José F. Grave de Peralta
The Painting of a Fresco
A wall fresco begins with an idea ... an inspiration,
that an artist often jots down. It could all start with
Of course there should also be a blank wall surface. Then comes a small, loosely drawn but serious, black
and white sketch on paper, generally proportioned like
the wall area itself, only smaller.
Once the idea is approved by the client, the artist produces the fresco design in color, in proportions that echo exactly (but on a smaller scale) those of the wall surface to be frescoed.
This color sketch (on the left) is the so-called color "cartoon" -- an important preliminary step prior to the actual fresco process.
In the cartoon, the artist works out or defines all details, including size and tonal value relationships, color harmonies, and even textures of the final design.
Using a traditional GRID pattern (see below) , a plumb line, and other exact instruments of measure, the artist "transfers" or reproduces the cartoon on an area of paper the exact size of the wall area to be frescoed. This is done in charcoal.
Next, the actual wall surface to be frescoed is covered with the first rough coat of plaster (this rough layer is the arriccio, pronounced ahr-ee--chee-oh in Italian).
The rough arriccio plaster surface should be fainty wet still by the time the artist begins transferring the drawing to this rough wall surface --- this transfer is done by "powdering" charcoal onto the large gridded drawing of the design on paper, which has been punctured with nail holes all along the main contour lines of the composition. After the powdering, or "spolvero," the black charcoal will leave a trail of DOTS on the slightly wet arriccio surface.
Next, Finally (see below) the artist begins to paint the FRESCO as a final "intonaco" surface on the arriccio wall with the powdered dots. The intonaco plaster layer is smoother than the arriccio.
Since the paint must be applied to this final "intonaco" surface while this smooth, refined plaster mix is still wet, the artist works in small patches whose area he or she can cover in one day's work --- these are the so-called "giornate" or "day's work" areas, a sort of building-block process that usually begins at the top of the composition and works its way down.