30 April 2014

Developing a Procedure for Alla Prima Portrait Painting


Sabrina, 12x9" oil on linen, painted in 3 hours from life


Painting from life is the ultimate artistic learning experience.  Interpreting all the subtle colors and values on a live model is very different from copying a photo, and the time constraint keeps things fresh.  The anxiety I feel at some point during an alla prima session is motivating, too.  Forces me calm down and focus on what's important.  And I always have a sense of accomplishment at the end of the session...I like that.


Tory, 12x9" oil on linen, painted in 3 hours from life

It's important to have a strategy for alla prima portrait painting.  If you don't, you'll end up with a raging mess for all that effort.  Below is my procedure...borrowed from many sources. It's a work in progress.  Each bullet represents about 20 minutes of effort.  If I'm half-way through a 3-hour session and haven't gotten to the features yet, I know I need to speed things up.
  • Compose the image; block in the big shapes
  • Premix paint piles for average skin tones in light and shadow.  Add the darkest dark and lightest light for reference.
  • Loosely paint the big shapes, including background, hair and clothes
  • Second pass on big shapes; adjust colors and correct drawing errors
  • First pass on features and details
  • Third pass on the overall painting; refine shapes, temperatures, brushwork
  • Second pass on features
  • Highlights and dark accent...all done.

Yoni, 12x9" oil on linen, painted in 3 hours from life


Here are a few solid references on alla prima (portrait) painting:

Lee, 8x6" oil on linen, painted in 1 hour from life