What is Alla Prima painting? All your questions explained (easy)

Alla Prima Painting is a technique used by artists who are looking for fast results and need only one session per artwork.

It’s perfect if you don’t have much spare time and still want to make something beautiful! There are no rules with this approach so feel free to experiment with colors, textures, and more!

What is Alla Prima painting? how is it different from other styles of painting?

The term Alla Prima means “on the first attempt” in Italian, which refers both to how quickly it can be done and how many sessions you need to complete your artwork.

This approach was popular with the Impressionists as they could more easily capture fleeting light and color of their environment, but it’s not limited just there!

Modern-day artists also use this method today because sometimes you only need one session for something so powerful that it captures your heart from start until finish without any lingering doubt or second thoughts about what comes next.

Is Alla Prima the same as wet in wet painting?

Technically no, alla prima means “first attempt” whereas wet in wet means “wet on wet” which is an oil painting technique where you paint all the colors before fixing the darks and lights.

That said, wet on wet can also be alla prima if you are applying the paint wet on wet in the first attempt.

The alla prima painting approach is all about completing one session per artwork until it’s finished.

Does alla prima mean that I only need to complete one layer?

No, alla prima typically requires more than one layer or pass but it completes itself in a single session instead of having to switch between multiple projects at different stages of completion.

But if you are an artist who likes doing everything quickly then this might be for you!

Is Alla Prima painting good for beginners?

Yes, while Alla Prima painting is a technique that’s often used by professionals, it doesn’t require much previous experience in painting but it definitely helps.

Although Alla Prima painting might be an advanced approach for most artists, all you need to start Alla Prima painting is to find the right steps and follow them!

With that I have an example video below that shows the approach alla prima painting for beginners.

5 steps to alla prima painting video

What are the benefits of Alla Prima painting for artists and art students?

First off, Alla Prima painting is perfect for artists who have limited time to create something beautiful!

This time-saving benefit comes about because the intention of alla prima painting is to start and finish your painting in one session.

Session time can vary from a few minutes to an hour to a whole day, but the work is completed while the paint on the surface is still wet and is usually completed on the same day that it is started.

Working all at once means you don’t need several sessions of continuous work; the focus is fully on that one task.

You can just jump right into your artwork without worrying about how much time has passed from the last session to the next. And when you’re finished, you’re done!

Alla prima paintings give artists a chance to focus solely on their artwork without worrying about finishing different series of works at different stages.

This allows artists to present finished pieces instead of bits and pieces unfinished all over the place! Alla prima painting is also perfect for those who love working fast since it allows them to create an entire piece during one sitting!

Other benefits of alla prima painting are that you do not have time to overthink the artwork and it is a race against time.

Perfection is not the goal in alla prima painting, it is all about capturing as much as you can in the time available and that leads to being creative in not only what you capture but how you capture it.

When you don’t have days or weeks to complete a painting, your focus is on solving the problem of what to capture and finding a compromise.

Alla prima painting also allows you to be freer in your approach and execution. A bit like when you do life drawing classes and are forced to work quickly.

What are the disadvantages of painting Alla Prima?

The biggest disadvantage to Alla Prima painting is forcing yourself to finish or accept that your work has finished even though you may want to tinker and work on the artwork a little more.

If you are a perfectionist then you will struggle with Alla Prima painting, at the same time if you are a perfectionist then Alla Prima painting will help you break down those traits and allow you to accept as finished what you may otherwise think is an incomplete work.

What is best medium for Alla Prima painting?

Alla prima painting can be done in all mediums, but oils are probably the most popular. You should be using a medium that take a while to dry, so that you can work the painting as required. This means acrylics can also be used for alla prima painting and if required you can use a retarder in the paint to stop it drying too quickly.

However, for Alla Prima purposes we would recommend using a high-quality professional-grade paint that is not too thick and has a buttery consistency. You can purchase these from an art store or online.

Watercolors don’t lend that well to Alla Prima if you want to spend the entire day painting, but if your session time is just an hour or so then watercolors can also be perfect for this technique.

You need to use a medium you are comfortable with and one that matches your speed of execution.

The last thing you need is a new medium that you need to learn while also learning to battle your demons as you break your own rules to complete a painting quickly.

What surface is best for the Alla Prima technique?

As a rule Alla Prima painting is very quick and it requires an absorbent surface. Gesso Board is the ideal Alla Prima surface as it’s smooth enough for rapid marks, holds levels well, and dries in no time.

You can also use other surfaces such as hot press (smooth) watercolor paper or gesso board if you prefer something different to experiment with Alla Prima painting.

Canvas and board are also traditionally the best surface for the Alla Prima painting technique.

gesso boards for alla prima painting

What type of brush should I use?

The technique doesn’t suit all types of brushes and it comes down to personal preference and what you’re used to using.

This technique lends itself perfectly to all round bristle brushes but you must ensure they are loaded with paint and medium to ensure that the paint on the brush does not dry out mid-session.

It all comes down to personal preference so don’t get too hung up or obsessed with brush types. If you have any experience painting, chances are the brushes you already own are suitable.

brushes for alla prima painting

What subject matter can you paint using this style?

The Alla Prima painting technique can be used for all subject matter including people, animals, still life, and landscapes.

In short, anything you wish to paint can be painted in the Alla Prima style as it is all about the application of paint rather than the subject matter.

What order should I layer the paint in?

This all depends on how much time you have to complete your Alla Prima painting. If you are short on time, then start with the lightest colors first and follow with darker colors as you build up layers of paint.

If you’ve got plenty of time, try starting with dark colors first and gradually moving towards lighter hues after each layer.

How do I finish an Alla Prima painting?

Once you’ve completed all of the steps above, the only thing left to do is clean your painting with turpentine and apply a fixative.

Once this is done, you will need to give the painting time to dry before it can be displayed.

What materials do I need for Alla Prima painting?

Alla prima painting requires very few materials, all of which you likely already own. A well-ventilated room (preferably with an exhaust fan), a painting surface, oil paint, linseed oil, turpentine, several brushes including filberts, and rounds of all sizes are all that you need to start out.

Is Plein Air the same as Alla Prima?

Alla prima painting is all about working alla prima, but alla prima does not necessarily mean plein air.

In alla prima painting, you focus on a small section of your artwork and complete it all in one session, whereas with plein air paintings are worked on outside in “plain air” but they can also be completed “alla prima”.

Is Alla Prima only suitable for oil painting?

Alla Prima is suitable for all mediums. The Alla Prima approach was developed using oil paint but all media can be used when Alla Prima painting.

Is Alla Prima the same as Au Premier Coup?

Alla Prima is all about speed and getting the painting done all in one go. Au Premier Coup translates as “At first stroke” or “At first attempt”.

This can be used as a synonym for alla prima both as a noun and as a verb, so it could be said that alla prima is usually the same as au premier coup.

What is Alla Prima painting – Wrap up!

So Alla Prima painting is all about speed and getting all your painting done all in one go. It’s not just for oil paintings but all kinds of mediums can be used Alla Prima!

What are your thoughts on Alla Prima? Would you want to try it out sometime? Let us know!

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