Sunday, September 19, 2010



Fres-go Box, close-up

I haven’t made a mistake in the title of this posting. Fres-go's is the actual name I have given to a technique I created several years back.

Since most of us do not live at one place long enough to watch a fresco age, or even own a fresco, I decided to create smaller frescoes that can be transported to any new surrounding. I have used the techniques of painters such as Botticelli, Giotto and Masaccio. Like the masters, I painted into the plaster and limestone while it was wet. This is a difficult process since I am forced to work a lot faster than I would otherwise. I sometimes add embellishments to each fresco and finish with a light varnish to help preserve them for the oncoming centuries, and, since they will be "to-go" I have named them..."Fres-go's."

Fres-go box, full view

My goal was to construct fresco pieces but I did not want to go to all the trouble of grinding limestone and sand. Later, I decided that I DID want to go to the trouble and I DID want to create fresco in the true Italian style.

After much searching for a fresco teacher, I found the acclaimed Alma Ortolan. She restores fresco’s in churches and facades on building fronts and lives in an adorable village in northern Italy in the Vittoria Venuto region. You feel as though you stepped into a fairytale when you enter Serravalle. I’ve never seen an entire village made of stone before and was delighted to have the opportunity to live there in Alma’s pallazzo for over 2 weeks.

In an earlier post, I show pictures of the village and Alma. You can see Serravalle and read more about it by clicking here


After I got back, I decided to create a fresco using the method I learned from Alma. I wanted my piece to entail all techniques used by the masters of old. I decided to do everything exactly like they did.

The masters of old used large walls in cathedrals as a backdrop for frescoes such as Michangelo's Sistine chapel. A fresco is actually a painting that has not been painted on a wall but rather into a wall. This painting is finished while the plaster is still wet. Therefore; the painting and the wall are one!

When a fresco is painted into a wall, it takes on all the changes that occur in that particular atmosphere and building. That is what makes them so unique and special. The cracks and crevices that occur within the fresco are a result of many years and changes beneath and around it, just as our own exterior is a living testimony of what has occurred during the course of our lives. I have said that I am actually proud of each wrinkle on my face..they are a result of what I have given and endured. I have earned them.

By using this method, I created a Buon Fresco. Buon means true and Fresco means fresh. In other words, I had to paint into the sand and limestone while it was still wet. The opposite of Buon Fresco is Secco Fresco. The term Secco, means that you paint onto the sand and limestone once it has dried.

Getting the material together took some doing. It was like a scavenger hunt! I had to order limestone that had been aged for 6 years from Italy. I gathered sand from the river, I used pigments I bought while in Italy, I made a grinding tool out of a glass beaker I had and used a glass mixing tray.

Here I am applying the limestone and sand over base

After a very labor intensive 8 months, I finally finished my Buon Fresco of 3 angels. I named it, Angels of wisdom, love and strength. It is 6’tall x 4’w. Normally frescoes are created on and in a wall but I wanted mine to be mobile, just in case I ever needed to take it with me at some point so I had to go to great lengths to build a support for it.

Finished Fresco

I now have reverted back to making fres-gos. I find the Buon Frescos are too hard to transport and not cost effective at all. It takes a tremendous time to finish them. I am so glad that I learned how to create them the proper way though. I have heard it said over and over, “You have to know the rules, before you can break them.” Break them I do for sure and in this case I broke the rules before I knew them.

Below is a simple tutorial on how I created my box using the fres-go method.

l. The first thing to do is find a simple tile.I found the one shown below at Lowe’s.

2. Next, use a trowel and paint joint compound over the surface using a sleek even stroke. Let tile partially dry for Buon or completely dry for Secco.

The picture below shows the plain tile and the one I painted with joint compound.

Unfinished tile on left and one which I applied joint compound to on the right

3. Draw a sketch and then trace the picture of the item you want to place “into” the tile or draw your image directly onto the tile without the use of tracing paper. I mostly always create women’s faces.

Tile with joint compound, tracing paper and original image drawn on paper

4. Once the image is drawn into the partially wet surface start to paint it with acrylic paints for Buon fresco. For Secco fresco, wait until the tile has dried completely.

5. You can paint as long as the tile remains wet for Buon. The Italians call this time Santo D’Oro or the hour of the Saint. The reason is that the mortar stays wet for only about one hour. You can also work on it after it dries for Secco.

6. Once the tile has completely dried, apply matt Golden Gel Medium or Modge Podge thinly over the top to seal. Or, alternatively, if you want a very slick looking tile, you can use gloss Modge podge.

Finished tile, ready to be used in artwork. Notice the imperfections in the surface

Now you are free to use your tile in any manner you wish. The sky is the limit.

Inside of finished box

For anyone interested in Alma’s class in Buon fresco, you can check it out by clicking here

To purchase or see other views of my fres-go box, click my Etsy shop here.

Last but not least and back by popular demand (LOL) Here are 4 more of my Angels of Antiquity. You can click on each number, which will take you to my Etsy shop.

Angel number 1

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  1. What a remarkable post. I am SO in awe of your talent. The face you have drawn Buon Fres-go is gorgeous. The technique looks fun and I simply MUST get some joint compound and try this. However, I assure you, I won't be drawing any faces, but maybe a moon or star, something simple I might actually be able to draw!

    I can't believe how much time and trouble you had to go through to make the original Angels. It is a process that may soon be forgotten. I know you are glad you were able to study in Italy and that experience will stay with you the rest of your life. So glad you shared this post today. I needed a lovely and lively post to kickstart an otherwise dull day. Happy Sunday, dear friend.

  2. What an AMAZING post Cheryl. You are right about Italy, I have been to North, Central & Southern Italy and a few places in between and I think it is all a fairytale land. You are so privileged to have learned the authentic techniques. Arts like these should not die out. Will you teach the techniques in America?

  3. Wow, what a read! Your patience in working on something for 8 months has certainly paid off. I am cooking dinner whilst blog hopping so had to skim read some of this, but I'll be back later for a proper digest. What a clever lady!!

  4. Wow this is amazing! Your fres-go box is very beautiful and what a lovely scale to work in. Your larger Fresco though is a wondrous accomplishment. I really love how you have studied the methods and have recreated a new piece with old world charm and patience. I spent years doing stained glass and I know what a labor of love larger projects can be. Gorgeous art here Cheryl and I have learned so much from your post!

  5. Cheryl, I adore your spirit!!! You've got the patience of Jobe and the curiosity of a terrier!!! Your work is an inspiration. What an awesome post; and your tutorial is fabulous. Thank you soooo much for sharing your knowledge and expertise. Hugs, Terri xoxoxo

  6. Cheryl, You never cease to amaze me with your talent and your generosity to share information on how to with all of us who can only dream of attempting such things. Although, maybe before my head turns completely white and my hands no longer can hold a paint brush, maybe, just maybe I’ll try to do a Fres-go!
    thank you, Diane

  7. Gosh, if only I had half your patience. I feel I am missing out on so much.

  8. I think the comments already posted summarized my feeling about this post. I am in awe, amazed, delighted, and humbled. TO have studied in Italy under a master in her own right is a once in a lifetime opportunity and achievement. Thank you for sharing. I learned so much about frescos and now I am really curious about the methodolgy. Darn, one more thing I have to do before I die lol!

  9. WOW...your knowledge is amazing! The tile is gorgeous as is the three Angels piece....such an interesting technique and procedure. :)

  10. What a beautiful fresgo and such an original idea and name. Thank your sharing the process and showing your amazing Angels of Antiquity!

  11. Good lord! I love that you tackled the process as originally done. It is a treasure! Truly inspiring. Gorgeous angels.
    I also like the smaller creation and the tutorial. I think I could do this one!
    thank you!!

  12. Hi Cheryl!
    Wow! How amazingly generous to take all the time and expertice to write this post! I learned quite a lot! I love, Love, LOVE your Angels of wisdom, strength and love.
    Your new Fres-go (fab name) Jewel box...I have to put this project on my bucket list.
    I do love a messy project :)
    and LOVE

  13. What a great technique and your box is beautiful. How lucky you were to learn in Italy straight from the source of this amazing style of art.

  14. I love this! Thanks so much for sharing...You are such an amazing artist!!!!

  15. Oh my! What an amazing post...I love your idea of Fres-go !!! Your trip must have been incredible! The angels are beautiful....

  16. At the risk of sounding utterly unoriginal ... WOW! What an AMAZING post, Cheryl!!! I have always been awed and mesmerized by frescoes. Now I know why ... so much of the artist's heart and soul goes into them ...

    Cheryl, you are one truly talented lady ... you inspire me! :))

  17. Cheryl...what a beautiful wall piece you've created and such a great tutorial. Your little angels are lovely...
    hug, hug...

  18. Oh my CHeryl;
    Great post! Your fres-go's and fresco are beautiful! This must take so much patience on your part to create such a beautiful piece. The angels are exquisite! Thanks for sharing. That little village looks beautiful too!

  19. CHERYL....


    CIAO BELLA!!!!


  20. My english is not so good that I can read all your posting, but your art work I can see is amazing as ever and I adore your fantasic ideas.
    Hugs Anja

  21. Cheryl you always knock my socks off with your posting.I love love love everything, fabulous.
    Your new art work is just wonderful and you capture such expression in your creative eyes.
    Thanks for sharing,I always learn something visiting you. Thank you, Hugs Laura. xoxx

  22. Love your technique for your own fres-gos, thanks for sharing that. I love portraits over a nice texture, anything with texture just turns me on :) In a good way LOL
    Thanks for sharing your trip to Italy to learn the true fresco art, the town reminds me of a village we stayed in while in Tuscany, I must send you a photo of that place I think you would love it.

    Your box is beautiful too, love the colors and the fabric on the interior , your woman are always so beautiful too, you are so multi talented gorgeous girl :)

  23. Your wok is magnificent! I also love the photo of you working in your studio!

  24. Thank you Cheryl for this tuto. Your angels are again so beautiful; I would buy them all.
    I passed to you a blog award, l but don(t feel obliged to accept it!!

  25. I love that box!! that looked like it was so fun to make!!

  26. Cheryl, What an undertaking, to have the limestone shipped in from Italy, use the pigments and to study in the traditional form. What an accomplishment. While I have done Sesso frescos for many of my murals. I had never tried Buon Fresco. It sounds very difficult. You have mastered it well! What a work of art you created with Angels of Wisdom, Love and Strength that will be around long after we are all gone. You are a true artist my friend!
    I agree working in the much smaller scale would be the way to go in the future!

  27. Thank you so much for sharing this technique - I have to try it, LOL. Thanks also for sharing about your travels. It's such a treat for those of us who are homebodies. What a lot of work true fresco sounds like - you must feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment!

  28. You are such a fabulous creatrix..I love seeing all the magic you create! I love that photo of you..Serravalle...wonderful!!
    thanks for another inspiring post..I dont know how I missed this one...gorgeous!

  29. I so love your blog...wonderful indeed!!


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