Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My Fresco Experience

Piazza in Serravalle
I spent last week at a wonderful Fresco Workshop in Serravalle, the historic center of Vittorio Veneto. The workshop, held in the lovely 15th century Palazzo Galletti, was taught by the amazing Alma Ortolan.  Alma Ortolan is an extremely knowledgeable and talented instructor (please check out her site and read all about her current projects and studio).  During the week of the workshop Alma was on a break from her restoration project for the Vatican. She has spent the last several months cleaning and uncovering early Christian frescoes in the depths of the catacombs. 

cat nap on the garden wall
Located on the ground floor of Palazzo Galletti, Studio Ortolan is where I spent most of my "working" hours.  During the down time, I roamed the tiered garden outside of the Palazzo.  On the first day of the workshop I learned about the different layers of mortar, how, when, why, and what they are applied to...part history, part chemistry, part art, very tactile....very exciting.   Day two was spent on a technique called sgraffito, where a thin layer of putty lime mixed with marble dust is applied over a dark ground.  The top layer is then partially removed, creating a two toned design.  The thought process was a bit like creating a relief print, and the actual removal of the lime and marble dust was kind of like using scratch board. 

Sgraffito Bird, Flowers and Leaves
Day three I tried my hand at actual fresco painting.  The brush strokes and manner in which the paint is absorbed into the mortar is very different than the painting style I have grown accustom to...mostly watercolor.  Fresco is made with small regular brush strokes, there is no room for mistakes, once the pigment is painted on, that's where is will stay.  Fresco painting is very time sensitive, the paint must be applied while the mortar is wet, so it is very important to have a clear plan of what you are doing before you begin!

Fresco Birds
Day four we experimented with a different fresco technique, where after the mortar is smoothed, it is given a rough texture.  With the rough fresco, I was able to use brush strokes my hand is more accustom to, more in my comfort zone.
Fresco Blackberries
During the fourth day we also tried painting on a wall outside. Fresco is very temperamental, preferring temperatures that are not too hot, and days that are not too windy.  The mortar must stay wet while you are applying pigment, and then should, ideally, dry slowly.   Unfortunately, it was a hot and windy day.  Day four's efforts proved to be a practice run, and ultimately we reapplied mortar over our work on the morning of the fifth day.   The morning was nice and cool and a thunder storm rolled in, which made for perfect fresco weather.  But, after the rain storm passed, the wind and the sun returned.  There was not time to paint around the whole window before the temperatures got to hot and the wind too strong.  Alma did the detailed brush work around the vines and the flowers...I watched in awe.

How could I have gotten this far and not have written about the FOOD?!?  During the workshop Alma's mother Eleonora cooked both lunch and dinner daily.  Fresh, delicious food, with lots of vegetables...makes me hungry writing about it.... I was in food heaven!   And as a special treat, on the final evening, Alma made traditional Moroccan food!  Oh, the gustatory delights! 

Moroccan Tagine
The last morning of the workshop Alma took me and my family to a cave where sandstone has been quarried for centuries.  The sand and the gravel on the floor of the cave make good mortar!  The cave and the stream passing through were stunningly beautiful. 

from the inside looking out
waterfall flowing over sandstone
I feel so fortunate and grateful for my fresco experience. It changed the way I look at the world around me.  Instead of crumbling buildings I see once carefully laid layers of mortar exposed by time.  Instead of pitted frescoes I see the careful labors of a restoration project, unveiling ancient work.   Instead of only seeing a fresco as I whole, I look for the "giornata," where the painters ended and began a days work.  I see the fine brush stokes and think about the way the artist held their brush and the they moved their arms and wrists.  I dream of ways I can practice my new skill, and plot when and how I can go back to Palazzo Galletti and take another class with Alma...perhaps renaissance drawing...or may be landscape painting....

No comments:

Post a Comment