Notebook, 1993-

MATERIALS & METHODS - Painting - Oil Painting

Characteristics - Painting Methods & Techniques - Materials and Equipment - Work Space & Storage - Manufacture of Pigments - Protection of the Picture

Oil Painting

Direct Painting /Alla Prima or Premier Coup

Direct painting [also known as alla prima or premier coup painting] refers to a method by which the artist applies each stroke of paint to the canvas with the intention of letting it stand in the picture as part of the final statement. There is to be no retouching or overpainting after the first layer of paint has dried.

Direct methods have been used since ancient times, and the work done during the earliest periods in most cultures is single-layer direct painting. More recently, in Italy in the sixteenth century, in Holland in the seventeenth century, and in France in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, direct painting techniques have been vehicles for a wide range of pictorial ideas, from the rich sparkle of Frans Hals, to the color directness of Manet, and the frank immediacy of much of the Synthetic Cubist work

Using the direct method the painter, having visualized the way that a portion of the picture should work, attempts to get the effect completely, all at once, without [p. 76] planning to paint over it when it is dry to make it darker or lighter, or warmer or cooler. As each succeeding part is treated, the artist tries to maintain the same pitch, first planning or sensing the final impact of the passage and then trying to bring it to completion on the first attempt. As the work progresses, each stroke must relate accurately to every other color that has already been put on the picture. Ideally when the last bit of bare canvas is covered, the picture is finished, and no retouching is needed.

The great difficulty and challenge of pure direct painting is that the painter must be able to deal with all the problems of the picture at the same moment. For example if the artist is painting a head, when the chin is being painted, each stroke of color must be put on the canvas so that it states simultaneously the location, size, and shape of the chin; the modeling or volume of the chin; the color of the chin under the given circumstance of light; and the way the color unites with all the other colors surrounding it in the picture.

Naturally very few painters have felt bound to adhere strictly to pure direct methods, and so, many pictures, begun in the spirit of alla prima paintings, are retouched, corrected, and elaborated upon after the first layer of paint has dried. However, it is my opinion that the painting is still direct in spirit to the extent that the artist tries to make each stroke count as the final effect. If it is later decided that a particular passage is unsatisfactory, the painter may obliterate the faulty section by scraping it out or by painting an opaque neutral tone over it. The artist may than repaint that area, trying once more to realize the final effect immediately. Technically this may not be direct painting in a single layer or on the first try, but the thought process and range of effects nevertheless relate to the spirit of direct painting. [p. 76-77]

Technical Procedures
This section . . . . is intended as a general guide and not as a substitute for the personal instruction of an experienced artist. The procedures of other artists and traditions may be useful when they serve as a base from which experiments may be conducted consistent with the individual aims of the artist.

In the case of direct painting, from a technical point of view the procedure is often kept quite simple.

l. On a clean canvas, the general location of large masses can be put in lightly with pencil or charcoal.

2. The palette is set with a complete range of the colors to be used during the sitting, the colors usually being placed near the outer edge of the palette. The palette cup is fastened to the edge of the palette, and a small amount of painting medium is put into it.

3. The colors are thinned on the palette, as they are used, by dipping a brush into the palette cup, bringing out the desired amount of painting medium, and mixing this with a brushful of paint. Colors may be intermixed, although most writers suggest that the mixtures should be kept as simple as possible--that is, they should consist of no more than two or three colors.

4. Colors are applied to the canvas with brushes, palette knives, rags, sponges, or any other instruments. Unsuccessful passages may be removed by scraping them off with the palette knife.

Some painters begin with the darks and gradually work up to the lights; other reverse the procedure. Some employ brilliant intensities from the beginning; other begin with neutral tones. The organization of the picture is, of course, a highly personal matter, and a method that is most suitable and efficient for one painter may be a total waste of time for another. [p. 78]

[Kay, Reed. The Painter's Guide to Studio Methods and Materials. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983. pp. 127-129]



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