Alla Prima Portrait Sketching Course

12th – 16th August 2019

Alla prima portrait study in oil paint at Northern Realist

 Learn to create lively, well composed portrait sketches in charcoal and oil paint with Christopher Clements on this 5 day Alla Prima portrait sketching course.

Alla Prima portraits are done in one sitting, usually from life so your time with the subject is limited therefore it’s important to use it to best effect. On this 5 day summer course you will learn how to make Alla Prima portrait sketches quickly and efficiently. You’ll learn some fundamental principles in charcoal before moving on to oil paint.

There will be an emphasis on giving your work a good foundation. You’ll study methods to create Alla Prima sketches with well proportioned, solidly constructed heads, expressive gesture and good composition. As you work through the essential drawing principles necessary to create believable head studies, you’ll back them up with sound anatomical understanding.

On the first two days you’ll cover the basics in charcoal before moving on to oil paint, firstly grisaille then limited palette colour while covering a wide range of topics:

  • Construction and anatomy of the head
  • Composition of your sketches
  • Planes of the head and tonal value using charcoal
  • Grisaille oil paint studies
  • Warm and cool colour
  • How to use a limited palette to best effect
  • Efficient use of time

1 Getting the basics right – Proportion, Gesture and Placement of the Features

You’ll start by practicing the fundamentals of shape and proportion because this is the foundation of successful alla prima portrait sketching. Next you’ll investigate the gesture because adding drama to your work is best done early on. Finally you’ll look at the placement and construction of the features, making sure the anatomy is all working out properly.

By building up your sketches this way you can focus on one thing at a time. You’ll learn to isolate with the most important aspects and work progressively down to the detail.

2 Tonal Value – Giving your sketches a sense of form using charcoal

Following on from the foundation stage you’ll analyse the structure and the planes of the head, especially how they affect tonal value. This will help give your work a three dimensional sense and a context for the rendering detail later on.

You’ll look at how value breaks down in to light, shadow and mid-tone and how these families of tonal value can be combined to create a strong composition. You’ll also explore different types of charcoal and how to use them to best effect.

3 Grisaille Alla Prima Portraits – Tonal studies using oil paint

On day three you’ll start using oil paint to make ‘Grisaille’ or tonal studies. A Grisaille is a painting executed entirely in shades of grey, therefore they are an ideal transition from drawing to painting. By working with only one colour you can focus on learning to handle paint while applying the tonal principles necessary to represent form convincingly.

Grisaille portraits are very attractive in their own right but can also be used an underpainting for colour work as was often the case in Old Master Paintings.

If you’re new to painting this workshop will get you started in a controlled way. If you have more experience with paint you’ll find this method of working will reinforce your understanding of tone and form while giving you a perfect foundation for glazing techniques.

4 Warm & Cool Colour Portrait Sketches – How to avoid ‘muddy colour’

Day 4 will introduce you to the fundamentals portrait sketching in colour by focusing on warm and cool colour mixes. Keeping the warm and cool colours distinct is key to keeping your colours clean and lively.

You’ll only use Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna and White but with this combination of colours you can mix a remarkable range of skin tones. The simplicity of this palette enables you to make simple but effective colour choices, providing an excellent introduction to colour.

5 Limited Palette Alla Prima Studies

Keeping colour clean and bright is essential therefore it is best to keep it simple especially when making sketches and studies. On the final day you will work with a palette consisting of red, yellow and blue mixed with white. This will help you understand the basic ingredients of a colour palette and the role of each colour.

This palette is sometimes known as the ‘Zorn’ Palette after the 19th Century Swedish painter known for the incredible range he achieved using very few colours. The small number of colours gives unity of colour in your work and what you learn can be used as a  foundation to create your own personal palette.

 Alla Prima Portrait Sketching Course Outcome

The approach to alla prima portrait sketching will help you to make good decisions, use your time well and and above all, create a lively final piece. At each stage you’ll learn about the materials you’re using and their most effective use in this context. You’ll be encouraged to develop your intuition for proportion because this is key to cultivating your drawing ability.

The class is limited to 7 students meaning you can work towards your own personal goals whether you’re looking to learn fundamental principles or push your skills from a more advanced position.

Course Details & Booking

  • Dates: 12th – 16th August 2019
  • Location: Northern Realist Studio, AWOL Studios, Manchester –  Map
  • Materials, Charcoal & Oil Paint
  • Hours: 09:45-16:30
  • Price: £350
  • Booking – Reserve your place with a £50 deposit on Eventbrite.
  • The reminder will be invoiced separately and is payable a 2 weeks before the course begins.
  • More info: email info@northernrealist.com or use the contact form

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