Welcome in the world of fresco making

Welcome in the world of fresco making. You can contact me by e-mail and/or watch how fresco’s are made in this video.

For everyone who would like to try to make a fresco him/herself: you can ask for a skypelesson (60 euro). During one (ore more if you like) hour you can ask anything. You will get answers and advice about anything you want to know about frescomaking.

Dear reader,

It is my profession to make fresco’s and teach it’s techniques. I teach philosophy as well and developed a masterclass about the connection between frescoes and philosophy (see current/masterclass) Frescoes are not made much these days, the techniques as well as the knowledge how to make them has almost extincted. Fresco is plasterwork. The plasterwork is painted while still wet. After this painting, the plasterwork dries and petrifies. We are talking about paintings of stone.

The nature of fresco’s is that they get a `transparent look’, a very thin layer of stone covers the painting during the eight weeks it takes to petrify, and will fixate the colors. No other technique can reach this soft look.

A fresco is not really what one would call `art’ in that sense that it dates from times in which the notion of `art’ did not exist yet. Nowadays it’s better to call fresco’s `public art’; paintings which are totally adapted to their contexts, the nature of the building, the environment, and/or to existing programs or schemes. To give you an impression of how one should think of fresco’s: it belongs to the building, just as the tiles in the kitchen belong to the building; on the other hand, fresco’s belong to art in giving their contexts a totally new or different turn (the best example is the Sistine Chapel, which used to be a military building).
Fresco’s can be applied wherever plasterwork can be applied. It needs to be applied to a wall, but it is of no importance whether there are e.g. any windows in this wall – that’s part of the context.

Also, it seems important to mention that fresco’s are made of environmentalfriendly materials only: sand, lime, minerals and water. They are sun and waterproof and need no maintenance at all.

Technique/maintenance/place etc

Fresco is limeplasterwork, it could replace normal plasterwork, but it can also be made over plasterwork that is already there (a bit dependend on what kind of plaster has been used).
Best would be -if would be decided to have frescowork- to leave the wall unfinished, so I could work on the brick-or change the intended plaster – if this is still possible- for the plaster that is suitable as a rendering for fresco (it needs a render anyway).

It’s plasterwork, which means it turns into stone. This can endure frost and sun and water, dust, etc -so can be made outside, but inside as well. Outside would need an extra protective layer of wax, inside does not need anything extra. Furthermore fresco needs no maintenance. What it can’t have is contact with sharp, hard things. Beds bumping to the wall for example, so it is decoration that needs to be in more public spaces -I think. On the other hand, it can be used on ceilings as well.

The plasterwork gives some dirt, but the painting doesn’t. All the used materials are natural.


Could be done in a few days. All that is needed is lime and sand and pigments, and a local plasterer to do the rendering. I can have all that in a few days, although the local plasterer might be a bigger problem, they are always very busy.
The design is another thing, sometimes I have the design in a few hours, sometimes it takes weeks. It depends on how many people have to agree with it mostly, how many talking is necessary, but I know myself, I am pretty fast with things. If someone else wants to make the design it would also be ok -perhaps there is an idea already?
The design is always adapted to either the building, or the function of the building or the scheme of art that’s already there, whatever, wishes, history or tradition, etc. It is not like the frescomaker is a modern artist trying to have his/her own ideas on the wall. It is public on a deeper level too. Comparable to photography more then to paintings. And in fact comparable to making wallpaper, but the design of a fresco is no standard thing at all but always in symbioses with the building, always unique and much more sustainable then anything else. It will be there for thousands of years if you want.
The making of the fresco. How much time it takes, depends on what is going to be painted and the size of the fresco. It’s always good to start big. This is also a good idea incase a funding is going to be asked for, we can always make it a bit smaller or a bit simpler if the funding should be a bit less then we asked for. I prefer to make things possible and adapt to what is needed to make it possible. I don’t break but I can bend.

The event
Fresco is an event, it’s a rarity. Fresco is in no time in the newspapers or on tv. I also teach the technique so I am used to participants, perhaps we can make use of that for fundraising. Pieces can be adopted, people can paint with me for an hour or so, etc. Just ideas.

The building
When I teach the frescotechnique I always keep a lecture first to the students. This lecture is about the history of the frescotechnique. It’s about how it was used -in symbiosis with the building. It means: building, plaster and painting (fresco) lift the entire combination into something `more (see sistine chapel which is originally no more then a cube, a military building). If we are talking about fresco’s, we are not talking about just a painting, it’s not just decoration either.
The lecture is also about the mentality people had in frescotimes, and within which the fresoctechnique could florish. If people ask me why it is that the frescotechnique has become a rarity these days, I answer them it is not because of lack of buildings, it has something to do with modern mentality/modern thinking about it.

Let me explain what I mean.

Fresco comes from a time in which there was no separation in skills/crafts and art. In a certain sense the frescotechnique has been the father of the notion of the `individual artist’. How did that go?
All started with the invention of the stained glass window and of oil paint. Both had a richer, more shiny and warm look then the dull, cold look of fresco’s. Frescomakers had to find out how to compete with glasswindowmakers and oilpainters. The idea was to refine the frescowork, what was painted had to be extremely refined, faces and perspective should look as real as possible, and all was enriched with gold, silver, precious stones etc. (see pic 380)
To have paintings refined like that, frescomakers had to make a plan in advance -they wanted it to be precise and they didn’t want to mess around with expensive materials. This plan is called: the carton.

Carton’s were made in a small size first (before the renaissance no cartons or refined plans were made) and enlarged to use it on the real wall. (see pic 375).
Because cartons were small of size, they were made at the frescomakers place (at home). Because they were made at home, the maker developed his own style (nobody to compare with while making the design and the carton).
Because the makers got an own style, they got their own names connected to it too. Because they got names, they could be remembered, and this is the start of `the artist’ as we know it today. In these days frescomakers nevetheless still made public pictures, only having their own `handwriting’ shown. It’s much later that painters made pictures that sprang from their own inner world.

About the 1780′s people invented -perhaps in response to the phenomenon of `the artist’ – individuality. People got their own taste.
The feature of fresco is exactly that it is in symbiosis with the building, it has never been different, from the first fresco’s about 6000 years ago onward untill about 1780. So, `own taste’ is contrary to this public feature that is typical for fresco’s. You know it is public, that is why you want the frescotechnique in a public place like a church, and the church calls for the frescotechnique, even more so if it’s an old church.

`Own taste’ is a typical feature for artists. It’s a romantic idea of what `art’ (which again, is a notion from áfter the frescotechnique) is: connected to a person instead of to a building.
`Art and artist’/ our modern look on anything that looks like a painting has therefore been the source of the extinction of the frescotechnique. `Art and artist’ also is only about the paint-part of the frescotechnique, the plasterpart is not involved. In my view our modern look on the frescotechnique reduces it to `just another paintingtechnique’, no wonder why it is almost gone.

I tell you this, because (..) I care about the technique, I care about all aspects of it, the way of thinking too. I wished to tell you about this `frescothinking’, that it really existed and still exists in some persons.
The question is what you want, do you want to have `art’ based on a modern look in the building, (…) or would you rather honour it, the frescotechnique and it’s context, (..)do you want to be it’s context? (…) and develop together with the frescomaker what the building wants in symbiosis with the frescotechnique, which is going to be part of it.
(..) it is important to me that you know about the history of the technique and perhaps you decide to adapt to it.

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