Classical Art Atelier

Alla Prima Portrait Painting

2-Day Oil Painting Workshop with Adrian Cooke

This two-day intensive workshop 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.

This workshop will make use of photo references as well as life models. 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 on the second day, and with even greater confidence!

The Alla Prima Portrait Painting Workshop will be held at UCC, Cork, on 22-23 February, and at Garter Lane Arts Centre, Waterford on 21-22 March 2020.

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 on day one, and then from life on day two. Organising the palette, colour mixing, drawing, value and edges will be covered discussed and demonstrated.

Materials List
  • Live model
  • Basic materials included*
  • Handouts
  • Practical exercises
  • Live Demonstrations
  • Slide Presentations
  • Refreshments provided

*Students will be required to bring certain materials.

Day 1: Saturday

Getting Started with the Basics

The first morning will introduce 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.

In the afternoon, we will begin by 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.

If you hear a voice within you saying you cannot paint, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. Vincent Van Gogh
Day 2: Sunday

From Full Colour to Expressive Finish

On the second morning, 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.

In the afternoon, you will be ready to paint from life, and you will combine all of your learning in one 3-hour alla prima portrait study of a live model.

Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do. Edgar Degas


Adrian will demonstrate each of the key steps involved in the alla prima painting process
and will individually assist each student as they progress.

Alla Prima Step-by-Step

Alla Prima Portrait Step-by-Step by Adrian Cooke © 2020

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 workshop clarifies exactly what materials are needed and why, and how to use them to get the best results.

Workshop Details

The Alla Prima Portrait Painting Workshop will be held in Cork in February and in Waterford this March 2020. See details below, or contact us to find out more and to enrol.

# Venue Duration Day Time Dates Price
1 Brookfield Campus, UCC, CORK 2 Days Saturday & Sunday 10.00am - 5.00pm 22-23 February 2020 € 200
1 Garter Lane Arts Centre, WATERFORD 2 Days Saturday & Sunday 10.00am - 5.00pm 21-22 March 2020 € 200

Important Notes

  • Fees are non-refundable and non-transferrable.
  • 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 fee will be fully refunded. But if you are booking accommodation, you may want to consider taking out travel insurance to cover any cancellation costs.
  • This is an oil painting course, and uses oil paints, solvents and mediums (such as mineral spirits, turpentine and linseed oil) that have a small and safe degree of toxicity but can emit strong fumes, which may cause headaches, drowsiness and skin irritations. Our classrooms are well-ventilated but please be aware that we cannot eradicate these fumes completely, and that by enrolling on this course you are accepting these conditions.

About Adrian Cooke

Painting Instructor

Adrian Cooke has been working as an artist for over 25 years, initially pursuing an education and career in classical music - piano and music composition (1996-2002), and later spending 10 years working in graphic design.

Largely a self-taught visual artist, he began his training in classical drawing and painting in 2012, taking courses at The Drawing Studio, Dublin, Vitruvian Studio, Chicago, and Watts Atelier in California. He is continuing to study classical painting at the Florence Academy of Art this year. His first exhibition was a series of classical portraits and master copy drawings at 33 The Mall, Waterford, in 2014.

This kind of education in classical realist drawing and painting is just not available in mainstream third-level art colleges here in Ireland, so it was necessary for me to look elsewhere, at specialised international fine art academies, to learn these traditional painting and drawing techniques and practices. Hopefully, in turn, my school and I can now provide this much sought after training for other artists. Adrian Cooke, Artist and Director at Classical Art Atelier

In 2015, Adrian established his own private art school, Classical Art Atelier, which operates at most major arts and education venues across the south of Ireland. He has been teaching there for the last 5 years, and his school has enrolled several hundred students to date from all kinds of artistic backgrounds, both amateur and professional, and from all over Ireland and abroad.

Adrian works predominantly in traditional drawing and painting media, regarding these fundamental skills and techniques as essential building blocks for his own work. His artistic style, though, would be better described as Abstract Realism.

Materials Lists


Unstretched canvas will be provided by the academy. However, it is imperative that you bring a portfolio case large enough to fit a canvas 50x40cm or some other means of taking your wet canvases home with you. Your work will not be stored by the academy. You will need to bring a certain amount of materials yourself. All materials and art supplies are available at Cork Art Supplies, where you will be entitled to a 10% discount upon enrolling for this workshop, or at Jackson's Art Supplies UK

Oil Colours
  • Titanium White
  • Ivory Black
  • Burnt Umber
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Vermillion (or 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)
  • Liquin
  • Fast Drying Linseed Oil
  • Odourless or Low Odour Mineral Spirits (or Turpentine)
  • Wooden Palette
  • Palette Knife
  • Palette Cups
  • Glass Jar
  • Paper Towels
  • Masking Tape
  • Skewer or knitting needle
  • Mahlstick
  • Portfolio Case
Alla Prima Portrait Painting Workshop

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