Thursday, April 30, 2009


Fresco from painted town of Treviso, Italy

The master painters of the Renaissance took the art of the fresco to a level of perfection that may never be surpassed. During that era, large walls in cathedrals and other buildings served as the canvases for frescoes – and they still do. Michelangelo' s painting on the ceiling of Rome’s Sistine chapel is perhaps the best known example of this type of work. A fresco is actually a painting that has not been painted on a wall, but into it. The painting is finished while the plaster is still wet, a technique that is called “l'ora del santo” or “the hour of the saint.” Therefore the painting and the wall become one. Because a fresco is part of the wall on which it is painted, it is subject to all the environmental factors that cause walls to deteriorate with the passage of time. This is one of the features of frescoes that make them so unique and special. The cracks, crevices and other signs of wear that occur within the fresco reflect the hardships the environment has imposed on the work – much as our own exteriors provide a living testament to the hardships and struggles of our lives. I am proud of each wrinkle on my face. They are the result of what I have given and endured throughout my life: I have earned them.

My rendition of a Giotto fresco. This is buon fresco.

As you may have guessed by now, I have created frescoes of my own during my life in art. For some, I have used the technique of masters like Botticelli, Giotto and Masaccio – “buon fresco.” In buon fresco (good or true fresco), the paints are mixed with lime water, and the plaster is painted while it is still wet. I find this difficult to do well since I am forced to work a lot faster than I would otherwise. To overcome this problem, I have sometimes created my work using “secco fresco.” This is a modification of the fresco technique in which dried plaster is dampened to simulate fresh, wet plaster before it is painted. Although creating frescoes a secco is easier than the classic technique, it is also a bit less durable. Since most of us do not live in one place long enough to own a fresco and watch it age, it occurred to me several years ago that it might be nice to make frescoes portable. I decided to create frescoes that could be transported to any new surrounding. Using the secco fresco technique, I began creating smaller frescoes I call “fresgos” – my term for “frescoes to go.” A few of these are pictured below.

Secco fresco, wet into dry

Another one of my fresgoes, an example of secco fresco

In 2006, I traveled to the ancient village of Serraville, Italy to study fresco making with Alma Ortolan. Ms. Ortolan reconstructed the paintings on the Royal Balcony of “La Fenice,” the opera house in Venice, after a fire there. She is renowned in the art world for teaching ancient fresco painting techniques as well as for her conservation and restoration projects. The village of Serraville, located about an hour's drive north of Venice, is one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen.

Serraville, Italy

The entire village is made of stone. I stayed in a centuries-old stone palazzo and was awestruck by the magnificent frescoes that adorned the exterior walls of buildings in Serraville and the surrounding villages.

Fresco making is by far the most challenging art I have ever learned. At Serraville, the grueling schedule of slaking and mixing lime and mortar every day from 8:00 AM ‘til 8:00 PM made this one of the most labor-intensive techniques I have ever used. I have studied and taught bas-relief, basketry, stained glass, anatomical sculpture and many other techniques; none come close to the amount of labor required for frescoes. Nevertheless, under Ms. Ortolan’s guidance, I began to master the art.

Alma Ortolan giving demonstration

By the time I left Italy, terms such as arriccio, entonico, entonicino and giornata were permanently added to my artistic vocabulary. When I returned home, I was determined to build a large, portable fresco. This fresco was not to be for sale, but was to be a study incorporating all that I had learned in Italy. It was also to be buon fresco not secco fresco. The Renaissance artists always worked buon fresco. After learning under the guidance of Ms. Ortolan, I was inspired to work in the true technique of the masters. I kept a detailed account of my project. Started on February 6, 2006 and completed on September 12, 2006, I titled it "Nina's Angels." It is 3½ feet wide, 6 feet high, and includes 12 “giornato,” which means I created it in 12 separate sections over 12 days.

Nina's Angels -- love, strength and wisdom

For those who are interested, a day-to-day account of the creation of this fresco may be found soon by clicking on the link entitled “fresco project. I haven't figured out how to create these types of links yet. I'm new at blogging and will soon have all the kinks ironed out. I hope. If you are interested in learning still more about making frescoes, I recommend Wet Wall Tattoos, a book by North Carolina artist Ben Long. Mr. Long creates large frescos in France as well as at his home in Asheville. Alma Ortolan is a wonderful teacher. I learned an amazing amount from her fresco class. But I learned even more by experimenting when I got home. In my opinion, this is the ONLY way to absorb new knowledge permanently – learn and then do!

Here I am applying sand and limestone

Giornata, day 12

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  1. Personal Advertisement. /My I Ching studies. /My Poetry.

    - Peter Ingestad, Sweden

  2. Hi! Your blog is very nice. The images are very beautiful. Let us pray for peace for the world. Let us make the world pollution free and save it for our children. Wish you all the best. God is Great.

  3. Incredible works. This place is full of masterpieces and people who breath art!


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