Monday, November 22, 2010

Svjatogor and Alla-prima technique

One proverb says: “ There is no shortcut to the place that is truly worthwhile of being at.”
There is an anecdote about Picasso that illustrates the wisdom of these words in a very nice way.
Once, a man visited Picasso in his studio with intention of buying an art piece from the great master. At that time Picasso was already famous and quite rich artist, whose work was sought after by many collectors from all around the world, and was selling for significant amounts of money. So, knowing that, the visitor looked around the Picasso’s studio in search of a small piece of art that wouldn’t cost him that much, and which he intended to sell later on for a higher price. Suddenly he spotted a little drawing, one of those famous Picasso’s simple but brilliant line drawings, and he asked the artist how much he would ask for it.
“2000 Dollars”, Picasso answered.
“2000 Dollars for this simple drawing!!!, replied the astonished visitor. “But, sir, how could you ask so much money for a drawing you apparently did in not more than 2 minutes”.
“ You are wrong, sir”, said Picasso with a discrete smile on his face. “ It took me more than 2 minutes to make this drawing. In fact, it took me 20 years and 2 minutes!”

This is the sketch for the painting of a mountain giant known by the name of Svjatogor.  Although Svjatogor  is mostly to be found in the Russian folklore and in particular in the Russian epics, called Bylines, according to some scholars, he in fact represents a divinity from the Slavic mythology . This illustration was done  for the book on Serbian mythology named “Banished Demons”, just like the “Giants - The Bull Figh” painting  from the previous post.

This is one of the reference photos I took after the sketch was done. As you can see, there is not much of the mythological feel in this picture. The question which I often ask myself at this stage in the process of picture making, especially in case of this particular kind of compositions, is the one I believe,  many of the contemporary fantasy illustrators wrestle with. And the question is: how do you produce a painting that has to reflect that timeless and grandiose feeling we often refer to as the Mythological dimension, from the photo of a model holding a broom stick in his hand and wearing a torn worn-out nightdress, and posing in the artist’s studio, or the guestroom, in case of this particular photo?
As far as I am concerned, the answer is - there is no clear and universal answer to this question. If there was an universal answer to this question, we would probably be able to define Art through the mathematic formulas. But, fortunately, we all know (at least I hope so) that it is not possible because Art is not Science. Therefore the solution to this problem lies in the artist’s emotion, the depth of his artistic insight and his ability to connect himself to this abstract planes of the mental universe. Of course there are a few tips that might be useful in avoiding the trap of making an image that is glittering on the surface, yet empty from inside. This might especially be useful to the young  aspiring artists who still did not fully develop their own artistic personality. In my opinion the most important tip is - use the photo only as a reference, as an inspiration. Do not copy the photo, unless you have a good reason for doing that, and let your imagination lead the way. You might think - it’s easier told than done, which is also true, but I think it will be better to leave this topic to a future post. There is much to be said about it.
Anyway, I tried to tackle this problem in the Svjatogor painting in my own way, which is of course, one of many ways that lead to (mythological) Rome.

The final preliminary drawing.

After the first day of painting.
After the second day.

The pictures from above show some details from the finished painting. The painting was done in so-called alla-prima technique. It  means that it was painted in one layer, not counting the monochromatic underpainting which was done a few days before that.  From my experience I can tell you that the alla-prima technique is quite tricky, complex and that it requires lots of practice, dedication and perseverance in order to be mastered. It is also quite an exhausting way of executing the painting. Because almost every brush stroke counts, it requires outermost concentration.There is not much space left for making the mistakes. There is no “delete button” of any kind. Of course you always can scratch away the paint from the painting surface and start all over again. When practiced in its purest form, alla-prima technique implies that one should apply the paint to the painting surface and leave it as it is, without adjusting or polishing the brush stroke. For many years I found this very complicated to except and to perform .
I spent many years trying to master this technique. Many brushes were broken and a few holes in a number of canvases and wooden boards were made in anger, before I finally started to feel confident about it. The complexity of alla-prima technique lies in the fact that, generally speaking, one brush stroke has to contain everything that is necessary for making a good picture, like: the right color, the right value and hue, it has to be applied in an expressive way and on the right spot in order to define the form correctly. Also the brush strokes have to reflect or communicate the right feeling, depending of the nature of the painted object or a situation.I must not forget to mention the devilish disobedience of the wet oil paint. But, as with most of the demons, once you have found the way to tame this particular demon, it will become your friend and obey your wishes.
One of the golden rules of the successful alla-prima technique is not to mix the different colors on your palette for 100%. One should leave a certain amount of each particular color within the mixture more or less visible. In other words, if you mix blue and yellow, don’t mix them until you get even, smooth green color. But rather leave the traces of pure yellow and blue within the mentioned green mixture.  If done properly, the results of this “trick” can be quite amazing. Its secret lies in, as well the Physics as in the way we humans perceive and experience the visible world. It appears that the optical mixing of colors produces a greater impact that the physical mixing.  Think of the Impressionists, the Pointillists in particular, and their use of this principal. Is there more beautiful color spectacle in this world than the Rainbow? Certainly not for me!
If you take a closer look at the details from the finished Svjatogor painting you will notice that many of the brush strokes consist of thin lines of different color.  When looked at from the right distance, these different colors come together forming the desired color.

This is the finished painting. It is painted on a wooden board, size 27 x 56 cm (10 1/2 x 22 inch).
It took me a little more than 2 days to paint this  picture. Or, should I be more precise -  it took me 20 years and  a little more than 2 days to paint it.


  1. Thanks for the fascinating post, Petar. It's very interesting to see your sketches, photo reference, and close-ups. Have fun with blogging!

  2. I can see it´s gonna be a blast to follow this blog! Love your work and love the way you are talking about it.

  3. Thank you, too, Carlos! I’m just trying to be myself.

  4. Fantasticno, pravi majstor kakav bi i ja jednoga dana volio da budem.
    Pozdrav iz kisne Engleske!

  5. Thank you so much for sharing! I've been a big fan of your work for years, it's really good to see your process not to mention the details. I really look forward to future posts. Very Inspiring!

  6. It was great to see your work at Illuxcon. I found the boldness and excitement in your strokes breathtaking, and reading this explanation I can begin to see why that is so.

    I look forward to following your blog.

  7. It's exciting to find your blog! Huge fan of your work, very elegant, magical and inspiring! Thanks for sharing your beautiful art!

  8. This is just beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us!

  9. Wow! This is beautiful! I'm so glad you started a blog Petar!

  10. Petar - It is great to see that you have a blog. I will be happily following your posts and look forward to lots of great drawing and painting.

  11. I'm way too much of a coward to paint alla prima but it sure is wonderful to see it done by a master.

  12. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing your process. It is very inspiring.

  13. With such a great audience and so many encouraging comments, I am afraid I have no choice but to keep on posting…

    Bill; you certainly know that, as it is with all other techniques, the alla-prima technique is just a means to an end, a tool to be used to achieve our artistic goals, or a vehicle for arriving at the place we call ART. Your work testifies that you have already arrived there…

    Thank you all!

  14. So wonderful to have found you. I saw this painting on your website, coming from Larry Mackdougell's blog, and the light, the might, the stance of your painting and character made me visit your blog. This post is wonderful. I love how you share of your technique and thoughts. Though I have done one thing or another artistic all my life, I have begun drawing and painting this past March. Your words are quite inspiring and I love this piece!

  15. I am really inspired by your work, its so beautiful! Thanks so much for the tips on oil alla prima painting, I'm attempting that style..The advice on painting from photo reference has also made a lot of sense.Thank you again!!

  16. Hello Petar,
    I was absolutely mesmerised by your paintings at Illuxcon this year. Particularly this one. I too love working in alla prima and I love my serendipitous oil paints. Thank you for the demo on this painting and how you paint other things. I shall continue to check back in with your blog. You are amazingly talented and a true creative. I'm glad you stuck with it and kept faith in your work.

  17. Petar, your talent for describing your art is equal to your amazing talent for creating these wonderful pieces of art....
    Every finished piece I see, every "sketch"is a finished work in itself,thank you so much for the inspiration...

    Best wishes, Mark

  18. I followed Larry's suggestions to take a look at your blog. Thanks Larry! It's fascinating to read your approach and your philosophy behind it. The mind definitely has to be spryer when painting this way. I like it.

  19. Tammie, Ruth, Marianne, Tom – you are most kind. Thank you!
    Mark - bedankt!

  20. Svaka cast majstore!:))I just recently discovered your inspiring art and this blog! Love your work man!:)

  21. Slika je izuzetna, nemam reci, ostao sam bez daha!