Painting involves energy, excitement, and vision in the beginning, work in the middle, and magic at the end. In this community article, Mara Schasteen remembers how to set the stage for magic in an alla prima floral session.

All prima still life painting -

Mara Schasteen, “Summer,” oil on Belgian linen, 9 x 16 in.

By Mara Schasteen

Imagine a huge hill. Now, imagine you have to climb it. You begin your journey with energy and excitement and as you trudge upward, it gets more and more difficult to go on. Even as you travel onward, you see that you’ve made great progress, but you suddenly can’t see the top like you could from the bottom! You get discouraged and lose your vision. It’s hard!

Should you find it in yourself to finish the journey, you arrive near the top. That energy that had so eluded you during the trudge upward begins to renew itself and you forget all about the sweat running down your brow. You see the end! It’s all fun from here on out! You leap up to the summit and take in every detail of breadth and width. You spin around and sing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music!”

If you hadn’t yet figured it out, yes — I am comparing this hike to painting. Painting is exactly like that! Energy, excitement, and vision in the beginning, work in the middle, and magic at the end.

It took me years to ever find myself experiencing the magic at the end. I wanted magic at the beginning and in the middle, and I didn’t really care about the end.

It took me a long time to accept that if my painting started out like a blurry image of what was to come, I was setting the stage for sheer magic at the end. It’s hard for me to do, but it’s worth every drop of sweat.

I rarely start my paintings the same way. It’s been a while since I used this process in an alla prima session. I was happily reminded of how effective this method is, so I thought an article was certainly in order.

Until the final image, I was having a nice hike, but the magic had not yet occurred. It wasn’t until the last strokes of color in the background and in small details in the flowers that the magic showed itself. The magic happens quickly in the final moments of the painting. Of course, if the stage is not set properly for the magic show, David Copperfield is a no-show.

For this alla prima technique, setting the stage is most critical. Obviously, there are many ways to begin and end a painting, but if you haven’t tried this one, I encourage you to strap on your backpack and get hiking.

A Still Life Painting in Four Steps

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Alla prima floral, step 1

1). I began with a line sketch to help me with the placement of each shape and then SQUINTED down far and scrubbed in the colors and values I saw. Squinting is the key.

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Alla prima floral, step 2

2). One of my hardest learned lessons is to avoid beginning the finer painting at the focal point. I need to get myself warmed up first, so I try to begin near the focal point. Here I began with the bottom right flower and leaf.

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Alla prima floral, step 3

3). I finished the bottom left carnation and worked upwards toward the focal area. For me, this was “the light at the end of the tunnel.” When I painted in that first yellow daisy, I said “YES!” It’s all going to be fun from here on out.

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Alla prima floral, step 4

4). I enjoyed finishing each flower to relative degrees of completion.

This content was originally published in 2012 as an Artists on Art community article.

Related > Daniela Astone: Creating an Elegant Still Life