Advanced Oil Painting Techniques

Alla prima: The words alla prima mean “at first try”. So alla prima painting is completing a painting at one go or at the first try. Alla prima works are almost invariably small canvases as it is difficult to complete a large canvas at one try.

Many alla prima paintings are painted in the open air and the reason why the painter uses this technique is because of the light. The light changes from one part of the day to another and if the light is an important component of the painting, the artist has to complete the painting before the light changes. For instance, if the artist is painting a sunset scene, he or she gets only a little time to complete the work as the light will change soon.

Not only must the artist paint quickly, he or she also has to mix the colours quickly. So alla prima is for experienced painters. But even advanced painters may find themselves caught out when they attempt an alla prima. They then have no option but to go back to the same location and wait till they get the light exactly as it had been the first time. This means that the weather must be the same too.

Frottage: Frottage means “rub” in French. To use this technique, take a sheet of paper (first try with a small sheet) and crumple it hard. Then open it up and smoothen it flat. After doing this, lay a coat of paint thinned with medium on your canvas. Take the smoothened sheet of paper and place it on the wet paint. Press lightly and remove. A textured pattern will be left on the paint. This is frottage. You can try the technique with materials other than crumpled paper and also experiment with how and where in your painting you want to use frottage.

Palette knife: This technique of using a palette knife instead of a brush is an exciting one with which you can try to get new effects in your painting. It is a technique particularly suitable for oil paints because they are thick, soft and creamy and will not trickle or run. You can spread paint where you want it on the canvas with a palette knife. The effect will be very different from what you would get if you spread paint with a brush. Take paint on your knife and use the edge to make a straight line of paint. Then pull the paint away. You will get what seems like a smooth sheet of paint which reflects quite a bit of colour.

Another thing you can do is to spread paint around on the canvas. This is particularly suitable for abstract painting or when texture plays an important part in your work. Using the knife to mix your paint is also interesting. When you use a brush to mix paints, the mixing is complete, but when you use a palette knife you will be piling different colours together rather than mixing them. The effect of this cut paint on the canvas will be unique.

Fat-on-lean: First paint with thin (lean) colours and then paint on top of them with thick (fat) paint. The effect will be a stunning mixture of colours. But you must be careful to let the first coat dry before you cover it with the second layer. Since it can take up to six months for this to happen, you have to be very patient and keep your interest alive and your ideas for your painting, fresh in your mind. Artists often work on several canvases at the same time to allow for drying time. Keep in mind that “lean-on-fat” will not work. The thick paint underneath will crack under the thin paint as it will take longer to dry.

After using the thick paint on the thin paint allow the thick paint to dry and then apply a coat of varnish to bring out the colours and to protect them. This technique is also called wet-on-dry.