Alla Prima Portrait Painting Demonstration

Marvin Mattelson’s One & Done Technique

This past Saturday I did a portrait painting demonstration for my class, alla prima style. The point was to show the students how I approach painting oil studies during my initial meetings with clients. I primarily work from reference photos for my finished portraits, due to the time limitations of my busy clients. This quick approach gives me the opportunity to study their facial structure, get a better sense of who they are and, most importantly, to record their complexion. Judge for yourself, by looking at in the above photo, how I’ve done with regards to matching Simone’s skin tones.

This painted study took me three hours and forty minutes – not counting breaks, although in the past I’ve done them in as little as one hour.

Here’s a little movie I put together showing how the painting evolved:

Don’t Try This at Home!

When going the Alla Prima route – trying to nail everything at once – if you are not in complete command, your results will suffer. If you’re having problems, you need to reload; first learn to do things correctly by mastering each of the major aspects of painting: drawing, value and color. That’s the way I break things down for my students. If you wanted to learn to ride a unicycle on a high wire while juggling burning axes would you try to do it all at once? When you break it down in digestible bites you get to dessert way faster?

Sound appetizing? Come study with me, this summer. I’ll be leading a portrait drawing workshop in June and a portrait painting workshop in August at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Also, there’s a Fine Arts Information Session on Monday, May 11, from 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm. It will be held at 133/141 West 21st Street, room 602C, 6th floor. If you want to stop in and say hello I’ll be there and I’ll be bringing Simone (the painting) with me.

Until next time…


  1. Ms Georgia Shankel says

    I watched the video over and over. Your ability is so incredible. It may be because you were working so fast but your heart seems to be more present. Also, the aliveness of the model jumps right out of the canvas.

    • Hey Georgia. Great to hear from you. Yes, I was very dialed in. I think there were many factors. Over time my understanding deepens, for one; an awesome model, for two; and, most of all, the night before I saw an incredible concert – the best I’ve ever seen. I saw the singer/musician Rhiannon Giddens. She personifies being in the moment and as crazy as it sounds, it elevated my consciousness in a very profound way. So you can say I was feelin’ it!

  2. Marcia Gorra-Patek says

    Another beauty, from you Marvin. Hope you are well!

  3. Dale Zinkowski says

    Looks great Marvin.

  4. Simply stunning! I too watched your video several times. It was great to see how your values and mid-tones shaped the planes of her face.

  5. I think I watched it 20 times!! Each time watching how it develops overall and then each feature! You are the best!! I bet this was allot of fun for you!

  6. Than you , Thank you for all your words , for all what you do and what you on your canvas explain to us..
    Happy birthday Sir Mattelson and many beautiful years in health and Art !
    Greetings from Germany

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