Changing my ways – Alla Prima

closeupI’ve heard of artists freezing their oil paintings to preserve the workability, or using special oils that retard the drying time, but I don’t have room in my freezer for a painting and I like the consistency of paint out of the tube.

If I’m going to adopt a direct painting style for all my work, where the paint is wet and workable during the entire process I’m going to start by looking at my tools.

The canvas support; the goal is a non absorbent surface, where the oil in the paint sits on top and doesn’t soak into the support, leaving the pigment dry and hard to manipulate. I tested the canvas I’ve been using by putting a stroke of unthinned oil paint on the surface than wiping it off.

StrokeOn Utrecht

Here it is, my first road block, I had no idea my (supposedly triple primed) Utrecht canvas was as porous as a piece of cardboard! The image on the left shows how dry the initial stroke looks, after wiping off you can see the color stained, which I expected, but also the oil layer has been sucked into the canvas. What do I do now? Either buy some oil primed linen canvas, the benchmark for a nonabsorbent oil painting surface, or try to work with what I have.

I’m going to do both, while I wait for the oil primed linen canvas to arrive I’ll  apply two coats of Liquitex Super Heavy Gesso to the canvas.


With two coats of Liquitex Super Heavy Gesso the surface is much better. The initial paint stroke goes on creamier, it wipes off showing a crisper stroke. Meanwhile, the new oil primed linen canvas have come, I’ll run them through the same test.



The clear winner is the oil primed linen canvas, the stroke sits on the surface, wiped off it’s almost gone!

The Paint; I use Gamblin oil paint and am happy with the quality, but since the earth colors, Burnt Umber, Raw Umber, Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna are all fast drying I’m going to keep them off my palette. Approximations of them can be easily mixed so they won’t really be missed.

4 Replies to “Changing my ways – Alla Prima”

  1. Seems like a continuation of our conversation about the lack of quality materials for our craft. It seems the market caters to “do it yourselfers” and then jumps to the super high priced stuff!! Maybe it’s time to start stretching your own canvas and grinding your own pigments — after all, that’s what the great masters did!


  2. It would be hard to fit the canvas in the freezer but what I do occasionally if Ive mixed a lot of paint is scrape the wet paint from my palette, wipe it onto aluminum foil, wrap the foil closed and throw that in the freezer- when i take it out and let thaw about 10 minutes its like buttah!


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