Alla Prima Painting Technique

Alla prima simply means “in one go.” Such a simple oil painting technique is in opposition to painting in layers, and is often one the beginner is will be faced with when learning oil painting.


A Simple Oil Painting Technique


When completing an oil painting in one sitting, the project at hand must not be too challenging or time consuming. Copying from a simple photograph, such as one depicting a flower head or simple landscape would be more suitable than, say a portrait.

Tips on Alla Prima Painting

The benefit of painting alla prima is that the painting will retain its freshness and vibrancy and the learner may explore brush marks and colour streaks within the painting. A style like the French Impressionists will spring to mind. The following tips on alla prima will come in useful:

  • Avoid using thin brushes. Wide bristle brushes, sizes 6 upwards is ideal for covering large areas and for giving the painting an expressive feel.
  • Using a limited palette of no more than around 6 or 7 colours will keep the painting session simple.
  • Alla prima is suited to using colours neat, as opposed to using mediums, such as linseed oil or alkyd medium
  • Avoid using a painting surface in excess of one metre on any one side, or similarly, one that is too small. This will ensure the painting surface will be covered within the time allotted, and avoid the frustrations of painting too small
  • Suggesting detail is better than illustrating it in full for example, rather than painting every branch, generalise its overall tonality with uneven paint
  • A painting that contains blocks of bright colours is ideal for alla prima, such as a landscape containing a large sky, or a still life setting of three objects or less.
  • A strong sense of sunlight and shade will create a more eye catching oil painting and offer opportunities for juxtaposing contrasting colours and tones.


Everything the Artist needs can be found within my shops


UK oil painting art materials

US oil painting art materials

UK oil painting bookshop

US oil painting bookshop


Or browse through my oil painting websites for


Step by step oil painting demonstrations

Oil painting medic

All Prima Artist Influences

Many great artists have used alla prima, such as Matisse, Cezanne, Picasso and the small oil sketches of Monet. Looking at Impressionism and Post Impressionism, as well as German Expressionism will reveal many paintings that have been completed in one session.


Expressive Oil Paintings


Painting Alla Prima is a great liberator for the artist who tends to agonise over every detail. Limiting the time factor, as well as the art materials used, is a good way of forcing the artist to make instinctive choices about colour mixes and brush marks. Using mere three colours and white will result in bold, expressive paintings that hold together. Permanent rose, viridian green, burnt sienna with varying amounts of white will challenge the artist in producing a painting with a limited palette. Using the three primary colours and white is another good combination of colours for colour exploration.


Essential Art Materials for Alla Prima


The simplest oil painting materials are required for painting alla prima. Some artists use just three colours, white, a medium sized bristle brush, primed art board, a rag and artist spirits. Painting alla prima is an ideal practice for the beginner easing into oil painting. With more confidence, the artist may venture into trying out other colours and art materials and oil painting techniques.

My Youtube clip below shows how I painted Titian's Bacchus from Bacchus and Ariadne in alla prima. The clip has been speeded up.

YouTube Video


This site comprise of pictures and excerpts taken from my two art instruction books. Oil Paintings from Your Garden can be purchased direct from the author via this site, or through Amazon.


My other book, Oil Paintings from the Landscape can be purchased direct from Amazon.


© Rachel Shirley 2010