I am currently trying to learn more about fresco. Don’t ask me why. I know it’s crazy: it’s time consuming, tricky, the materials are not readily available in Scotland, the climate is too damp. But, I can’t help it: I am fascinated by the technique. It involves mixing and spreading, stirring, bottling, lugging around, polishing: all things that balance the often tedious demands of the computer.
Following on from the course I did with Carey Mortimer in Sardinia, I am taking a series of lessons in Edinburgh with Julia Mee. She is teaching me in the traditional way she learned after several years study in Florence. At the moment, we are concentrating on portable supports and I look forward to the day when we can get going on a wall.
I am starting off with a copy of a head by Masolino, from the Brancacci Chapel in Florence, painted in 1425-27. First, I prepared the plaster, a mix of lime putty and sand. I spread this on a brick. I then pounced pigment through holes in a tracing I made of the head. Back in my studio, I spread on a second layer of plaster of a richer consistency. I only spread this over the top half so I could practice making a giornata (typically the area you think you can cover in a day). I redrew the image and painted the hat. I used some more contemporary colours than Masolino did, so the blue of my hat is brighter.
The following lesson I spread plaster on the remaining half, being careful with the join, and painted the face. Julia gave me specific instructions on how to do the underpainting and layer up the flesh, using three tones of traditional colours used in the renaissance- terre verte, cinabro, bianco de San Giovanni, verdaccio, sinopia, ochre, sienna. The colours are beautiful to work with and require only water as a mixer if you are doing the true fresco technique. I could have built up the modelling further, but ran way over my lesson time. That’s one thing about fresco- you can never plan your time exactly as there are so many variables at play.
I am pleased with my final Masolino on a brick.