Alla Prima Oil Painting

This method of painting has the advantage of being very direct, quick and effective for recording a scene, portrait or landscape.

Although the technical definition of an alla prima painting is one which is executed within a single sitting, this method can be extended over a number of days or weeks if need be. For this method you will need the following:

Oil Painting Medium – (three examples I have used in the past)

– Medium One – 50% balsalm turpentine, 50% refined linseed oil (simple and effective, more oily & less glossy)

– Medium Two – 33% balsalm turpentine, 33% linseed oil, 33% damar varnish (glossy, sticky, possibly yellowing)

– Medium Three – 50% balsalm turpentine, 40% linseed oil, 10 % damar varnish (advantage of damar but not as sticky as no.2)

Instead of using the above mediums you may also wish to experiment with using a chalk putty medium for thicker more impasto effects –

Chalk Putty Medium – 60% chalk putty (or marble dust, glass dust), 40% refined linseed oil

Oil Palette – (one possible example, Old Holland, Sennelier, Michael Harding brands are very good)

Earth Pigment & Double Primary Triad (warm primary triad + cool primary triad)

– titanium white

– mars black

– raw umber

– burnt umber

– raw sienna

– red ochre

– yellow ochre

– golden yellow

– ultramarine blue

– lemon yellow

– alizaran crimson

– cobalt blue

– yellow

– vemillion red

Step by Step Process

1. Prepare a panel or canvas with at least 3-4 coats of gesso, allow to dry between layers & sand.

2. Imprimatura – Paint a very thin layer of light ochre yellow using either egg tempera, a very thin wash of acrylic or minimal oil paint diluted with turpentine.

3. Couch – Apply a very thin coat of the oil medium (linseed oil 40%, balsalm turpentine 50%, damar varnish 10%) to the surface of the panel. Wipe a clean rag over the surface to pick up any excess medium.

4. Brown Layer – Decide on the composition. Sketch out the main elements using a dry brush and a warm transparent brown oil paint. Raw Umber is a good choice. The brush should not be too small, the brushstrokes should remain loose and open. The idea is to decide upon your darkest darks and lightest lights, to loosely describe all the elements within your chosen value scale. Use just the paint from the tube, no medium is necessary. Apply the paint very thin in midtone areas, more in dark areas and leave the imprimatura to shine through for your lights.

5. Choose the palette you will work with. Earth colours and ochres with the addition of titanium white, a good black are great for the first few passes.

Paint the major colour masses, simplifying shapes to their essentials. Darks should be fairly transparent and painted thinly, lighter & more opaque colours being applied in successive layers. If your shadows are warm then it is very likely that your highlights will be cool, if your highlights are warm then the darker areas should contain a cooler colour.

Note: If you wish to begin a new painting session over a layer which has already dried it is is advisable to apply a very thin ‘couch’ of oil medium to facilitate the merging of successive layers.

6. Continue applying layers of brushtrokes in dabs, building up the paint by gradually adding layers of lighter, brighter colours. The idea is to go from the subdued, earthy palette towards lighter, more vibrant notes of colour. The lighter colours when applied in a thicker or more impasto way, will add to the illusion of dimension, with the paint itself catching flickers of light. In old master paintings the whites (lead white highlights) are painted with the thickest impasto while the darks are thin and semi-transparent.

7. Refinement Stage – Refine areas, blur edges where needed, smooth or roughen the paint where needed. Add the final touches, glazes, scumbles where required. This stage is usually the most time consuming and can last anywhere from a few hours to months or years with a major work.

8. Varnish – Once the oil paint is relatively dry after a minimum of about 6 months, the painting should be varnished. Use the best possible varnish, one which is non yellowing.

sunlit glow

‘Sunlit Glow’ oil on canvas 40x40cm