2023 Online Alla Prima Challenges Resource PART II


First Annual Online Alla Prima Challenges

20 live painting alla prima sessions over 20 weeks (plus an introductory orientation) beginning on: January 12

WHEN: Thursdays – 2 pm to 3 pm EST. starting January 12th, 2023


Congratulations to all on the successful completion of yet another challenge. I know that some of you may have loved the last two weeks of hedonistic premixing—but this week, we will finally lose it (and lose it with a vengeance we will!) In fact, this week, our palette dwindles down to just four paints. Eeeeek!

For this week, Challenge 7, we turn to an old and quite common conceptual hierarchy of color to explore how the restriction will impact our general “navigation” of color as well as our overall painting strategy.

Challenge 7: Primary Prowess with Secondary Subjects, tasks us with creating a representation of three “traditionally secondary” subjects (subjects with a colloquial green, orange, and purple local) with only four paints on our palette—namely the “traditional primaries” (a categorical red yellow, and blue (plus white!)).

I use the term “traditional” above to refer to the three colors that rose to prominence during the 17th century as the foundational colors from which all others can arise (red, yellow, and blue.) “Modern color theory” addresses the issues with this simple concept. And–If you want to dive into the rabbit hole of how the concept of traditional “primary colors” are problematic, you can read David Briggs’ Dimensions of Color site below as well as the robust Handprint site created by Bruce MacEvoy.


Dimensions of Color: The Dimensions of Colour, modern colour theory

Handprint: handprint : colormaking attributes

In reading these articles (and others like them) that aim to tackle the problems with using traditional primaries in color mixing strategies—I would argue that the most important point is often overlooked, if not outright ignored. And that point is this:

“Primary colors are not a structural identity—they are a functional one.”

What this means is that the label “primary” describes how a specific colorant is used in a mixing strategy—it is not describing some context-independent aspect of the physical properties of a colorant (a position that some adopt in their arguments.) Therefore, you can dub any colors as “primary” if they serve to function as an effective foundation for one’s color mixing.

For example, let’s say you created a successful representation using one yellow and one green paint as well as the colors generated from their mixing. Yellow and green can be said to be your primaries here. It does not mean that these primaries could mix every possible perceived color in color space. BUT, they did serve as the foundational colors for all of the colors that you used in your work.

So, we are going to use the traditional primaries (giving us a decent gamut) but you must decide WHICH red, yellow, and blue is going to give you the greatest advantage in your efforts. Again, we will be adding white to the mix—but you will be mixing your own darks and, if needed, a chromatic black. Keep this in mind when filling your categorical color roles. Think of the hues, chromas and values that you will be able to deploy.

Can’t wait!

So we are allowed to choose any red , blue and yellow to make our palette, correct?

Yep!!! One of each and one white. :+1:t2:

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Cad Red Hue, Phthalo Blue, Cad Yellow Pale Hue. Windsor & Newton

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My experience tonight (9pm for me) was interesting. I’m not a precise painter, but I have a methodology to my painting. These 30’ exercises have been very illuminating. I come to the challenge with no pre planning aside from setting up the composition.

When the challenge began strange things happened. My methodology flew out the window and the Muses started playing around with me, screwing everything up!

The cool thing tonight was that I fell into a flow state, of sorts. Still panicked by the limited time frame, but listening to the Muses. I painted completely different than how I normally paint. It felt like I got kicked out of my comfy little box and I just know these challenges are helping me.

So thank you for doing this. I’m having a ball!


This was a great exercise! I’ve never attempted a limited palette study before and my selection of pigments was cadmium yellow lemon, quinacridone magenta, ultramarine blue, and flake white. I was surprised by how difficult it was for me to judge the amount of “red” there was in the green lime I painted.


Not sure yet if it’s a good or bad thing. I totally went into a mode of get down accurate big shapes as the first abstracted layer - color study mode. I wasn’t thinking of a finished allá prima painting. Rather, I was thinking of what would serve best as an underpainting for more layers. I think I am failing at the allá prima thing. But I am not sure I am sorry about it. I think this experience is confirming what an indirect painter I am.

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Pth blue, perm rose, Indian yello. Spent most of the time mixing and most the rest went out the window

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I understand what you’re saying. I’m the same, but I don’t think there is any failure here but rather a “breaking through”, if you know what I mean.

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I almost tried phalo blue and last moment chickened out and went back to my usual UMB.


Windsor Lemon (WN), Permanent Rose (WN), Ultramarine Blue (Mussini) and Flake White Sub (Mussini).


Are supposed to be name dropping the hues we used? Mine were WN Thalo blue, MH Alizarin Claret, WN Cad Yellow Light. The MH AC was a good choice for the red onion I painted-- had just enough PR to get in the ball park (but still not a spot on PR to match hue and chroma). Other alizarins I’ve used, such as the Gamblin Permanent Alizarin, lean very brown.


ooh interesting, could you use alizarin claret as a substitute for alizarin crimson in general do you think, i understand it is more lightfast - but is it just as transparent? how different in value is it?

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Hi Martin! If I have something that’s eye watering red chroma, I’ll use the MH Aliz. Claret because it has such good chroma-- it covers pretty well in two passes. If I go with the claret, I’ll make another value step down with Gamblin Permanent Alizarin + Dioxazine Purple + MH Aliz. Claret so I have something closer to value two for the dark stuff. By itself I’d say it sits around a value 4 on a 9 value scale.

I have basically finished this dress-- (the rest is WIP and mostly still a first pass so look away, nothing to see here) and used only the claret with a little WN Bright Red plus that dark mix for the very darkest darks. It’s really just done in two passes with the Claret, but please don’t make me say the word “glaze”. :joy: :joy: :joy:


ahh amazing, thanks for the info - that is indeed a very powerful red!

I am tempted to get hold of some of it now I see how good that dress looks - you’ve created a very vivid effect there, if only a word existed for applying transparent layers of paint over the top of one another, right!? I think I have a thing about reds, for some reason I have more of them than anything else and I don’t yet even have any pyrrole, naphthol or quinacridones…

really beautiful painting too, I’m getting a reynolds/gainsborough vibe (especially in the background) - and those guys end results a lot of the time were not anywhere near as refined as your first pass is. stunning.

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Thanks so much Martin – I really appreciate it! I did a painting of a red bow a few weeks ago and that got me thinking about new tubed reds. Because use Munsell, I’m always looking for the most chromatic expression of each hue-- that, and I tend to like to paint really high chroma things for some horrible reason. I did try a WN Napthol Red that I liked, but I thought it was slightly lower in chroma. It would probably make a great addition to a flesh palette.

I haven’t tried out any pyrrole or quin. reds, but I have a whole bucket of new quin. purples looking for a high chroma PR lol… that to me is the most elusive hue on the chart. Let me know if you find any new colors you love in the PR-R family, I’m always looking for new victims. :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:



Congratulations to all on the successful completion of yet another challenge. While I’m sure that some are still reeling from the severe color restriction last week—you can rest easy as this week brings back your beloved “pre-mixing.” That’s right, people, Operation Plein Air has two parts—one week WITH premixing and one WITHOUT! So enjoy it while you can! :heart:

For this week, Challenge 8, we look to one of the most popular activities for representational painters: The Plein Air painting. Although artists have long painted out of doors to create preparatory landscape sketches or studies, before the nineteenth century finished pictures would not have been made in this way. The plein air approach was pioneered by John Constable in Britain c.1813, but from about 1860 it became fundamental to Impressionism. The popularity of painting en plein air increased in the 1870s with the introduction of paints in tubes (resembling modern toothpaste tubes). Previously, painters made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigment powders with linseed oil, a much more laborious and messy process.

If interested, you can learn much more about the history of En Plein Air painting here:

As with our previous challenges, we have some parameters to address: 1. The subject must be a landscape. If possible, try and get yourself outside and engage in the traditional En Plein Air approach. However, if this is not possible, you may paint from a photograph or your computer screen. 2. 30-minute time limit. 3. Pre-mixing is allowed!!! 4. 5-stroke palette draw rule in effect.

If you haven’t gone out on location to paint before, there are some wonderful resources online to make sure you are properly prepared for the exercise. Here’s a link to Barry John Raybould’s Virtual Art Academy’s Tips for the activity. He has some great checklists included to make sure you have everything you need!

Here’s 16 Plein Air Painting Techniques and Tips from from his Virtual Art Academy:

Travel light. The most important thing is to travel light so that you can more easily get to places and be comfortable. Remove everything you don’t really need from your pack and keep only the essentials.
Simplify your palette. A really basic plein air painting technique when you are first starting out is to use a smaller number of colors. A limited palette or warm/cool primary palette is a good choice. See my palette color advisor tool.

Don’t carry paint tubes. The only paint tube I bring with me on painting trips is white. I pre-prepare my palette with generous amounts of paint before I leave my studio, loading up my palette with enough paint for the day. This has two benefits. It saves a tremendous amount of weight from carrying heavy pigments that you will never use. And secondly, it lets you concentrate more on your painting, rather than having to keep stopping to squeeze out tubes of paint.

Use a wet panel carrier or drying box to carry your wet panels. You can buy or make simple systems for carrying wet panels so your paintings do not get damaged. There are two basic types: the frame type with a rabbet. And the slotted box designs. Some Pochade Boxes can also have places to store paintings.

Wear neutral colors. Sunlight reflecting off your clothes onto your canvas can affect your perception of color. For this reason it is best to wear neutral colored clothing.

Wear neutral colored sunglasses while painting. Many people say do not wear sunglasses at all while painting. This is because it can affect your color perception. However, prolonged exposure to excessive sunlight UV radiation can damage your eyes over the long term. So you may want to take that into account. However the sunglasses will affect both your view of the scene, and your perception of the colors on your palette to the same degree. So they effects will cancel out. However tinted sunglasses might take out one hue from the spectrum so you can’t see that hue. It is better therefore, if you are wearing sunglasses to use neutral colored lenses.

Wear a hat. This protects your eyes, and stops glare that prevents you seeing colors accurately.
Don’t hold your palette in your hands. It is best to use a palette support such as an easel butler or leder easel to support your palette. This keep your hands free to change brushes or use a rag.
Use fresh colors. Working with partly dried pigment makes painting more difficult in a situation in which speed is important because of the changing light . Color that isn’t fresh also does not adhere very well to the canvas. I use a special technique for preventing my oil paints from drying out.

Use notan sketches. Do a few notan sketches to ensure your composition is going to work in advance before you waste a few hours on a composition that can never work. You will often find that a scene looks good when you first see it, but when you start to paint it, you run into problems. Notan sketches are great for selecting the best scene, or part of a scene that will give you the best composition.

Use an imprimatura on your canvas. To keep your paintings fresh here is a useful plein air painting technique: put a brushstroke down and leave it. If you don’t have an imprimatura on your canvas you will have small spots of distracting white canvas showing between your brushstrokes. An imprimatura also helps you judge values outdoors more easily.

Keep your medium clean. Working with dirty medium can contaminate your colors.
Prepare for wind by using a sturdy plein air easel or pochade box. If you do not have a sturdy plein air easel or pochade box/tripod combination, the whole setup can blow over in the wind.

Use lightweight painting supports. I use gatorboard panels from New Traditions Art Panels for paintings measuring from 8×10 inches to 24×30 inches. I use Claessens oil-primed linen, style 12 or 13, for smaller works and style 15 for larger works. Gatorboard does not warp like wood panels in humid environments.

Use an umbrella. Use a good umbrella to shade your artwork and your palette, and preferably you too. I recommend Artwork Essentials for a good plein air umbrella to attach to your plein air easel or tripod. However if you are working near a car, it is best to use a much larger umbrella that mounts on a device you fix to the ground. I use an earthworm umbrella stand. This has a spiral screw that you screw into the earth. If you don’t have an umbrella your perception of temperature is thrown off and the color often does not look good when you bring your painting home. Also you tend to paint far too dark if you are working in direct sun.

Plan the changes in light. The direction from which the light is coming from affects the shape of cast shadows in your composition, and which planes are in the shade and which are in the light. So as the sun moves the shapes you designed as part of your composition could completely change and ruin your initial design concept. Also even if you are comfortably in the shade now, you could end up being roasted in the open sun in an hour or so and find yourself too uncomfortable to paint. So before you start to paint, a good plein air painting technique is to see which direction the sun is moving, and estimate how long you have before your composition changes drastically. You can then decide to either move or paint the part that will change first. Once you have committed to a certain light condition, if the light changes, either stick to your original idea, or stop for today and come back tomorrow to the same place and at the same time.

Additionally, here’s a link to some of Mr. Raybould’s work which includes some wonderfully simplified landscape works.:

Well next week I’m going to spend a bit more time planning how to approach it. It was too complicated to get done in 30 min…doing it again I’d leave more abstract and only focus on a central place Ala Richard Schmid I think. Next week hope to be by the sea. I have really liked seeing how everyone tackled this one. Some
very nice work


I hear what you’re saying Colleen. I definitely want to look for larger abstractions for next week. I kept getting pulled into smaller and smaller aspects which ate up a good deal of my time. I’m super curious to see how others adjust and adapt for next week.

That will be interesting….abstraction is easier by the sea, it’s already done mostly. The good thing about all these challenges is win or lose on the painting, they are very educational

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