Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Adventures with Alla Prima

Posted by: Kate

I'm sitting in an airport right now hammering out a post en route to Atlanta for the Portrait Society of America conference.  It's going to be an epic trip.  Not only am I a finalist (did I mention that yet?), but I'm also participating in the Face Off event, acting as Distinguished Faculty (Dave and I say it with capital letters), and doing a demo for the Natural Pigments booth.  Plus, I'm going to be working the cocktail bar every single night.  But that's not all.  After four days of professionalism by day and debauchery by night, Dave and I hit the road to teach a workshop in North Carolina at Oak Hollow Studios, and then another one in Ashburn, Virginia.  Packing list: paints? Check.  Brushes?  Check.  Hangover meds?  Double check.

But, wait, back up, you say.  You don't recall me doing any alla prima portraits, so how is it that I'm participating in the Face Off challenge?  Good question.  I don't think I've ever done an alla prima portrait from life (successfully).  It's possible I've done a couple lousy ones and struck them from my memory, because why ruin a perfect record.  At any rate, I was invited to participate and I was so flattered I went ahead and agreed.

I set a personal goal to do ten alla prima portraits from life before the conference.  At first I didn't know if I'd be able to do it at all, forget the 2.5 hour time limit.  So I duped my poor cousin into sitting for me for 4.5 hours just to see what I could do.

Okay, not terrible.  This was the first time I'd painted from life in I don't know how long.  I hate hiring models to sit for me because then I have to talk and be social and stuff when really I'd rather sit around in my sweat pants and eat food and not share that food.

The likeness was fine, so my main issue was time.  I had to get from 4.5 hours down to 2.5.

The second painting I did was of my mum.  Sadly, she hates it, so I will not share it.  I thought it was a good likeness.  I was surprised when she asked to buy it, but then she explained that she wanted to have the right to throw it out.

The third painting I did was of one of my students.  This one was 3.5 hours.  Paring down the time!  Aren't students great?  I've been teaching regular classes out of my studio and I had no idea how helpful and self-abasing students can be.  I certainly wasn't when I was a student.  All my students sat for free.

Next up came a paid model.  Four hours.

Next up was an unfinished painting.  I only had 2.5 hours and I totally bombed on it.  I got a likeness, but the colours and values were complete crap.  It was a bit disappointing because this was my first painting with a 2.5 hour time limit and I couldn't do it.  I'd share a picture but I forgot to photograph it yesterday when I was taking pictures of all these portraits.  Remember, my ego-preserving selective memory.

Next up came another student.  Somehow I got down to three hours, even though I found this portrait very challenging.  By this point I had set up a mirror behind me so that my sitters could watch the show.  I thought it would be good to be used to painting with a critical audience.

Two more students, three hours each.

And capping it off with two paintings of family members, 2.5 hours each.  Woo!

The latter two portraits aren't quite as thorough as my 3 hour plus paintings, but they'll do.  I learned quite a lot while doing all this.  For one, screw ears.  They take forever and look like crap no matter what.  Best to just stick to the face.  Also, glasses aren't so bad.  They'll take some time to get right, but then you don't have to worry so much about the eyes.  They can stay really simple.  Also, bangs rock.  They reduce painting time by at least fifteen minutes.  Best to paint a woman with bangs and her ears covered by her hair.  Also, highlights in the eyes and on the nose can be exaggerated.  Finally, I found a big improvement in my paint handling when I mixed a few drops of oil into my lead white #2 to lend it fluidity.

Tomorrow night at Face Off, either I'm the bomb, or I bomb.  But really, all I really care about is being securely in the middle of the pack.  I've brought massive headphones I can wear while I paint.  Best way to deflect interruptions, even though they won't be connected to anything.  Our little secret.


  1. Lol! Your headphones were off? You did great Kate! Thanks for doing the face off. It was a lot of fun to watch!

  2. I won't miss another opportunity to meet you and watch you paint. Can't wait for teleportation to be invented.