Alla prima painting is a technique that was pioneered in the 1600s by Flemish master painter Frans Hals. This technique is also referred to as “direct painting” or “wet on wet painting”. In its purest form the artwork is completed in one session before the paint is dry. Each brush stroke is intended to be final with no retouching afterwords. The sessions can last from a few hours to a few days depending on how long the paint stays wet and therefore workable.
Alla prima painting was a response to more indirect forms of painting called glazing or scrumbling. These techniques, employed by some of the old masters like Rembrandt, started with an under-painting that when finished was a nearly complete work of art. Thin layers of opaque or semi-opaque lighter colors were then added to soften and add depth to the final piece. One benefit of this much slower painting style was that it rendered consistent results.
Alla prima paintings are often said to have a fresher more spontaneous feel than the scumbling methods because they are completed quickly while in the midst of inspiration. It is said that for this reason that impressionists as well as modern day painters often utilized this technique.
Famous painters that employed alla prima painting techniques include: Mary Cassatt, Paul Cezanne, Franz Hals, John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer.
This relatively uncomplicated method often starts with toning the canvas with a medium darkness of color. The purpose of this is to prevent the annoying appearance of bright white unpainted spots of canvas from peaking through the painting. Next, a drawing is made on the canvas from just one color of thinned paint. Areas of color are then added to fill in the drawing.
TIP: beginning painters might wish to add a drying medium to the paints to slow down the drying process. This will give the student more time to paint while getting a feel for this technique.