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"Only Fresco..."


Affresco ( In English usage, “fresco” ). Painting done on freshly laid wet plaster with pigments dissolved in lime water. As both dry they become completely integrated. Known as “true” fresco, this technique was most popular from the late thirteenth to the mid-sixteenth centuries. The common assumption that all mural painting is fresco painting is an erroneous idea. It is true that one can in fact paint on fresh plaster, or intonaco, to make a painting in affresco or a fresco. In true fresco the artist must start applying his colors on the wet (or fresco) intonaco as soon as it has been prepared and laid on the wall. The colors can thus be absorbed by the wet plaster. When it dries and hardens, the colors become one with plaster. Technically speaking the plaster does not “dry” but rather a chemical reaction occurs in which calcium carbonate is formed as a result of carbon dioxide from the air combining with the calcium hydrate in the wet plaster.

   Early morning hours.
While Ian Hardwick is applying the final "skim" coat - intonaco, ILia Anossov is working on mixing right color tones for the day ahead
. This marks the beginning of painting day - giornata. Painting is the final and most challenging, of course, stage in creation of the fresco. Before the artist ready to pain several steps should be followed:
1). Full scale detailed compositional rendering - cartoon should be developed and pounced tracing made.
2) Color study should be created, it will be used for mixing right color tones and general color reference. 3) Plaster has to be prepared a few days in advance (the earlier the better - lime needs time to "adopt itself to the sand and gain plasticity) in proportion of 8 parts extra fine sand to 5 parts slaked (pitted) lime or so with the least water possible.
4) Panel mast have three coats  (scratch, brown/rough and float (arriccio), coat names reflect the grade of sand - coarse, rough, fine ) of plaster put on previously with intervals of 5 days in between the coats or "wet on wet".
5). It helps to grind the base pigments with water into the paste in advance storing them in sealed glass jars, this way in the morning (before the painting begins) will be more time to prepare tone mixes. Try about 2-5 different tones for each color. Use freshly ground dry lime mixed with water as white (pigments mixed with lime and lime mixed for whites can not be saved) all mixes should be done ONLY with distilled water.
6) I use soft long bristle brushes of various sizes round and flat.
7) After the final intonaco is applied it should be left for about 20min to settle.

Late Morning
ILia Anossov is working on monochrome under painting.
After preparation is done and freshly laid intonaco had settled it is time to transfer the cartoon. Tracing from the cartoon pounced along the lines with needle or pouncing wheel is laid over the plaster and dusted over with charcoal or simply incised (pressed along the lines) by the opposite end of a thin brush to provide the base guideline for the painting process. The under-painting is done with terra verde (green earth pigment) with shadows enhanced in umber (picture on the right) or with other colors, but remember in fresco it is not possible to completely paint out a "wrong" color therefore every tone should be carefully planned. Another thing to remember is that plaster behaves differently during the day - it will need more water in the tones at the beginning and the end of the day then in the middle and do not keep to much paint on the brush - it will result in "blobs" squeeze it slightly between the fingers before touching the plaster.

Under-painting is done and Ilia Anossov is beginning to apply color.
Major color values should be painted out first in the same manner as under-painting - work the entire giornata gradually and keep it balanced, also plaster will not take to much paint at once, let it "rest" between the passes of a brush by working on different area. It should be about 25 tone variations with light and dark with two mid tones in-between of each color. The best working pigments in fresco are the earth oxides and other mineral pigments. Some pigments will not work with lime plaster at all - some man made greens change to yellow as being mixed, so as many other modern day pigments except the ones that specially formulated for the use with plasters. Test the colors in advance by mixing little portions of them with lime, also most of art supply stores should have reference material on traditional fresco palette.

The End of the day.
ILia Anossov is finishing the fresco. He is putting the last touches by picking up the details and accents.
The end of the day for the fresco painter is the most pleasant stage the plaster enters what is sometimes called "the golden hour" - painting is 3/4 done and plaster is in it's best stage. Time to finish the detail pickup and blend color tones by passing over and over with lairs of transparent color at (this stage the color mixes should be "wet" again). Painter must work fast and precise at this stage because "golden hour" also means that plaster will soon "lock up" - stop receiving paint (the paint will change to much lighter opaque tone as soon a it touches the plaster - that is it put the brush down!). One thing to remember is that in the next seven or so days following the painting the fresco will be undergoing the curing stage and this is a confidence test for the Artist. Colors dry at different speed and plaster is naturally compacted unevenly although it looks flat and perfect changes to white faster in more compacted ereas. These are to of many other factors that make color in fresco change into discouraging cacophony for the first few days after the painting is finished. But do not worry in about 7-10 days it will look even more beautiful and just a little lighter then the day it was painted.

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