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What is a Fresco

Fresco Painting

“……could it become a lost art?”

Fresco painting, is painting on “Fresh Plaster” which is the oldest form of recorded art paintings in the world.  Over the years this method has been refined since 1500 BC to the highly decorated images that are imbedded in the Sistine Chapel. The greatness of this style is its imperviousness to decay, delaminating, or fading; the only element that can demise its beauty is either erosion or physical chipping away at the surface.  Proof of this is in Pompeii that was covered by 25 feet of mountain- ash in 79 AD. Seventeen hundred years later the city was excavate which revealed many true works of art- frescos that were painted on the walls, ceilings, and floors: they remain today as proof of the longevity of fresco painting.  Keep the art of fresco painting alive, so it does not become a lost art.

The process involves preparing the surface to accept a coating of lime plaster on which the artist will paint.  Mixing sand and lime plaster makes the prepared fresco board (similar to mixing concrete). It is applied about ¼ to ½ inch thick so that when it is dried a coating of just the lime plaster can be added. After the lime plaster is added, it now becomes the “canvass” for the artwork.  Sections can be done at a time. First the artist makes a detailed drawing of the artwork, this is called a Cartoon, and then it is traced onto another sheet of paper, emphasizing the values (dark and light areas) of the artwork.  These values are instrumental to the artist so that the artist knows exactly where to paint.  No room for mistakes; there are no erasures in Buon fresco painting.  Once the artwork is all detailed out then it is laid upon the surface of the fresh plaster.  The artist takes a pushpin and starts poking little dots into the fresh plaster, all along the outline of the artwork and its details to give it the correct proportions.  Then the artist takes charcoal chalk or other powder pigment and pounces with a pad over the dotted lines so that the chalk leaves a definite line. Once the paper is removed the outline is visible and the artist starts in with the painting of the values in black.  No color is added at this point.  Once the artwork has been duplicated and the value tones are in place, then the color is added.  It is sort of working in reverse when doing oil or acrylic painting.  The artist creates the perspective of lights and darks first before adding color. The color seeps into the plaster and become part of it.  One section at a time can be done depending on the thickness of the plaster.  The artist interprets where the cut-off lines will be so that on the next application the plaster butts right up to where the artist wants to continue with the painting.