Wikipedia’s Definition: Wet-on-wet, or alla prima (Italian, meaning at first attempt), is a painting technique, used mostly in oil painting, in which layers of wet paint are applied to previous layers of wet paint. This technique requires a fast way of working, because the work has to be finished before the first layers have dried. It may also be referred to as ‘direct painting’ or the French term au premier coup (at first stroke).
There are many ways to approach oil painting and I have spent a little over 2 years experimenting with several. This learning process has proven to be quite fruitful and exciting. I have been able, by process of elimination, find the most satisfying way to put oil paint on canvas.
To me “alla prima” is best described as “wet on wet” or direct painting. The paint is applied in one painting session. This technique is difficult, as it is hard not to pick up the paint underneath the previous layers which can muddy up those colors. I find this technique to be the best way to bring about my vision quickly on the canvas before they vanish from my mind.
On larger paintings, I cannot always finish the entire painting in one session. Later I work over the dry, thinner paint layers, building up my under painting. This allows thicker, more impasto brush strokes, which I find more interesting than tightly rendered paintings. Many times I create a larger piece of art by study of individual elements, like rocks for instance or a tree, from small outdoor studies. This allows me to really see color, temperature, atmosphere and other details I cannot see from a photo once back in my art studio.
There is a balance of thick to thin I really strive for as I apply the paint in order to call the attention to the focal point of the painting. I simply love the feel of oil paints over any other medium as they allow so many interesting and varied brush marks.