Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fall Frescos

Plaster of Paris scares me a bit. It's one of those materials I hear that people use, but I've never used myself. Well, I've decided that if I'm serious about this "art teacher thing" I'd better start moving outside my comfort zone and trying some media I've been shying away from. So, I bought a big 'ol bucket of Plaster of Paris at the craft store and created a project!
A Scarecrow with a Sunset Sky!

Frescos are paintings done on wet plaster. I showed my students a couple examples of Giotto's work from the late 1200's. He was considered quite good at using color to model his figures and create the illusion of form. When we look at his work today, we may think what he was doing is pretty obvious, but it was innovative at the time when paintings lacked perspective and figures were more "flat."

I also showed them an example of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, also an example of a fresco. Although this piece is considered one of da Vinci's masterpieces, it was also a major mess-up of his as well. He was experimenting with paint and plaster techniques and before the piece was completed it was falling apart. The piece has been restored many times throughout the years, but it is a wonderful way to show the students that sometimes when they are trying something new, they may make a mistake. It's OK. We discussed ways that they could work their mistake into their piece. I was able to share with them my mistake that I made the week before when trying this project out at home: I had mixed some egg yolks with some dried paint pigments someone had given me and tried to paint on plaster--I had been trying to simulate egg tempura, but it was pretty disappointing. I tried to salvage the technique to no avail, and ended up switching to watercolor on plaster instead. SIGH.  Sometimes that happens.

Well, on to the fresco project! Worth the try and embraced by my students! ENJOY!

Supplies Needed:

  • Plaster of Paris (quantity will vary depending on the size of your mold)
  • Plastic plate for mold (I used a plate that was 1/2" deep and was 5" across the bottom)
  • Paper clip for hanger
  • Stirring stick and disposable pan to mix the plaster in
  • Cold water
  • Paper plate
  • Pencil
  • Piece of paper the size of your cast to plan your drawing on (ours was a 5" circle)
  • Hole punch, optional
  • Bit of crushed charcoal and cotton balls tied in a muslin cloth, optional
  • Watercolors and brush
  • Water container
  • Paper towel

1. Following the manufacturer's directions, mix up some Plaster of Paris and pour into your mold. Insert a paper clip if you'd like the piece to be able to hang on the wall.

2. Let the mold set up for about 1/2 hour or so. While you are waiting, plan what you are going to paint on your fresco. Use the pencil to draw the picture on a piece of paper the size of your mold. Fill up the entire area of the paper with big, bold shapes. You'll want to add detail to make the piece interesting, but not so much that everything becomes a jumble--you are painting with a paintbrush so tiny details will become lost. This drawing that the fresco is planned from is called a cartoon.

3. Once the plaster has set up enough that you can pop it out of the mold, do so gently and place it onto a paper plate. You can transfer your drawing onto the paster in one of two ways. Either, 1. place the drawing onto the plaster and retrace your image with pencil pressing down so a fine impression is left in the wet plaster OR, 2. punch holes around your image using a hole punch. Then place the paper onto the plaster and tap the charcoal-filled bag over the holes in the image. Remove the paper and "connect the dots" using a pencil and the original image as a guide (option 2 is more historically accurate). Go easy on the charcoal if you go with step #2, it will make your image gray and dirty-looking if you put too much.

4. Paint your image using watercolors. You'll need to get your brush loaded with paint and water since the plaster soaks up the liquid. Also, start with the lightest colors you want to paint, say, yellow, and work your way down the line towards black. You can always go darker, but you can't lighten up watercolors on plaster.

5. Make sure you add details and a ground and sky, if applicable. I encouraged the students to paint right off the edge of their pieces (on the 1/2" side of the plaster piece). I thought it made the piece look more finished that way. Let the piece dry for a few days before hanging. Hang out of direct sunlight and away from moist areas. ENJOY!
This flower has some beautiful brushwork in the background.

A beautiful fall pumpkin!

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