I’ve been sticking with my new year’s goal to spend some time reading art books every morning. So far I have read quite a few so I thought I would start sharing and recommending a few. One book that most artists have on their shelf is Richard Schmid’s Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting. I have had this one for while but had never read it cover to cover until recently. There is an expanded edition of this book out now, Alla Prima II, which I hear is full of a lot of new material, but this post is about the older one. Many watercolor artists may not have this book since Richard is primarily a very well-known oil painter, but honestly if you are a painter no matter what media, you will geta lot out of this book. It’s not a how to book per sayeven though there are plenty of color plates and some work in progress photos. However, it’s a very detailed description of how Richard paints and what he thinks about during his painting process. All things every artist should consider to achieve their best work. An extra added bonus is, his wit and charm comes through on the pages!
Chapters are titled: Good Ideas and Free Advice, Direct Painting, Starting, Drawing, Values, Edges, Color and Light, Composition, Technique and The Magic. There is so much information here it will be hard to grasp on the first read. This will be one you will want to refer to and read again.
One of the biggesttake away exercises from the book are his color charts. Many artists have done them and given their thoughts. Just Google “Richard Schmid Color Charts,” and you will get a few hits. He has taken every color in his palette and mixed it with every other color in the palette and charted it out. Once you compete this exercise you will know your palette inside and out and you willhave to use as reference the color families and harmonies for each color. Richard’s teacher and mentor Bill Mosby made him do the color charts early in his career and he says, “ The charts took only two weeks to complete and when I finished I knew more about my paint a than I had ever thought possible. It was an astonishing- imagine being taken into the kitchen of a great chef and shown everything he could do with flavors-that was what it was like for me!”
I have seen him in a video show his charts done on what appears to be foam core, and he describes how he has taken them out plein air painting. Holding them up to the scene he is about to paint, he can identify which color family fits the scene and know exactly which colors to use and mix on his palette.
The exercise does seem tedious and may take a while to do. However, you would really learn your palette and not only what colors you will get when all of them are mixed with each other but what they will do when mixed with white as well if you are an oil or acrylic painter.
If you have a set palette be it watercolor, oil or acrylic you could do the exercise to make your own chart of the colors you typically use and you wouldn’t have to follow Richard’s exact palette. I’m very intrigued by this and hope to do it in the future. This would be a great exercise to do if you feel you were experiencing artist’s block. I can’t help but think mixing all that juicy color wouldn't get one inspired to paint!