Monday, November 21, 2011

Alla Prima- Learnings from a Workshop

I recently attended a portraiture & figurative workshop conducted by an International artist.

Some notes:

Objective of the workshop: To learn how to make portraits and figurative paintings from live models.

Technique: Alla Prima.

Methodology: Live Demo by artist followed by experiential learning sessions by students (painting from a live model, using same technique as taught by the artist).

Definition: Alla Prima is a technique which means 'at once ' in Italian . In this method, instead of  painting in layers, paint is applied wet-on-wet , and the painting is finished within hours , instead of days.

Some things I learnt :

1) Reduce the subject of painting to shapes and planes. ( Don't think of a nose as a nose, but as a breakdown of planes)

2) Squint your eyes and look at the subject.

3) Look for shapes, value, colour and edges, in a chronological manner, while squinting.

4) Draw lines with brush to suggest sharp cntours and demarcating lines and tangents (e. g.upturn of a face, defining line of a garment, tilt of the postrure, eyebrow level, nose level etc. ).

Pre - painting:

5)  Very important part of this technique is the value gradation of colors.

 Create a value chart for the basic colours that you would be using for a subject.

 There should be 3 values in light and 2 values in shade for a particular range. For. e.g. for flesh colour, we  could have a very dark with burnt sienna and cobalt blue and a bit of ivory black and progress through the next 4 values by adding more of white and less of darker colours. Once you have your value scales , on your palette, you are ready to attack the canvas. Make sure your brushes are spiky clean and your palette is wiped clean of all previous colours. This is a very important stepto retain freshness of the painting in Alla Prima.

When mixing, try one dominant colour and mix other colours in little bits to go up and down the value scale.

During painting:

6) Squint and  look for shapes and values. Block the shapes that you see with corresponding values in relation to each other. Block the darkest shapes that you see with the darkest value on your palette. As you move from shape to shape, ask yourself, cooler or warmer? Lighter or darker? Accordingly block the basic shapes that you see. Break down the whole face into shapes and planes.

7) Be careful while moving from value to value. Do not jump values, as the work will look patchy and there won't be transition between values.

8) Use bristles to block the initial shapes and then use sable brushes as you apply lighter values, or work between the shapes.

9) Have an alert on warm/ cool combinations throughout the work, as you paint.

10) Remember cool light- warm shadow and vice versa and accordingly apply the colours and the values thereof.

11) Try to focus on some parts where you want to sharpen and converge more definitively. e. g. eye.

12) Keep your shadows transparent and lights opaque.

13) Keep defining lines impasto, so as to indicate direction and shape.

14) Clean brushes and palette on and off. Try using different brushes for different colours and values, so there is no confounding of colours and values.

15) Look at cooler or warmer in respect to each other.Comparative notes.

16) Squint only for value and shapes, never for colour.

17) If you feel you have jumped values or have confounded shapes, or angles, take a palette knife and scrape out the paint. You can re-paint that part.

 Post painting:

1) Be careful with the painting as it is fresh and wet and is done within the span of a few hours or a day. Any accident which causes you toredo later may take away from the freshness of the painting, which will negate from the benefits of this technique.

Points to remember:

1) keep a clean palette. If there is dried paint, scrape it away with a palette knife and apply some spirit to rub it off.

2) Your brushes MUST be absolutely residue free and washed properly.

3) Do not jump values

4) You can soften edges with a smooth brush once you are done with the whole face ( or other subject0 to retain transition and avoid patchiness.

5) Use the lightest values for highlighting.

6) Let yourself go. fear will not let you express yourself on your canvas. This method requires a lot of patience and concentration. Any oil painter used to the classical approach of layer on layer will take a while to not see a face as a face but as shapes and planes instead!

7) Finally- practice maketh perfect. I plan to use still life to practice this approach. So that means even a tomato wouldnt be a round object but would have to be broken down into shapes and planes and finally dealt with values!  Squint, paint, squint is the mantra!

I learnt a lot from this workshop and finally, after 3 years of active blogging , physical networking and emailing, met oil painters who could share valuable tips with me.

The artist was great and a very patient and focused person. A great mentor , apart from being a great painter and teacher! i did two portraits but got daunted halfway and also exhausted , squinting and painting, squinting and painting!

Best of luck to me.

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