Artist Al Gury is known for his direct or alla prima painting
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
My Alla Prima
–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'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!