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Still Life Alla Prima Demonstration

Alla prima is a painting technique that means "at first." An artist completes a painting in one sitting. This grouping of photos shows how I start an alla prima painting. I first prepare my palette by laying out the colors according to their value (degree of lightness or darkness.) Once the colors are laid out I start to mix piles of colors. These piles of color help me to cover the canvas quickly. I always make it a point to take the ten minutes to prepare my palette ensuring that I always have enough prepared mixed pigment available. Time is of the essence and I find more time is lost trying to remix or reclaim a particular mixture of colors. Ergo, the desire for a prepared palette. The painting is started with a rudimentary drawing. Thereafter with a loaded brush, the shadows are massed followed by the addition of the light masses. I am extremely careful to keep my shadow brushes separate from my light brushes. That is a few brushes are strictly designated for painting the lights (bright values) and several brushes are solely for painting the shadows (dark values.) The separation of the brushes helps to prevent any cross contamination that may occur from dark colored values going into light colored values and vice versa. This strategy almost guarantees that the lights and darks remain pure and clean giving the painting that "juicy, rich" quality. The painting is developed further by merging the shadow areas with the light areas or half-toning. A clean soft bristle brush is used for this. Careful blending creates an atmospheric appearance within the background and within the objects. After the light masses and shadow masses are completed, more details are added and ultimately the painting is finished within a few hours. Before the picture is "complete" I check up on the values of the painting making sure that the darkest darks are applied and that the highest light is at the appropriate value. After a final check on the symmetry of the vase I smooth out and soften edges in strategic areas while tightening up in other areas. This I call the lost edge-found edge game. Once all of this appears to be in place then do I call the painting "finished."


  1. Hi Diana, We really do think alike. This is pretty much how I do an alla prima painting, too! Terrific demo! Thanks! Karen

  2. Very beautiful work. I really admire your still lifes.


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