A special case
The paint with no binder
Fresco is an Italian word that originally meant simply 'fresh' and the word was used for the painting of pigments onto fresh plaster, and the word stuck as a name for the technique. Fresco is unusual in the way the pigment is bound to the surface it is applied to. The wet plaster itself is the binder and it is applied to the wall or ceiling without the color mixed into it. Instead the pigment is applied to the wet plaster in situ and then a chemical reaction occurs as the plaster cures that permanently incorporates the pigment as an integral component of the dried plaster. In effect the plaster is the paint, and the dispersal happens at the surface only. This makes one of the most durable painting methods known.

This web site is not concerned with painting techniques so this discussion is limited to the preparation of the pigments before application. Technically this is a predispersal stage and would be called that in any other painting media.

Fresco has one unique pigment which is the traditional white called Bianco Sangiovani. It is the slaked lime which is used in making the plaster but it is further processed by the artist to become the pigment. This is the method.

Make thin cakes of slaked lime which has been aged for at least a year, and let them dry completely. This allows a certain reaction with the air that changes the material slightly. Pulverize the cakes and grind them on the slab with distilled water with the muller. make a smooth paste and make this into cakes which must be dried completely as before. Keep repeating the process until the cakes will no longer form solid lumps. This is now ready to grind into a smooth paste to be used as the white color.

Aged slaked lime can be made by the artist with a great deal of foresight, but for the real world it is possible to buy slaked lime that has been aged between 5 and 10 years or more. Kremer pigments is a good starting place for finding supplies.

Grinding on the slab Ready for painting use
Use any pigment that can withstand a strongly alkaline environment (a suggested list below) and grind to the consistency of fresh cream with distilled water. This creamy paste is then diluted with distilled water to the desired working consistency at the start of the day's working period.

Suitable pigments. There are many more than listed here, especially in regard to reds and yellows, but Fresco works best with a limited palette. Do not use Ultramarine as some authorities suggest as it is unreliable and was never used by the old masters for this reason (except in Secco). This palette is safe and permanent but replaces some of the less reliable historic colors with superior modern equivalents. Any of several bright organic reds and yellows could be added to this list if that is required.
  • Bianco Sangiovanni
  • Mars Black
  • Raw Umber, Burnt Umber
  • Mars Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Venetian Red, Mars Red, Indian Red
  • Mars Violet, Cobalt Violet
  • Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue
  • Viridian, Chromium Oxide green, Cobalt Green

Jars with plastic lids Storing  fresco colors
The predispersed color will keep well during the progress of the mural if stored in well sealed jars. The required amount for the day's work is normally poured into another pot and either used as is, or has distilled water added as the thinner. It is better to predisperse pigment more often than to make too much at once

Related Links:

Studio notes

Basic Ingredients

Detailed Ingredients

Testing paint

Starting to make paint

Making Oil Paints

Making Acrylic Paints

Making Watercolors and Gouaches

Making Egg Tempera

Making Hide Glue Chalk Gesso

Making Encaustic Paint

Making Fresco Colors

Making Pastels

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