Alla Prima

Alla Prima by Richard Schmid is one of my favourite art instruction books. But before I go on about it – the reason for the post in fact – is that this book is very much still in print and not readily available secondhand. It’s not listed on Amazon as a new book – only a few secondhand copies and those are priced high. There aren’t many secondhand ones because it’s a keeper! Perceived rareness means high prices – in this case anything from $70 from an Amazon reseller to $750 for an ex-library copy advertised at Abebooks… (the word soundrel just came to mind.) Bottom line – Alla Prima is available from the author’s website. They are easy to deal with and prompt – my copy arrived in Western Australia without fuss or delay. Urban rumour has that Richard self published Alla Prima because several publishers knocked him back when he presented his first manuscript. It’s now in it’s seventh printing…

OK, a brief opinion because I absolutely have to get up to the studio and get some work done.

This is not a book for the rank beginner. Actually it might be if you’re a serious beginner. Where it really comes in is for those who have been painting for a bit and are frustrated with both their own efforts and the myriad of conflicting advice from books, workshops and artists who insist that their way is the only way. That’s the biggest thing I took away from this book back when I was dizzy-headed with exactly that.

His offering by way of instruction is more of a good sound discussion with an experienced artist blessed with commonsense and a sense of humour. He encourages you to work – with a clear indication of what work you need to do. There are no promises of instant anything.

Like this on composition after a discussion that sorts out nomenclature; separating harmony, pattern, balance, lines of direction, movement etc etc…

How do you make judgements about your own designs? My advice is to learn all you can about what has already been done. There are many books available that present design theory with helpful graphics and in more detail than this book. Some books are worthwhile, but others, because they are so rigidly dogmatic, or even written in vague terms, should not be taken seriously. Make sure that the ideas and explanations in them are written in plain everyday English instead of arty gobbledygook such as this: “Unity is harmony in balance with objective rhythmic dynamics.” That kind of drivel is simply ostentation concealing ignorance, and it leads nowhere.

And, no, I ain’t getting a free copy of the new book to say any of that. I just got mad that there are rip-off merchants out to get any anyone who goes looking for a copy of a book they’ve heard good things about.


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