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Suzanne Morris – Why Paint Alla Prima?

I am a classically trained in oil painter. For the first few years as a fine artist, my oil on canvas paintings took months to complete. I would paint a layer, blend the brushstrokes out, let it dry, and come back a week or so later to apply the next layer of paint. While I loved pushing paint around the canvas, the process itself became tedious and monotonous. One of the last paintings I did using this method was a 16×20 wave. I think it took me six months to finish the painting. By the time the piece was finally completed I was completely bored with it. I had trouble even remembering what it was that I wanted to convey to a viewer. It was difficult to remain enthusiastic about my work.

exitstratagyAt about the time I was considering hanging up my paintbrushes, I was introduced to the “alla prima” method of painting. “Alla prima” paintings are done in one sitting. The paint is applied to the canvas “wet into wet”. Most of the mixing of colors is done on the canvas. Although secondary and neutral hues are mixed on the palette before being applied to the canvas, the final color note happens as a result of the wet layer of paint underneath and the pressure and direction of the top note. It is a very spontaneous way to work. It is exciting for the painter to watch the work develop.

I am able to finish the work while the idea for it is still fresh in my mind. Sometimes, the idea develops as I am working on the piece in an entirely different way than I had envisioned when I began the piece. Direct application of paint can produce a series of paintings that are similar, yet each one is unique and stands on its own.

Oil paint stays wet enough to work with for about a week. Some paintings require all of this time to complete…others are done in hours. If there is an area that is still not resolved even though paint has dried, I can scrape back the dried paint with a palette knife, apply medium to the canvas and add more wet paint. I can also combine more traditional methods to an “alla prima” painting by adding glazes. Having so many options keeps me excited about the work and makes it more fun for me.

I use white kerosene to clean my brushes. It has a really slow drying time so oil paint will not dry in the ferrule of my brushes. I leave brushes suspended in kerosene overnight. I only need to wash my brushes about once a month. This not only reduces clean up time and labor at the end of the day, less frequent washing extends the life of my natural hog hair brushes.

Click Suzanne Morris to read more about her and to see her art.