Art Bites: Alla Prima Rocks!

Barb Toland

You know I'm always preachin' about taking baby steps when it comes to learning about art & creativity. It's less overwhelming, and also a lot more fun!

Well this week is no exception. We're going to talk about a technique that we touched on in last week's post, when discussing well-known & loved artist, Bob Ross.

The technique is referred to as "alla prima" - which in Italian means "at first attempt" or "at once". It's most often associated with oil painting, but can also be used when referring to other painting mediums, such as watercolor & acrylic.

(But shush, don't tell the oil painters I said so *wink wink*)

Basically, when using the alla prima method, an artist works "wet-in-wet".

Another words, instead of waiting for the previous layer of paint to dry before applying the next, the wet paint on the brush is applied to paint that is still wet on the canvas. It allows one to work more quickly & thus, spontaneously.

As I mentioned earlier, Bob Ross, who has been our featured artist this month, was someone who used alla prima exclusively in his work. When you watch his show, you are witnessing it firsthand.

Although Bob painted this way, he was not the first. It has actually been around for centuries.

The Flemish artist, Frans Hals was known for it as early as the 16th century, and Impressionist artists such as John Singer Sargent & Claude Monet took the alla prima method to a whole new level in the 19th century.

Here's an example of Sargent's alla prima painting, "Monet Painting on the Edge of a Wood":..


Monet Painting at the Edge of a Wood
John Singer Sargent, 1885
Oil paint on canvas - Tate Gallery, London
21" x 25" (54 x 65 cm)


Traditionally, both oil & watercolor painting are slow & methodical processes. But using the alla prima method, where the artist is painting wet over wet, you can see how Sargent was successful in capturing the immediacy & intimacy of his friend Monet, by using this method.

I must add that although the actual painting process is faster, that even when using the alla prima technique, artists still must take a good bit of time observing, thinking about, sketching and planning their composition before they ever put paint to canvas - if they are to create a successful piece.

Here is a beautiful painting by Hals entitled, "The Gypsy Girl".


The Gypsy Girl
Frans Hals, circa 1625
Oil on panel - Louvre, Paris
23" x 21" (58 x 52 cm)

I too LOVE working wet-in-wet ... using watercolor. If you've ever taken one of my classes, or visited me during a painting demo, then you have seen this in action.

I start by totally saturating the paper with a ton of water before I begin to work in the paint. I get so many beautiful, and lively affects from doing it this way!

AND it keeps me extremely focused on what I'm doing, while at the same time leaving most of my logical, rational left brain out of the process ... thus giving my right creative brain more freedom to romp across the canvas!

Here is one of my "alla prima" paintings, which I like to refer to as "fast & loose"  ;-)


Our Pass  ©
Watercolor, oil pastel & gouache
12" x 16"  (30 x  40 cm)
Available for sale

Well, as that wascally wabbit likes to say ... that's all folks ;-)

I hope you learned a little more about art today, plus got to relax & take a few minutes for yourself. I also hope this has inspired you to pick up YOUR proverbial brush, and go make something!



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