the work, but wherever it is–start there and build out.
4. Don’t lock your eyes to one Spot
Staying light on your feet is what they say at the gym. Stay light with your eyes too. Don’t lock into one thing. Constantly compare your subject and try to match the colors as you see them. That means shifting your focus constantly.
5. Be Purposeful and Stick to Your Plan
For the best results with alla prima, it’s important to paint deliberately and methodically. That way you can keep the light and dark values from mixing together on the canvas to prevent muddy colors. Use intermediate colors between the values to create the transition from light to dark. I recommend writing down your approach. It will act like your set list, so that you can just refer back to it if you get caught up or confused.