Ahead of the portraiture workshop that I attended in London last September I explored the sight-size technique through some alla prima oil portrait painting.

After some initial experimentation with charcoal sketches, as I mentioned in my last blog, I went on to create alla prima colour studies in oil on artists’ canvas board.

The portraits were painted entirely from life as the sitters posed in the studio over a series of sessions, each session typically lasting 3 hours long.

Study of Carl

Alla Prima Oil Portrait Study - Carl

Carl – Oil on canvas board, 10” x 8”

Overall I am quite pleased with this small study. I feel like the warm skin tones and hair colour were particularly true to life. I often find noses difficult to paint but in this case I’m really happy with the accuracy of the form that I achieved.

Areas that could have been improved were the positioning of the eyes, which I believe are ever so slightly out of position and the lips which could be shaped better.

Across both paintings I decided to leave the imprimatura visible, opting not to introduce any of the background. I deliberately choose to keep the finish of the polo shirt loose and used the blue to help pick out the subtle colour in Carl’s eyes.

Study of Joyce

Alla Prima Oil Portrait Study - Joyce

Joyce – Oil on canvas board, 16” x 12”

I painted this portrait of Joyce on a larger canvas board than that of Carl and while I’m happy with the overall outcome, I could have positioned the subject matter better on the board! I left too much space above the subject.

As an experimental piece though I am again pleased with how this one progressed. I remember a stage part way through where I thought I’d lost it as the colours were muddy and the drawing of the facial features was a struggle.

However, after some persistence and additional sittings I managed to turn it around. Compared to the study of Carl I think I achieved a higher level of contrast within this one.

Sat next to a North facing window in the studio, the soft light helped to highlight the structure of the face.

If I was to revisit this study then I’d perhaps spend some more time improving the accuracy of the mouth (a common theme across the two paintings!) and the shape of the chin.

Alla Prima Technique and Painting from Life

Since completing these studies late last year and attending the LARA workshop in London I’ve gone on to paint more portraits from life or in a slightly more expressive alla prima style when having to work from photographs (e.g. a recent posthumous commission).

I’m looking forward to getting some of these recent works photographed and uploaded on my website soon!