Painting with Confidence

I am teaching a class at the Cedarburg Cultural Center right now on Alla Prima painting.  Alla Prima means, “at first attempt”.  This is a direct style of painting done in one sitting, where paint mixes with wet paint on the canvas.  This style of painting is recognized by a feeling of spontaneity, looseness, and confidence.  This class reminds me that confidence in painting is the hardest part to teach as well as the hardest part to learn.

In class we are doing exercises to help build confidence, but there is no substitute to repetition and practice.  The most seasoned artists likely still struggle with confidence at times.  Confidence (or lack of confidence) will come through in a painting.  The brushstrokes feel either labored or effortless.  The less afraid we are of painting, the better we paint.

I reflected today in my studio about my own work, asking myself which paintings felt more confident and which felt less confident.  Then, I painted.  Early in the painting I fell into a habit of over controlling the paint and meticulously trying to perfect every mark.  When this failed and I began to become frustrated, I took a large knife and smeared out all the paint.  Then I began again, already having decided the painting was a loss I though I might as well play a bit before cleaning up.  Within minutes, something began to happen.  Colors and marks magically fell into place.  It was only after giving up on the painting that I was able to enjoy painting it and paint it with confidence.

New Painting

I began this piece a few days ago. These are two “in progress” shots. This image is based on photograph, as well as a few drawings I have done. I also have a smaller painting of the same image, which will provide an idea for where this is going. Chromascape 45 was completed a few months ago. It will be interesting to see how a similar composition will translate to a larger scale (the piece I am doing now is 20″ x 30″). I am aware in distinct differences in paint handling at this size. Also, of course, I am using a larger painting knife. The size however gives me the freedom to have a wider range of mark making. I could make more use of this freedom perhaps.

Alla Prima

I have been focusing on an “alla prima” style of painting. This means that I do the painting all at once. This is not exactly an accurate interpretation of the original Italian meaning, but the idea has been adopted in Western practice all the same. Most of my recent work, using direct painting methods, was done in a single session. I used a book by artist Ricard Schmid to provide examples of this in the recent class I taught in Door County. Schmid’s book covers a range of direct painting styles and techniques. The writing that accompanies the work is helpful in understanding the thoughts behind the studio practice. My palette, of course, is much more saturated that Schmid’s quite transitions and tones. None the less, the book is an excellent find.

Alla Prima is published by Stone Prairie Press, 2008