Hi Friends!

It’s been almost a year since my last blog post, no better way to make my blog return than highlighting my painting project from March 2018. I completed a series of 18 alla prima portraits, in 3-4 hr sessions with live models. I wanted the opportunity to paint a large number of these portraits in a short amount of time, simply as a goal for myself. Many people know I have returned to portrait painting almost 5 years ago, in addition to my fine art and illustration work. I used to be a figurative painter many years ago, which is difficult for people to believe and understand, given the style of art I am known for.

This is a great time to mention the idea of supporting artists, rather than artists as a “brand”. Artists are people, we find different ways of expressing ourselves and saying something and these different facets of expression all come from within, from the same place. And I have to tell you, getting back to portrait painting has been cathartic for me, almost like a piece of something was missing for so long.

Self Portrait / Final portrait completed in March 2018 (16” x 20″)


The goal of completing a large number of portraits in a short time coincided with Delaware Fun a Day (pick a theme, and complete a work of art for every day in March= 31 works, no larger than 6” x 6” to be displayed for the art show at the Delaware Contemporary, April 2018. Almost 300 artists participated!) My approach to this project was throwing everyone for a loop. It was a very different approach, especially b/c I didn’t want to compromise the size of the originals-keeping the size at 16” x 20”-18′ x 24” was crucial to the success of the project for myself. The idea of painting 31 portraits from life for the month seemed very unrealistic (believe me, I did consider it!), so I scheduled as many models as I could working around my teaching schedule.

This blog will delve deeper into why I chose the project, review process, the intensity of the work load and how demanding it was. I will also discuss the theme of my portraits, and future exhibition plans for the original paintings. This project has been very important to me, a testament to my advocation for working from life as an artist, how artists need to push themselves to elevate their art, and push people’s ideas of who artists are versus who they are expected to be.

Thanks for taking the time in advance <3

Much Appreciation,

Kristen Margiotta


My session of “Ashton” above.


Alla Prima…what does it mean?

Let’s start with “alla prima”, what is that fancy phrase you keep using? “Alla prima” is Italian, for “all at once”. It just means you complete a painting in one sitting (no matter how long that sitting is), using a direct approach.

I decided to cap my alla prima portrait sessions in March at 3 hrs/each.

Overall, we stuck to this time constraint, but sometimes we went over…as in the case with my buddy Matt who was a trooper and stayed til 1:30am for me to work on his painting ( I was just getting over a bad migraine episode that week, so I was definitely having a slow night). I would also like to add I was sick for this entire month-but I did not want to cancel my sessions. When I wasn’t teaching art, or painting these portraits, I was resting. March was dedicated to this project.


Portrait of Joe Hoddinott of Phojoegraphy


Who I painted and why

I would like to sincerely thank everyone that participated. I asked all of these people to sit for me, some volunteered, and I have you tell you, everyone was on time, professional, and so appreciative to be a part of the project. Believe me, there were so many people I would have liked to have included, I just couldn’t due to time. Each portrait session was memorable due to the conversations between myself and the sitter and the music scored to each session made the nights that much more memorable and epic. Many people asked me what it was like having to schedule everyone and relying on their schedules as well-and I have to tell you surprisingly, this was the easiest part of the project. And it’s b/c all of my models, who are all friends and colleagues are AMAZING people. More on that now:

We have an interesting group of people that live in my state of Delaware, many who are doing incredible work in their fields of art, music, and beyond. People knock DE for being small, and boring—–they don’t see what I see and know the people I know who are talented and involved in doing really rad stuff. I also wanted to paint these people as themselves, not in costume or fancy attire (unless it was part of their personality or everyday). I wish I could paint everyone I know-we have some characters around here!


Process and Planning

I started scheduling people before March as a way to get ahead and purchased all materials ahead of time. I use Winsor  & Newton oil paints and canvas boards ( I prefer Fredrix canvas boards which is difficult to find, so in a pinch, I use whatever the local Jerry’s store has on hand). Canvas boards are easier to store, and they can handle the rigorous brush work of these portraits. Other materials include glass palette, towels, gloves, etc. . .I use Gamsol (odorless mineral spirits) to thin the paint / clean brushes. My setup below pretty much stayed as is for the entire month with rotating color backdrops for each model.


Getting ready for the first session of the month to paint Ric Frane, see below.



Meet Ric Frane IG@ricfrane, monster and pin-up artist, and co-owner of Talleyville Frame Shoppe and Gallery in Wilmington DE (home of lots of rad art shows all year long). ricfrane.com


Each session began with me setting up desired backdrop color ( you can see black above). Fortunately, I was able to keep my french easel set up in the same spot all month. As I stated above, each session was capped at 3 hrs, but set up / clean up added an additional 1-1.5 hr of time to each session. Many late nights in March.


My palette at the end of one of my paint sessions. It looks a mess, but is as organized as one can hope. Colors from the tube are placed on the outside of the palette, to allow for room to mix inside. I use a limited color palette, a warm and a cool version of each primary color with some additional colors.


WHY paint portraits from life?

Because they are challenging and FUN!! It is also is a great way to keep training your eyes. Musicians are trained to use their ears and “hear”. As artists, our eyes need to be keen. There is no substitution from direct observational study. Your eyes will see so much more than a photo. Some portrait sessions were smoother than others. But I always say, if it feels too easy, that makes me uncomfortable because my guard will be let down. If I feel the “struggle”, I will stay more alert and push harder for better results. Painting is rewarding, but can be very torturous!


Leila Marvel, owner of Red Heart Cult Jewelry redheart13.com . There is a time-lapse video of my paint session with Leila below, definitely worth the watch here or directly through You Tube



There were a couple of days in March where I held TWO portrait sessions in ONE day! One of those days I painted Lee during the afternoon, followed by Jess at night, see below:

My husband Lee, who’s been a part of the local music for many years. Currently Bass/ Vox in Victory Boy  m.soundcloud.com/victoryboymusic and Guitar/ Vox in Disaster Committee disastercommitee.com/


Jess McIntern, model, friend, and breast cancer survivor. Her #fightlikejess campaign documented her battle with breast cancer and can be found online and throughout social media. Her boyfriend and my friend/colleague, and photographer, Joe Hoddinott also joined in for the session. Jess is someone I paint quite often!


Joe Hoddinott photographed me above while I painted Jess.


Why do you hold your brushes that way?

I was asked this quite a few times through social media. These paintings are completed rapidly-if you watch the video of me painting Leila above, you’ll see why holding the brushes like so is effective. It also allows me to sit back away from my canvas so I can view the model simultaneously. Also, holding multiple brushes in my left hands speeds up the process and slows fatigue down in between switching colors with different brushes.


Ken Adams (K3N). Graphic Designer, Artist, Musician, and Blacksmith. Ken is responsible for all of the artwork for Lamb of God (one of the biggest bands in Metal today), guitar/vox for Clobbersaurus. www.k3n.com


Early stages of Pam Sue Slaton’s painting. Background wash, and line drawing here. I also started to lay down some of the darkest shadow areas. I try to compartmentalize these sessions. The first 30 minutes consists of wash, line drawing, darkest shadows, AND if I was lucky, the background color. The remaining time was spent building up full color in the portrait.

Pamela Sue Slaton. IG@pamslaton.  Mixed media artist. View blog on Pam’s painting progress!  Pam shot this photo of me below while I was finishing up her portrait. Interesting to see a photo of me from the model’s perspective.




Detail: from Leila’s painting. She wore one of her handmade earrings from Red Heart 13. Quick and thick brushwork.


For many of the portraits (not all), I completed small preliminary drawings, like the one of Bruce below.

The start of my portrait of Bruce Marvel above. Final below. You can see how the model was directly in front or next to my easel.

I’ve known Bruce since grade school! Singer for Blackhand and one of the best frontmen EVER!




Mark Thousands. IG@markthousands Mark has been a staple in the Delaware hardcore/music scene for many years. Previous acts include Leeway, My Body My Blood, Comin’ Correct, Burnin’ Thousands. Look out for his upcoming solo album, A Love Talismanic. I decided to incorporate Mark’s hand script “East Coast” into the final painting. This painting and session really sums up what the entire portrait project was all about for me, highlighting awesome people I know in DE doing really cool things.






You can see how the background color changed depending on who I was painting. I love RED, it’s such a powerful color! These portraits are more than just capturing the likeness of each sitter, that’s part of it. My hope is that the personality and essence of each individual comes through.

Portraits above:

Alex Voegele (trainer and guitarist/vox for Feral Ponies / Natalie Seivwright ( Nurse / we enjoy our neighborhood Cheers weekly ) / Mark Maccaffery (photographer / musician) / Matt Galinskie (Guitarist-one of the best in the area and the only other person that loves Alice in Chains as much as I do)


Wendy M. Artist, taxidermist, and co-owner of Talleyville Frame Shoppe and Gallery. One of the strongest women I know and I think that comes through in her portrait. For this session, local artist and owner of Poppycock Tattoo in Wilmington, DE, Tina Marabito, joined in on the session. Art of Wendy M. IG@framerchickwendy


Rick Hidalgo. Resin / Mixed Media artist / owner: RH Gallery, Hockessin, DE. IG: @r.hidalgoart



Ken Schuler. Photographer and co-owner of Oddporium in Arden, DE. Ken was my last and final session of the month ( I did however manage to get a self portrait in following Ken’s session in the same day). Ken brought his skull, “Gus”, from his shop Oddporium, and it fit perfectly. A nice surprise addition. oddporium.com


Final photo of myself from the month with my portrait of Ken. It’s no lie I was pretty spent by the end of the month.



Detail of my self portrait, completed the same day after my session with Ken above. This portrait remained very unfinished, and for various reasons. It just felt right to do so. See the entire version at the top of this blog or on my “Alla Prima Portraits” page.



All 18 portraits grouped together above. What an enormous task and project, and so glad that I did it. Set goals for yourself, anything is possible!


Final Thoughts

This was an enormous task to take on in such a short time. Working from life, especially painting, is mentally and physically demanding. You’re constantly thinking, studying, second guessing. But I love it. I stress the importance of it with my students as well.

I have received nothing but positive feedback and words for this project, which have been overwhelming and so appreciated! I’ve also been told I need to exhibit the original portraits, and I plan to do so. This was too large a body of work in terms of size and significance not to show. I’m working exhibition plans, one exhibit featuring these portraits will take place at RH Gallery in Hockessin, DE—-stay tuned for more info!

Thanks to everyone who followed my progress on social media and for taking the time to read this. If you’re interested, you can hop over to my IG account @kristenmargiotta to see posts on this project.

Also, new projects in the works, stay tuned for those as well! Good things are coming.

-Kristen Margiotta <3