Monday, 30 September 2013

How Can I Paint Alla Prima without the Painting Looking Fiddled With?

Alla prima is the simplest practice of oil painting, describing the completion of a painting in one sitting and in one oil paint layer. Alla prima can be exciting as the painting seems to evolve in minutes instead of over several days. A finish akin to the Impressionist might be the end result.

Painting in alla prima in oils
However, there is always the danger of the paint looking ‘fussed over’ and fiddled with if one area doesn’t work out. The painting ends up losing life. How can the artist retain that freshness and vibrancy that defines alla prima art technique?

Problems with Alla Prima Painting

The artist might be disappointed with the end product of a landscape painting or portrait when it seemed to be going so well during the alla prima painting. Colours suddenly appear fussed over and lifeless and brush marks no longer inform on light and shadow, but seem to exist for its own sake.

The following practices might cause an unsatisfactory painting completed in alla prima.

  1. Working on a white ground causing the artist to go over areas already painted in a bid to correct the tonal balance of the painting.
  2. Illustrating detail such as individual leaves or the texture of bark instead of implying detail by generalizing what is seen in front.
  3. Using fine brushes.
  4. Not including essential pigments within the palette, causing dirty colours.
  5. Using black to darken colors.
  6. Getting overwhelmed with visual information in front causing a similarly chaotic-looking painting.
  7. Working on one area at a time in a sequential manner.
My Youtube clip below shows how I completed a potentially fiddly scene containing lots of shadows and detail in alla prima.

Reasons for a Painting to Loose Life

The worst culprit to an alla prima painting that lacks life if fussing over an area. Fussing over a painting can be due to several culprits.

Guess working an area of the painting because the visual resource supplies insufficient visual information, causing the artist to become unhappy with an area and fussing over it.
A poor composition that appears unbalanced or possessing a blank area that needs filling in. The artist might be compelled to stick a tree or house within the painting that ultimately does not appear to belong to its surrounding.
Any other reason for working over an area again.

How to Paint Alla Prima in Oils

Alla prima painting in progress
I believe any painting completed in alla prima allows a limited number of brush strokes before the painting becomes stifled by an affliction of too many. An overstated painting that appears to have brush marks that serve no purpose will counter the fresh impressionist painting sought after. The following painting tips might help put right this problem.

Make every brush mark count. Don’t mix a color or apply paint unless it serves a purpose. Is it going to suggest sunlit grass; dappled shadows or merely to fill in a gap?

Oil Painting with Life

How I painted this Lakeland bridge
in alla prima
Apply a toned underglaze prior to applying the oil paint. I use diluted acrylic paint of various colors to inject mood. My Youtube  clip shows how I completed an oil painting of a Lakeland scene in alla prima in 10 steps. As can be seen, a red underglaze has been applied first. This not only injects vibrancy into the painting, but also helps give an indication of the painting’s tonal balance. A pale color will indeed appear pale, but will appear invisible when placed onto a white board.

Generalize what is seen in front. This means cutting out irrelevant detail and seeing the painting as a series of basic colour/tonal shapes rather than areas of lots of leaves and blades of grass.

Don’t work on the painting starting from one corner, view it as a whole throughout. The clip shows how I worked on various areas of the painting simultaneously rather than from one corner. Each tonal area was balanced up with its neighbor and fitted together like a jigsaw. A good visual resource and composition will prevent working over an area again if the artist is unhappy with it.

Fussy Looking Trees in a Painting

The painting could easily look overworked as lots of detail can be seen. The trees for instance casts complex-looking shadows on the ground. The secret is to generalize each area into patterns and shapes without viewing them as ‘shadows’ or ‘trees’ as such The brickwork in the foreground consisted of just 3 colors and simple brush marks that from a distance imply detail. This is a defining feature of impressionist art.

Tips on Alla Prima Technique

The secrets to a good alla prima painting are to generalize what is in front and to make very brush mark count. This means making accurate visual judgments first-off. Carefully mix each color before laying down the paint and to plan the painting ahead. This prevents having to work over an area again whilst the paint is still wet. This is bad for alla prima. Applying a toned ground prior to painting will also help the artist make more accurate judgments to color and tone. Lastly, avoid very fine brushes designed for illustrating every twig, except for the final touches of a painting.

More Articles on Oil Painting

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Oil Painting the Mona Lisa: a Portrait Painting Challenge in 48 Steps Hardback

Many would consider viewing this painting in the Louvre as the ultimate experience in appreciating Da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Mona Lisa but few may consider actually painting it. The subtle sfumato effects – Da Vinci’s shading technique resembling smoke – might seem too much of a challenge. However, this book aims to break down the task of painting the Mona Lisa into small, manageable steps.

Portrait Painting Guide Book

I included a step by step demo of how to paint the Mona Lisa in one of my art books, Skin Tones in Oil: 10 Step by Step Guides from Old Masters. However, this particular project ended up so lengthy, decided to release a separate ebook and now hardback on how I painted the Mona Lisa in oils.

Tips on Painting the Mona Lisa in Detail

This unique art book contains extra features that explore sfumato in more detail, namely creating heightened awareness of tones and viewing the face as an abstract series of shapes. A selection of oil painting techniques has also used, including glazing, dry-brushing and shading. The aim is not to produce a carbon copy of the original, as I do not believe copying is being truly creative. The aim of this book to explore sfumato for its own sake and create a slightly different version of Da Vinci’s masterpiece along the way. The background colours have therefore been altered as well as giving La Gioconda a slightly different look.

Paint the Mona Lisa with Sfumato

The screenshots offers an inside preview of how this book looks. Each page is a blend of step by step images and text that explain how each stage was completed. Introductory chapters also help the developing portraitist view the face in new and different ways for future practice.

Art Book on Sfumato Technique

Learning the sfumato method is not easy, but is possible with time and patience. This book attempts to guide the portraitist through various stages of getting sfumato effects that can be used in future portrait painting. A delicate effect that comes from the Italian word, Sfumare, which means ‘to evaporate like smoke,’ this technique is almost impossible to achieve in one glaze alone, as in alla prima. Several glazes have therefore been used.

Portrait Painting Challenge
Rachel Shirley

Dimensions of Art Book

This invaluable art book for portrait painting measures 10x8in and is 46 pages long. Also available on Kindle. This demonstration can also be found in my other portrait painting book, Skin Tones in Oil: 10 Step by Step Guides from Old Masters.

The Ultimate Oil Painting Solution for Landscape Art, Portraiture and Still Life Hardback

This large oil painting guide, previously available only on Kindle is now available as hardback. This large art book comprises an amalgam of 3 of my titles, tackling difficulties with landscape painting, portraiture and still life art, hence its title; the Ultimate Oil Painting Solution for Landscape Art, Portraiture and Still life.

Large Book on Oil Painting Solutions

Inspired by this blog to write solutions to common ‘peeves’ with oil painting, I wrote 3 art guides, tackling problems associated with various areas of oil painting. Separately, these art guides were entitled: Why do My Clouds Look Like Cotton Wool? (tackling landscape painting peeves); Why do My Skin Tones Look Lifeless? (portrait painting peeves) and Why do my Ellipses Look Like Doughnuts? (still life painting peeves).

New Art Book in Hardback

The Ultimate Oil Painting Solution remained available only on Kindle for a while because of its size. But since creating a series of large edition art books, decided to do the same with this book amalgam. This new book measures a generous 10x8in, meaning its numerous and complex elements can be formatted in such a way that the book becomes viable as a hardback. Despite being quite big in dimensions, this art book still possesses a considerable page count of 234; quite a lot for its genre.

Solutions for Painting

In total, there are an incredible 78 chapters tacking various peeves with suggested solutions. There are also step by step guides on painting subject matter related to each painting area.

The peeves selected are the sort of problems that tend to recur in my art classes. Such difficulties are many and varied, but the list tackled in my book include: drawing ellipses, painting water, portrait photography, measuring tones, darkening the colour of snow, painting clouds, painting noses, drawing foreshortened objects, painting moisture on fruit, calculating vanishing points, darkening pale colours, painting highlights in hair. And much, much more. See screenshots below showing several pages within to get an idea of how the interior of this colourful book looks.

The Ultimate Oil Painting Solution preview

The Foundations of Painting

Key chapters explain important matters relating to art and which form the foundations to painting, which are: guide to art materials, negative space, colour theory, the golden section, setting up a composition, drawing modes, painting out of doors, types of gessoes, painting on a budget, measuring tones, drawing ellipses, complementary colours, pigments needed for skin colours. And much, much more.

This book’s intention is find a ‘cure’ for a particular issue and help the artist move forward in future painting practice. This will help spur creativity and growing confidence in the future.

Book to Help Improve in Art

Guide to Oil Painting Peeves by Rachel Shirley
The Ultimate Oil Painting Solution for Landscape Art, Portraiture and Still Life has been specially formatted for hardback and is crammed with colour illustrations, paintings in progress and diagrams. There are also almost 78,000 words within. As can be seen from the screenshots, every page is crammed with useful information and colour pictures, providing a visual feast as well as invaluable advice.

The 3 books that make up this amalgam can be purchased separately if interested in one subject area. And every book is available as Kindle. Select art books are also available in pocket sized editions of 8.5inx5.5in.

More Art Books by Rachel Shirley

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

New Large Edition Art Books by Rachel Shirley

Large art books on oil painting by Rachel Shirley are now available on Amazon. Existing titles such as Why do My Clouds Look Like Cotton Wool? and Portrait Painting in Oil: 10 Step by Step Guides… can now be found in large book format, measuring 10x8in. Because the page count is smaller than the older editions, these new art books can be purchased more cheaply despite their larger dimensions.

Art Books in Large Format

Having published art books on oil painting for some years now, have come to learn the art of formatting books that possess complex elements such as images, text, graphics and tables.

This means a new range of larger art books have been produced to meet demand. The old, smaller editions (measuring 5.5inx8.5in) are still available but have been revised. I have added the wording ‘pocket sized edition’ to the covers to differentiate these from their new larger counterparts. My large editions all measure a generous 10x8in. And all my art books have new cover designs. See screenshot to get an idea of how the interior of these large instructional books look.

Sample from Rachel Shirley's Books on Oil Painting

New Range of Art Books on Oil Painting Techniques

I have also created hard copy versions of titles previously only available on Kindle, meaning those who prefer to absorb art instruction in book form are now able to do so with all my titles.

Large Art Books on Oil Painting

Converting small to large edition has been a momentous task and has taken some months to complete, but feel the effort has been worth it, as these larger books offer a wider choice for those who prefer to absorb information presented on large pages with larger images. However, the smaller editions might come in useful for those who prefer the convenience of this smaller size to carry around.

Art books that are available in pocket sized, large edition (and incidentally Kindle) are:

Why do My Clouds Look Like Cotton Wool?
Why do My Ellispes Look Like Doughnuts?
Why do My Skin Tones Look Lifeless?
The Ultimate Oil Painting Solution for Landscape Art, Portraiture and Still Life (previously only available on Kindle)
Skin Tones in Oil: 10 Step by Step Guides from Old Masters
Portrait Painting in Oil: 10 Step by Step Guides from Old Masters
Oil Painting the Mona Lisa in Sfumato: a Portrait Painting Challenge in 48 Steps (previously only available on Kindle).
Landscape Painting in Oil: 20 Step by Step Guides
The Artist’s Garden in Oil: 28 Step by Step Guides

Sample of Oil Painting Demo Book
by Rachel Shirley

Oil Painting Guide Books

As can be seen from the screenshots, there are a lot of images and bite-sized information presented on each page providing a visual feast and a more absorb-able read. A wide choice of art books has been converted. Subject matter such as still life art, portraiture and landscape painting are explored regarding overcoming ‘peeves’ that might present themselves to the artist, step by step demos or a guide to art materials and techniques.

Photos of the paintings in progress are also larger and detail clearer. Each page visually informs and offers lots of advice for the developing artist. Look out for these new large art books in the coming months.

View my Articles on Oil Painting on this Blog