Alla prima painting is an Italian phrase that translates into ‘at first attempt’.

This term describes the ‘wet on wet’ painting technique, otherwise known as ‘direct painting,’ where the artist completes a painting in one sitting inside or outside the studio.

A good example of alla prima is plein air painting. According to the Artists Network, “plein air painting is about leaving the four walls of your studio behind and experiencing painting and drawing in the landscape. The practice goes back for centuries but was truly made into an art form by the French Impressionists.

Their desire to paint light and its changing, ephemeral qualities, coupled with the creation of transportable paint tubes and the box easel—the precursor to the plein air easels of today—allowed artists the freedom to paint “en plein air,” which is the French expression for “in the open air.”

Follow these simple and important tips for a successful alla prima painting:

First lay in the darks

  • Keep the darks thin and transparent
  • Paint dark to light
  • Dark = Transparent
  • Light = Impasto

Next, build up the lights

  • Allow the lights to get thick and impasto.
  • Paint thin to thick
  • Thin = Transparent
  • Thick = Impasto

Mass in the shapes

  • For the most part, I start my paintings by massing in the shapes as opposed to drawing.
  • This allows my “direct paintings” to stay loose and painterly.
  • On occasion, I will start with a drawing but, mass is my choice.


  • Establishing value in the very beginning is so important.

Focal Point

  • Generally speaking, I will try to keep my center of interest developed ahead of the rest of the painting at all times.

Keep focused

  • Keep a constant vigil on contrasts and comparisons made throughout the process.
  • It’s so easy to go off on a tangent and develop the parameters of the painting but, this can also be the demise of the work as well.


Guest artist/author: Alfred Currier Residing in the Northwest region of the United States, Washington State artist, Alfred paints vibrant landscapes in oil impasto from the studio he maintains in Anacortes. Plein air painting provides most of his inspiration. Currier has traveled widely, painting on locations in Greece, France, Italy, Holland, Argentina, Mexico, Hawaii, Santa Fe, and Taos. We are lucky to have him share his tip with us!

Alfred Currier and his T@G trailer

For more information about this talented artist, please check out Alfred’s interesting and informative blog .


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Happy Painting, ~Lori