OCAD Studio: Alla Prima Portrait – Halftones


This project is based on the ‘alla prima’ method which means that the painting is completed all at once. The project is divided into three sections for the sake of clarity but I recommend watching them all and reading through the material before trying your hand at it. This way, you will be able to get everything done in a single sitting, as intended.


  • You can work from life – either a sitter or yourself in a mirror
  • Or from a photo reference


  • Small white canvas or panel (up to 8×10 inches)
  • Palette
  • Oil Paint
    • Titanium White
    • Cadmium Red
    • Cadmium Yellow
    • Burnt Umber
    • Yellow Ochre
    • Ivory Black
  • Easel
  • Palette cup/container for mineral spirits
  • Mineral spirits
  • Brushes
    • Some round, some flat
    • From about 4mm wide to 20mm wide
  • Kitchen towel or rag for cleaning brushes and wiping back


Adding the Halftones

Once the shadows are defined, you can begin adding the darkest halftones, these will almost always be next to the shadows. I recommend mixing the darkest halftones out of burnt umber, black and yellow ochre so they are sufficiently low chroma Use the biggest brush you can – as the bigger the brush, the more fresh and confident your painting will feel. We are going to go in and refine the details later so don’t worry if things remain quite broad and general during this stage.

Progressively add lighter colours to define the forms, usually the lighter colours are also higher chroma – so try to use more cadmium red and yellow mixed with white as your halftones get lighter. Feel free to blend where necessary but try to make sure things don’t get too muddy, you will add more complex blendings and shifts later.

Finish with the lightest lights, you might find it difficult to reach a bright white if the canvas is covered in paint but that’s ok, you can enhance the lightest sections when adding more detail in later stages.


Making General Corrections

Once the whole piece is covered in paint you can see whether all the colours and values relate to one another correctly. If necessary make changes by painting wet into wet. Try to avoid building up too much paint in the darker portions of the painting as it’s best to keep the impastoed paint within the lighter sections.

As a general rule, faces have slightly different hues in different sections. The top of the head (above the eyes) will be less red than the nose and cheeks. In men, the lower portion of the face (if it isn’t bearded) will be slightly bluer than the rest of the face. This isn’t generally the case with women and children. Look closely at your subject and try to find these sorts of hue shifts as they will add character to your painting.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *