Alla Prima Portraiture | Masterclass

Discover a wealth of understanding to take forward in your portrait painting.

Date & Time

23rd-27th March 2020 | Monday to Friday | 10:00-17:00


LARA London
371 Clapham Road
London SW9 9BT
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This Masterclass will teach you to see and paint the structure of the head simply.  A likeness in portraiture doesn’t come from getting the features right, but instead from getting the structure of the head right.

Sargent said, “If you work on the head for a week without indicating the features, you will have learnt something about the modelling of the head.” This masterclass won’t be taking Sargent too literally – paintings will be of between one hour and one day.

This course requires a minimum number of enrolments to run.

Aims of this Course

The aim of this Masterclass is to develop our ability to perceive and paint the head as a whole.  Rather than thinking of a portrait as a collection of individual features, our emphasis will be on seeing the structure of the head, within which the features can later be painted.

A number of small studies will be painted, and the aim of these will be to see and to paint very simply and directly.

We will explore colour theory to experiment with different approaches to colour and use both sight-size and comparative measurement.

Day One – Some theory and a demonstration. Limited palette short studies.

Day Two – Colour theory.  Full palette short studies.

Day Three – Two short studies and one longer study.

Day Four – Two longer studies.

Day Five – One full day, continuing one of the studies from the previous day.

Drawing experience is required.

The Facilities

Each class is limited to 7 students working from two models.

The workshop room is located within the main school of LARA London.

Each model is lit with individual professional photographic lighting which provides a steady, unchanging environment from which to observe all elements of portrait painting.


Please bring the following materials with you. Items marked with an asterisk are stocked in the LARA shop. Please call ahead if you would like to reserve items to ensure availability.

Simon notes that if there are paints you’re used to using, bring them along. He would recommend the following as a good basic palette NB if a paint has “hue” in the name, it should generally be avoided but specifically avoid anything named “Cadmium Yellow Hue”.

  • White – Simon mainly uses Cremnitz White (lead) but Titanium White* is good for shorter studies and less toxi​c​
  • Yellow Ochre* – Old Holland Yellow Ochre Deep is nice, but most are fine
  • An earth red – Old Holland Light Red is a good general brown earth colour
  • A transparent brown – Michael Harding Transparent Oxide Brown is good. Winsor & Newton Burnt Sienna is OK.
  • Yellow – Cadmium Yellow* is best.  Winsor & Newton Yellow is not a bad alternative.  Avoid “Cadmium Yellow Hue” at all cost.
  • Red  Cadmium Red* is best. Any punchy red will probably do fine though. As a cheaper and non-toxic alternative to Cadmium Red we recommend Winsor and Newton Scarlet Red.
  • Alizarin Crimson* – Old Holland Alizarin Crimson Lake Extra is Simon’s alizarin of choice
  • Ultramarine Blue* – most seem to be fine
  • Cerulean Blue* – Or another blue that tends toward green rather than purple.  Simon uses a cheap Cerulean Blue Hue colour from Maimeri (this is the one “hue” that Simon is OK with) most of the time.
  • Black – Ivory Black* is a good all-rounder

For Painting

  • Balanced wooden arm palette* (if you are right handed, please buy a left handed palette, and vice versa). Simon uses a wooden one but any that isn’t white is fine.
  • Stretched linen canvas* – Simon says there’s no need to spend a fortune for the exercises you’ll be doing in the course.  That said, he finds an overly absorbent surface makes things harder than it needs be.
  • Please bring 8 boards of approx 30x40cm and a couple of 40x50cm.  Simon recommends one of the following:
    • Jackons oil primed linen boards, fine grain.
    • Any ready canvas/canvas board with a layer of Michael Harding non-absorbent Acrylic Primer added.
    • In fact​,​ you can even use paper if you want to save money.  Just add a second layer of the Acrylic primer. It’s a perfectly good surface for sketches and studies.
    • Any canvas/canvas board with a layer of Roberson Oil Primer added.
  • Brushes* – A mix of hog and sables of different sizes.  At least 5 of each, ranging from really quite small (2mm or so) to an inch or so wide.  Simon uses lots of brushes of between 5mm and 10mm width. Synthetic brushes can be fine for this course. Raphael Kevrin+ are the best synthetic brushes Simon’s tried so far.
  • Flexible steel palette knife* Simon recommends trowel shaped ones.
  • Medium – Simon personally likes to use a thickened oil like sun-thickened linseed oil or stand oil*. Liquin isn’t bad for “Alla Prima” painting. Straightforward cold pressed linseed oil* is OK if you prefer that.
  • Winsor and Newton Sansodor*, Sennelier Odour Free Mineral Spirits or Jackson’s low odour solvent (odourless turpentine substitute for painting). You cannot use turpentine within the studio
  • Airtight metal brush cleaner* or jam jar (jam jars must be clearly labelled with your name, course and solvents it contains)
  • Metal dipper* for medium
  • A good supply of kitchen roll* for cleaning brushes
  • Tupperware tub for keeping paints overnight
  • Something to carry your wet paintings home with on the last day, for example, a canvas carrier*. If you are unable to find one, another canvas of the same size can be strapped to the front to keep the painting safe while being transported.


“An excellent programme. Simon was an outstanding teacher who was clear and calm with a comprehensive strategy for the five days. Being able to watch him paint occasionally was a bonus, and he had great resources to demonstrate great paintings. Everything promised was delivered. I feel I’ve ‘turned a corner’ on my portrait painting. My 40 hours at LARA was the highlight of a great five week European/UK holiday from Australia” – Jan Cochrane-Harry, Portraiture | A Simple Strategy student 2018

‘Excellent, very knowledgeable tutor. Good colour theory and painted some eight portraits all in all which was really good. The tutor painted at the same time as the class which I found was really helpful to watch Simon’s method – it allowed me to structure my painting process better. The tutor was very friendly and I felt I made progress. Definitely a worthwhile course I would recommend to anyone who is interested in learning some good fundamental portrait skills’ – Mark Beaney, Portraiture | A Simple Strategy student 2019

Learn from the best tutors

Simon Watkins

"To draw and paint from life is a privilege; it’s an opportunity to observe and communicate something of the world we experience"

£675.00 £650.00

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