I have become slightly obsessed with the frescoes at Pompeii and Herculaneum. I have never been there, but have got hold of some books with excellent reproductions. There has been some debate about the techniques they used to get the smooth, polished surface. I won’t go into the details (because I’ll probably get them wrong), but wax plays a part in the final work.
I have been laying some marble grounds in preparation for polishing my surface and adding wax. Instead of sand, I mix marble powder into my lime putty. I started off laying these on bricks and smoothing them with the back of a spoon. I then experimented with background colours of Pompeian red and mars black. These I also polished.
I like the look of the images of cupids, candelabra and plants painted on dark grounds. They are very loose and spontaneous, incidental to the main images on the frescoes in Pompeii and Herculaneum. I found an intriguing image of a cupid riding a crab. It was a tiny reproduction, so I had to make up my version a bit. First I painted on top of the black, once it was dry enough but with the plaster still thirsty, with white. Then I added ochres, umbers and terra verde on top. It required a certain amount of bravura, as I could not go back and correct any mistakes. I like this directness- so different to the way I keep changing things with oil painting.
I made several mistakes, the first one being that I did not wet the lower plaster layer enough before adding the marble layer. This meant that the water was sucked in and I did not get very much time to paint. I also tried polishing the black with the back of the spoon when it had dried too much and this left looping marks on the black.
Still, I am pleased with my cupid on a crab. Once it has fully dried, I intend to add a layer of punic wax. If you want to know what that is, check back.