Classical Art Atelier

Alla Prima Portrait Painting

5-Week Online Course with Adrian Cooke

Our new online oil painting courses use Zoom video-conferencing platform for our live weekly classes, supplemented with downloadable study notes and image references, and one-to-one student support and feedback from your instructor.

Each class will include many demonstrations, guiding you in detail through the painting process, interaction and discussion about the oil painting method and techniques, and practical exercises which can be submitted by email for individual appraisal.

This online course focuses on the alla prima method of portrait painting. Alla prima (or 'at the first') is a direct painting method where paint is applied wet-in-wet and the painting is completed in a single session. This requires greater skill and understanding of how to control and manipulate the paint. It contrasts with the academic approach, where paint is built up slowly in layers, which is a safer albeit more time-consuming method.

Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Course Description | Learning Outcomes | Booking Details | Gallery | Materials & Equipment List

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Learn the Alla Prima Portrait Painting Techniques Online

Our All Prima Portrait Painting Course begins on Wednesday, 11th November 2020 or Thursday, 12th November 2020, and runs for 5 weeks. Two class times are available: Wednesday evenings or Thursday mornings. Please choose whichever time of day you'd prefer, and note that you cannot switch between class times.

  • Language: English
  • Time: Irish Standard Time (UTC+1)
  • Platform: Zoom
Evening Class

Alla Prima Portrait Painting
Online Course

19.00 - 20.30pm (UTC+1)
Starting 11th November 2020

Morning Class

Alla Prima Portrait Painting
Online Course

10.00 - 11.30am (UTC+1)
Starting 12th November 2020

Course Description

Learn How to Create a Realistic Portrait Painting in One Session


This course will make use of photo references as well as a self-portrait painting from life. Quite often, artists will only have a photograph to use as a reference, and working from this two-dimensional image also provides an easier route initially to learning the painting process. That being said, our aim will be to transcend this digital image, and create our own expressive interpretation. Once the method is learned, we will then paint from life towards the end of the course, and with even greater confidence!

The direct approach of alla prima painting presents several challenges but many rewards. The immediacy of this kind of painting forces you to choose each brushstroke carefully and concisely, and as a result, it often requires greater initial planning at the start of the painting.

As well as pre-mixing colours and values on the palette, you will also mix on the canvas, wet-in-wet, and learn how to create a more expressive and painterly portrait. We will also learn from some of the masters, like Frans Hals and Édouard Manet, who are celebrated for their fluency in direct painting. You will closely study some of the following techniques:

  • Capturing an initial impression of the model
  • Colour mixing and planning
  • Managing darks, lights and accents
  • Variety of brushwork

Working with a limited colour palette, following Anders Zorn's system, you will be shown a step-by-step process to portrait painting, working from a photo reference and then from life (self-portrait). Organising the palette, colour mixing, drawing, value and edges will be covered discussed and demonstrated.

  • Art Materials & Equipment
  • Desktop / Laptop / Tablet
  • Printer / A3 Colour Printing
  • Webcam
  • Internet Connection

You will need certain art materials and equipment to do this course. Please see Materials List below.

  • Live Demonstrations
  • Discussion / Q & A
  • Student Support via Email
  • Comprehensive Study Notes
  • High Resolution Images
  • Practical Assignments
  • Individual Feedback / Critique
Structure & Anatomy

Getting Started with the Basics

The course begins by introducing you to some basic concepts around design, value and form. You will work on some preliminary exercises including matching a value colour strip and rendering a flesh-toned sphere. You will also become acquainted with Zorn's limited palette and the Munsell Colour System.

We will then start working from a photo reference to carefully learn the alla prima method and techniques. These first steps are all about gesture and placement - getting the portrait started and generally establishing where everything is going to fit. You will also block in the major light and dark shapes at this stage, creating a basic value composition. As your portrait progresses, you will gradually refine it.

Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do. Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Likeness & Expression

From Full Colour to Expressive Finish

Gradually we will introduce colour into your portrait paintings, initially developing a simplified three-colour poster study, massing in light, dark, and dark light colour values. From there, you will concentrate on selectively rendering all areas of the portrait, turning the form of the eyes, nose, mouth, cheeks, and hair.

You will be shown how to blend wet-into-wet, creating soft transitions of tone to describe the forms of the face and paying special attention to the quality of edges. Just the right amount of the anatomy will also be explained in order for you to add enough detail to create a realistic and expressive portrait.

Finally, you will be ready to paint from life, and you will combine all of your learning in a self-portrait study from life.

Principles of
Oil Painting

The key principles of oil painting, as well as traditional studio practices, will be demonstrated and explained. Some of these include working on a coloured ground (or 'imprimatura'), understanding composition, developing contrast and value, colour mixing, brushwork, and glazing.

The Zorn

The Zorn palette refers to a palette of colours developed by the Swedish artist, Anders Zorn (1860-1920). It consists of just FOUR colours: yellow ochre, ivory black, vermilion, and titanium white. This may seem like an extremely limited range of colours, but Zorn has demonstrated through his paintings just what is possible with such a limited palette.

Colour System

Everyone has heard of the colour wheel, but the Munsell colour system goes a step beyond this, organising colours based on three properties: hue (what we usually refer to as 'colour'), value (lightness or darkness of the colour), and chroma (colour purity or saturation). It was created by Professor Albert H. Munsell in the first decade of the 20th century.

& Their Uses

Even experienced artists and professionals can be mesmerised by the many different different kinds of mediums, solvents, surfaces, paints and colours, which all have different properties and uses. This aspect of the course clarifies exactly what materials are needed and why, and how to use them to get the best results.

Booking Details Portrait Painting Online

You can choose to do this course on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, whichever you prefer - there are two class time options.

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Learn the Techniques of Portrait Painting Online

Our Alla Prima Portrait Painting Online Course begins on Wednesday, 11th November, or Thursday, 12th November 2020. Please see course details, important information, and terms and conditions below, or contact us to discuss, email or call +353 (0)87 660 9644.

Evening Class

Alla Prima Portrait Painting
Online Course

19.00 - 20.30pm (UTC+1)
Starting 11th November 2020

Morning Class

Alla Prima Portrait Painting
Online Course

10.00 - 11.30am (UTC+1)
Starting 12th November 2020

Course Details
# Alla Prima Portrait Painting Course
Location Zoom - Online Video Conferencing Platform
Duration 5 Weeks
Class 90 minutes per week
Day Wednesdays Evenings Thursdays Mornings
Dates 11 Nov., 18 Nov., 25 Nov., 2 Dec. & 9 Dec. 2020 12 Nov., 19 Nov., 26 Nov., 3 Dec. & 10 Dec. 2020
Times Evening Class
19.00 - 20.30 pm
Morning Class
10.00 - 11.30 am
Choose either Wednesday evening or Thursday morning class All times shown are Irish Standard Time (UTC+1)
Instructor Adrian Cooke
Language English
Price € 100 EUR
Terms & Conditions

Please read this information before enrolling. By paying for this course, you are agreeing to our terms and conditions below.

  • Fees are non-refundable and non-transferrable.
  • You cannot switch between morning and evening classes. Once you have selected either the morning or evening class, you will not be able to change your class time.
  • All times are shown in Irish Standard Time (UTC+1). It is important that you know the correct class time as it relates to you. You will not be refunded for any confusion or mistake about this on your part.
  • Classical Art Atelier reserves the right to cancel any course or workshop at any time if the minimum number of students required is not reached. In such cases, your course fee will be fully refunded.

Materials & Equipment List


You will need a certain amount of art materials and equipment to help you do this course. Not everything on the list below is absolutely necessary - just make sure to have a basic supply of oil painting materials, and the more specialist materials will be discussed during the course. Materials and accessories are available for purchase at Cork Art Supplies, where you will be entitled to a 10% discount when you enrol for this course. We also recommend Jackson's Art Supplies UK.

Oil Colours
  • Titanium White
  • Ivory Black
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Vermillion
  • Cadmium Red Medium
  • 4 x Bristle Filbert (size 4)
  • 2 x Bristle Filbert (size 6)
  • 2 x Soft Synthetic Filbert (size 8)
  • 1 x Soft Filbert (size 12)
  • 1 x Soft Round (size 1)
  • 1 x Soft Fan Brush (size 6 or 8)
  • Primed Canvas 10-12oz
  • Canvas Boards 30x20 & 50x40cm
  • Liquin
  • Refined Linseed Oil
  • Odourless or Low Odour Mineral Spirits (or Turpentine)
  • Easel (table, portable or studio)
  • Hard drawing board
  • Wooden Palette
  • Palette Knife
  • Palette Cups
  • Glass Jar
  • Paper Towels
  • Masking Tape
  • Skewer or knitting needle
  • Mahlstick
Alla Prima Portrait Painting Online Course

Start learning the methods of the Masters

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