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How to Paint Alla Prima with Oil Paints?

The Alla Prima technique (also called prima painting) aims at the most direct possible completion of the image. I have translated from Italian, Alla prima means as much as all at once or at the same time, which is at the heart of this technique: the completion of an image in a session.

Alla Prima Portrait

It stands in direct contrast to the layering technique, which achieves a final result with the help of many translucently applied layers.

This article is about why, why and why the Alla Prima technique is so prevalent in painting. We’ll look at the benefits and uses of the method, focusing on standard colors, origins, and some tips for your prima painting.

The application of paint in the Alla Prima technique takes place very directly instead of painting individual layers, allowing them to dry and then painting additional layers over them.

With this technique, the motif is completed in one unit of paint before the image is dried and cured. This automatically means the renunciation of a background and a complex retouching. Usually, in one painting unit, the subject is refined and worked out until the work is completed. 

The advantages of the prima painting are the straightforward painting style, the speed associated with it, and the high degree of spontaneity and temperament expressed in such works.

Especially for short recordings, the nature of which should be reproduced at a certain time, this technique is therefore excellent: 

In landscape painting, the prima painting is used, for example, to represent the mood of a particular light incidence before it changes. 

Even if a model is to be painted, this technique is used. Only when the picture is painted quickly in such a situation can the pose and the expression of the model be displayed within a reasonable time frame.

Suitable color types

In the narrower sense, the Alla Prima technique is a strict form of wet-on-wet technique in which the works are to be completed within one unit. For this reason, the prima painting is predestined, especially for slowly drying colors such as oil paint. Acrylic paint,  on the other hand, must be mixed with a drying retarder so that it does not dry too quickly.

In a broader sense, however, Alla Prima works with pastel chalks over pastel parer are also conceivable, which will be completed within a painting session. Since the pastels do not dry, many works are completed in a short time, so the use of the term Alla Prima in this context is controversial.

Famous painters

The first painter to make this painting technique accessible in modern times was Frans Hals, a Flemish painter born in the 16th century. Before that, most Renaissance painters used extremely elaborate and meticulously crafted underpaintings and laid several layers of translucent paint over each other to complete a work.

Nevertheless, it should not be concealed that Alla Prima has probably served in antiquity to open-air painting and the mapping of models. Frans Hals was ultimately the one who ventured to resort to this technique at a time when most of the art was stringently constructed works made in several sessions over weeks and months.

The works of Hals served as inspiration for some impressionists of the 19th and 20th centuries. A similarity of the painting technique can be seen.

Tips for your prima painting

  • Work on an already toned painting ground. This will save you the tedious primer of the white surface. Most suitable are light gray or earth-like shades whose presence in the picture looks natural.
  • Prepare your colors and be aware of where to apply which color mix. As an aid, you can use a charcoal pencil or thin paint to outline outlines of the motif, which illustrate the most critical elements and proportions.
  • Use a drying retarder if you work with acrylic paints. If you want to paint larger oil paintings, you should apply thicker colors with a higher oil content only after the thinner, low oil colors to allow the paint to dry evenly.
  • Start with larger brushes and switch to smaller and smaller, the more granular the details become in the picture. Be sure to cover the large areas with lots of paint. The area of ​​a large brush should be exploited to progress quickly.
  • As the colors do not change after the colors have dried, you will need to make revisions while the image is still wet. Scrape the paint off with a spatula or a paint knife to reposition the surface. If you are struggling with a surface, you should not spend forever trying to mend it, as this will cause you to apply a few layers that will steal your character’s spontaneous, spirited character.

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