Monday, May 5, 2008

alla prima painting class

I had a fabulous weekend. Friday, Austin Museum of Art's Art School (where I teach bookbinding) sent out an email about an alla prima (Italian meaning 'at once') painting class taught by Laurel Daniel, that was going to happen over the weekend. One of the fabulous things about teaching at the Art School is that you get to take, ummm, I think it's one class for every class you teach, per semester, FREE! Art classes, for FREE! Never mind that somehow this gem of information had escaped me in the last umpteen years I've taught there; it came this weekend, and for a painting class that was FABULOUS!

The whole point of alla prima painting is that it's done quickly, so it's just what you need for painting outdoors (or plein air... Note that to be really cool, all artist's terms are in a foreign language...) where the light changes from moment to moment, giving you at most about 2 hours to paint something before the light is so radically different that it's a completely different painting.

But we were not painting out of doors, because, frankly, the light changes a leetle too fast for beginners to deal with. No, we were working in one of the wonderful new studios at AMOA/Laguna Gloria, with spotlights on little vignettes (see, another French word) set up by Laurel. Still lifes (ok, that one's in English), as it were.

Laurel's technique involves using a warm and cool of each primary color and raw umber and titanium white. So our palette (!) was: cadmium yellow pale, cadmium yellow, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, ultramarine, and pthalo blue... (plus the umber and white). Laurel uses no turpentine or mineral spirits, which makes it a fairly non-toxic art class (you still can't suck your brush or anything, because cadmium is poisoinous and besides, it's hard to get off your teeth and lips). You just use refined linseed oil and Masters Brush Cleaner.

First you mix up blobs of alizarin crimson, ultramarine and raw umber to create a really dark neutral color, like a black but not black. You don't paint with black, actually, because it doesn't really exist in the world of art because it's the absence of color, or something, and it just deadens anything you add it to. So you use dark neutrals or purples. You mix in a bit of linseed oil until you have a nice yogurt-cream consistency mixture and paint your underpainting, complete with some drybrush shading.

Here's a small underpainting for the first painting I did. Notice that the original drawing is scrubbed out because it was too small. This is what you paint over using your limited palette of color. One of the things you have to do when painting is figure out the 'value' of everything, how light or dark it is. To help us start thinking about value, Laurel had us do a value painting using only 6 or 7 tints of the dark neutral paint. Here's that little painting. (These two paintings were on 12x12" canvas boards.) After that we were ready to start our 'big' painting, in color!

At the end of class the first day it got kinda hectic, with Laurel telling us we had 15 minutes to finish so to start throwing on our background colors. Sheesh! Actually, I think that that was the best thing about the class and these paintings: working under a deadline... Because I've never been happier with paintings! Sure there are things 'wrong' with them, but as a whole, they are what I wanted. The painting style is loose, which is something I've wanted to achieve for years! (You'll notice a lot of exclamation points, because I'm just so jazzed about this!) I could go on and on, but frankly, I'd rather be painting!