Updated: Apr 7, 2021

Alla prima paintings are usually completed in one day. These can be preparatory sketches or completed paintings. I generally paint with artist grade paints (not student grade) on canvas because I do not like slippery surfaces like sanded gesso on wood or metal panels. Linen with an oil primed surface is the best surface…not too much texture and not too slippery. A canvas primed with acrylic is advised if using water soluble paint. You can make a dry painting surface a little easier to paint by covering it very lightly with slow drying medium then rubbing away the medium with a lint free rag before painting. I prefer my canvas adhered to panel (generally ¼ inch thick birch wood or a PVC foam board) because I do not like the bounce of canvas on stretcher bars. Also, this keeps light from shining through the canvas. However, if the canvas is larger than 16 x 20 inches, I will use canvas on stretcher bars to lessen the weight. Some artists will paint on large canvases stapled to the wall to avoid bounce and reduce costs.

The following process will help your painting take on a more confident appearance, and make it easier and faster to paint:

1. Use the largest paint brush that you can comfortably use. It is important to also use the correct brush hair type and shape of brush. Experiment with real and synthetic brushes of good quality.

2. Make decisive and fewer strokes, i.e., do not to “lick” the surface of the painting by brushing the same line repeatedly.

3. Draw the image and/or block in the image with a paint brush. There are many methods of drawing directly: sight/size (you can use a viewfinder for this), comparative proportions and angles, proportional divider, etc. You can easily wipe away mistakes using this method. If you are not comfortable with the brush, then transfer a drawing to the canvas transferring only the most basic shapes. (Tip: There are many methods for this transfer, but do not use a grid on the canvas or the grid lines may show through unless you use a water-soluble pencil.)

4. I use a palette of a cool and warm of each primary color (see list in Part 2 of this article), and white (sometimes zinc and lead but always titanium white). I include lamp black for mixing greens and dulling color if needed. Sometimes adding the complementary to dull a color does not dull it sufficiently. I use burnt sienna and burnt umber to mix with a blue to create a gentle black. Also, they are imperative for mixing flesh tones and placement in landscapes. And I mix my own secondary colors. I use almost no medium because my walnut oil-based paint is usually sufficiently oily…and is almost odor free! (Tip: If you are unfamiliar with mixing paint, make color charts with your colors…mix complements, darks with colors, create warm and cool secondary colors, mix white with each color…and try out some weird combinations. Mixing too many colors together can reduce the vibrancy of colors…and that may be exactly what you want or not. Also, mixing a burnt sienna, for instance, from primary colors compared to using the burnt sienna pigment does not behave the same in paintings.)


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