Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fa Presto

In Italian, "fa presto" literally means "make quickly." It became a painting term when the father of Luca Giordano (1634-1705) urged his son to speed up his studies.

The term became a nickname for Giordano, and more broadly, a byword among baroque painters like Tintoretto (self portrait, below) who were seeking a more spontaneous handling.

In a fa presto technique, the composition is established quickly over an earth-toned ground with no preliminary drawing. The paint is laid on thinly in the darker areas and broadly and generously in the lights.


jeff said...

My painting teacher Frank Mason painted a lot like this. He was a master at it and his painting demos where great events.

He was always telling us to learn to draw with the brush.

Patrick Waugh said...

This style of painting reminds me of the way NC Wyeth worked. I've tried this style, but it only seems to work well when I'm doing simple studies. I prefer painting slowly if given a choice.

jeff said...

You have to have real drawing chops to do this. Frans Hals was one of the best at this kind of painting.

Some links to Frank's work:

James Gurney said...

Jeff, thanks for the links to those amazing Frank Mason examples. How long did he spend on those? Were they all done as classroom demos?

TomHart said...

Yes, Jeff: THANKS for that Frank Mason link. Amazing stuff. You're very fortunate to have studied with him.

If you and James could work to get more info on him up on this site, that would be wonderful.

I do hope the documentary mentioned on Mason's website (due this summer, I believe) will be widely available. One can hope.

James Gurney said...

If any Frank Mason student--or Frank himself-- wants to do a guest post (just a couple paragraphs and an image or two), I'll put it out there, and it would be better than me guessing.

jeff said...

Frank is not well, he is 86, and he's has retired from teaching. Tom Torak who in my opinion is a one his best students has taken over the class at the ASL. Check out his work it's all about this kind of painting.

Most of those paintings were not demos, they were studio portraits. I remember him doing one very much like the one of the man with short gray beard in about 2.5 hours, maybe three.

It was amazing to watch as he could do a finished portrait pretty fast.
He love Hals, Rubens and Rembrandt, they were his Gods.

I can say he would just draw with the brush, no charcoal or any preparatory drawing at all.
He only did studies for larger compositions.

I have to say that in all the years I have been painting I have never seen anyone do what he did when he did those demos. He was real fast and extremely confident about where his brush strokes would go. Never second guessing anything and never making any mistakes. Not that he didn't, it's that he was a real showman and the demos were amazing events. He would need a lot of space to move back and forth, the easel was pretty close to the sitter, although not like sight size. One thing is he had a prepared palette with gray values that corresponded to his color palette which was from DuMond.

A lot of Cadmium's which are hard to control for painting flesh.

Frank was force of nature that's all I can say, NC Wyeth was mentioned and I think the two of them were similar in some ways, larger than life, domineering and dynamic men.

jeff said...

I still use the same palette. Some call it a full spectrum palette it is related to Cads, that is all the values are taken from them.
Frank Vincent DuMond was were the palette came from and Mason took over his class in the late 50's and taught there until last December I believe. 52 years of teaching, pretty amazing.

Other ex Mason students are Jack and Karen Winslow. Karen has a Blog which is well worth checking out. She's documenting this huge landscape painting Jack is doing, which is looking great.

J. Bustamante said...

Wow im always amazed at how much i learn from this blog. This technique is going to be pretty important to me as i try to finish 8 paintings in 4 days for my class' critique coming up. Thanks! and all these comments are great too!

Dar Presto said...

I need a few decades of study, but it seems to be inevitable that I should work in this fashion.

Daroo said...

Thanks Jeff F for all those great links.

I'd be curious to learn more about the Dumond palette and how you use it -- why don't you take Jim up on his offer to guest blog?

I followed the link to Karen Winslow's blog and she seems to have a picture of the palette (and an amazing studio space!) but no real explanation. I use a palette with a lot of Cads (basically Schmid's palette) but no premixed grays.

I actually prefer drawing with a brush when I can. If I spend a lot of time making a charcoal under-drawing on the canvas as a guide to painting, the drawing becomes too "precious" to me and then I become too tentative about covering it over with paint and tend to just paint up to the lines. Intellectually, you'd think the opposite would be true -- If I drew it once, then I can draw it again -- but thet doesn't seem to be the case.

One trick to overcome this problem is to take a quick digital picture of the under-drawing and either print it out as a guide or display it on my monitor.

If its a complicated composition or an intricate subject then I have to draw some kind of guide on the canvas but I find doing a separate study as a guide (and practice run) to be the most helpful.

Yes, it takes "drawing chops" but not anymore than drawing with charcoal or pencil does. Mostly I thinks it takes discipline and concentration because while you are trying to get the drawing right you must also get the value and color right. For me though, drawing with the brush isn't any faster -- you still have to put the time in solving drawing problems and establishing proportional relationships. If done right, it might SEEM more spontaneous.

Speaking of influences...Can anybody recommend a good book on Frans Hals? I was reading the latest Sargent book and in addition to painting copies of Velasquez Sargent also copied Hals.

Karen Winslow said...

Hi James. I was enjoying your blog and came upon these comments, and I was so surprised to see my name. Thank you for taking a look at my blog. Yes, my husband and I studied with Frank Mason in the seventies. We use a controlled palette where the grayscale is a main feature. It gives us a tonal scale that allows us to paint very quickly, Fa Presto (a new term for me). Most of my head studies are done very quickly (2.5 hours or so). I would be happy to do a guest post. Thanks. Karen

James Gurney said...

Thanks, everyone for these thoughtful and practical comments. Karen, if you would like to share how you prepare your palette and approach this kind of painting based on the teaching you received, I'd be happy to share it. You can email me images and text at

Jan said...

many write that the Venetians did not paint with oil (not all layers) but with some water-soluble emulsion, and separated the layers with varnish. What do you think? Renaissance Venetians really look like not pure oil.
Medium example: