Friday, December 18, 2009

28_Index and Weblinks

Index and Weblinks




General fresco:



Maya Blue Pigment:

YouTube: The Maya Technology: super-resistant paints (The Maya Blue)


On Thanksgiving I made the inventory below and left Tucson. The following supplies are waiting for whomever starts up the next cycle of fresco painting, after March 2010, when the slaked lime putty has matured.

9 buckets of fresco lime putty -- 3 buckets made from hydrated lime, 6 buckets made from quicklime:

1st Cabinet

Small tub of trowels:

Putty knives, plastic scoop, floater, large and small trowels, rounded trowel:

Large tub with 2 airtight blue Masterson Palette Seals:

Brushes, various watercolor palettes, glass plate and palette knives for mixing paint:

Large green box:

Glass muller in "golf bag" case, and pigment scoop.

Little green plastic box of flip top bottles, on the left, contain the following pigments:

Maycrom® pigments:
  • Blue 1000 (2 bottles)
  • Blue 2000F
  • Violet 1000
  • Violet 2001
  • Violet 2000F
  • Green 1001
  • Yellow 1000
  • Red 1000
Sinopia pigments:
  • 4026 Satin Ochre Monte Amiata
  • 4040 Raw Sienna Yellow
  • CP 400 Genuine Indian Red/ Natural Hematite
  • 4870 Caput Mortuum
  • 4061 Raw Umber Cyprus
  • 4842 Iron Oxide Black Bluish
  • 4844 Iron Oxide Black Brownish
  • 11674 Obsidian (white from Mexico)
Homemade green pigment from found rock in Arizona

Little pink box of dry pigments in spice jars, on the right, contain the following pigments:

Maycrom® pigments:
  • Blue 2050
  • Violet 2000F
  • Violet 2001
  • Red 1000
Sinopia pigments:
  • PCP 400 Genuine Indian Red/ Natural Hematite
  • PCHR 1201 Iron Oxide Mars Red/ Bloodstone Red
  • PCPTNR Caput Mortuum Reddish Violet
  • 4028 Amberg Yellow (dark yellow)
  • 40390 Raw Sienna Brownish from England
  • 4020 French Ochre Avana Greenish
  • 4025 Satin Ochre Greenish Brown
  • 40404 Raw Sienna from Badia, Dolomites, Italy
  • 40410 Raw Sienna Brownish from Italy

Large blue box:

Pounce wheel and pigment scoops.

Large jars of Maycrom® pigments, top left:
  • Red 1000 (2)
  • Red 2051
Sinopia starter set, lower left:
  • DC0064/50 Titan Buff, Titanium Dioxide/ Natural Off-white
  • PCP7/50 Sinopia, Reddish Brown Natural Earth
  • PC206RS/50 Raw Sienna Warm Shade
  • DCCR1/50 Ultramarine Blue Dark
  • PC512BU/50 Burnt Umber Brownish Warm
  • PC113NO/50 Yellow Ochre Warm Golden Shade
  • PC308BS/50 Burnt Sienna Brownish Deep Shade
  • PC404RU/50 Raw Umber Greenish Dark

Small clear box, right, dry pigments in spice jars:

Maycrom® pigments:
  • Yellow Y2351
  • Yellow Y1001D
  • Green 1001
Sinopia pigments:
  • 4180 Bohemian Green Earth
  • 4082 Geniune Italian Green Earth
  • PCP400 Genuine Indian Red Natural Hematite
  • PCHR 1201 Iron Oxide Mars Red Bloodstone Red
  • 4844 Iron Oxide Black Brownish
  • 4842 Iron Oxide Black Bluish

Large red box:

Angle iron frames, PL375 industrial adhesive, Gorilla Glue, Rust-oleum primer:

30 grit sand, distilled water, and plastic cutting board:

2nd Cabinet:

Large bucket with nylon mesh, and 2 smaller airtight tubs inside:

Small tub:

Plastic sheeting, burlap (to wet and keep air around fresco humid), razors and cutters:

Large clear box in middle:

Large tubs of Maycrom® pigments:
  • Blue 1000
  • Violet 1000
  • Yellow 1000
Pigments scoops and color charts:

Large clear plastic box on bottom:

Slaking supplies:
  • 3M 8511, Sanding Painted Surfaces Respirator (N95 NIOSH approved)
  • Neoprene gloves
  • Large plastic scoop
  • 3 mil 42 gallon plastic bags
  • Rubber bands (in jar)

Lime water and surfaces:

Shelf of fresco supplies, including frescoes stored in square plastic boxes:

Sand bin and water bottle:

Buckets of fresco lime putty in storage underneath shelf:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

26_Summary so far

Fresco is something of the Holy Grail for painters, like casting in bronze is to sculptors, because it is so methodical and labor intensive. The artist cannot trot down to the local art store and come home with a bag of fresco paint in tubes, and start painting a buon fresco that evening. Just finding the basic ingredients was a major nosebleed, and then we had to prepare all our materials from scratch. We sifted the lime into water, and waited over 6 months for it to slake properly; then ground dry pigments into distilled water to make our own "paints." Also we encountered the problem of storing finished paintings, as frescoes weigh more than thin oil canvases. No wonder they rarely teach fresco technique in art schools.

Admittedly, we are not fresco experts. We have only come halfway so far, considering that our single large fresco still cracked. However, my intention was only to attempt fresco -- enough to push color, and blog about the pitfalls surrounding this ancient technique in the 21st century. For making the effort, we enjoyed the privilege of painting with the Maya blue of Bonampak, as well as with the other bright new Mayacrom® pigments, all of which looked beautiful on fresco. We found solutions at Home Depot more often than in the art store, and developed an artistic eye for industrial materials. Thus we nicely fulfilled my expectations, and became less intimidated by raw pigments and basic materials in the process. If I abandon fresco tomorrow, I should paint with more confidence in oil, which I acquired after diverging into this parallel technique.

However, when Gonzalo painted the large 3x5 foot fresco, he exceeded my initial expectations. Perhaps one of us will continue to reach for the Holy Grail next year. Hopefully this blog will serve as a step ladder, and lift the artist closer to that goal. I do not expect many people to read about our experiences here, but if this blog serves as a tool for creating a large flawless fresco masterpiece, then the writing effort will have been worthwhile as well.

This is the 3rd time I have tackled fresco. I learned from Jose Manuel Galindo, when he taught fresco painting on tiles during his class in the 1990s, at the Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco. Jose talked about "La Retoma," aiming to resurrect the Mexican fresco school in contemporary times. After I moved to Albuquerque, JP and I indulged in a second cycle of fresco tile painting, about 2000. Then earlier this year, 2009, I found myself in the company of fearless sculptors in Tucson. When I looked around and decided that The Sculpture Resource Center lent itself to the messy fresco technique, I asked Gonzalo Espinosa to help. He not only consented, but enthusiastically looked forward to painting in fresco, convincing me to rekindle the elusive technique for the 3rd time. I could not have gotten this far, this quickly, without Gonzalo. Finding and preparing fresco materials consumed me so much that I never had energy leftover to design a fresco painting. Fresco is something of a community effort.

I figured that if I got the ball rolling, other people would help us perfect fresco with their suggestions. Sure enough, this happened. I would like to thank the following:

  • Gonzalo, for suggesting Hardibacker cement board as a support.
  • Ed, for suggesting that we use a putty knife, to mix small amounts of fresco plaster more thoroughly.
  • Mikee, for suggesting that we use a round trowel, to avoid ridges in larger fresco surfaces. Also for welding angle iron into fresco frames, and suggesting that we seal the frames with enamel primer, to keep the iron from rusting.
  • Eric, for explaining why a fresco plaster bloated with water was more likely to crack than a drier fresco plaster.
  • Paolo, for suggesting that we glue a fresco tile onto a frame, for final presentation.


So far the biggest setback has been the cracking in finished frescoes. Our water-bloated plaster was applied wetter than recommended by the books, and probably was therefore more prone to cracking when it dried. We should apply a drier final intonaco plaster in the future, which will probably demand one or more plaster undercoats to avoid cracking. However, additional plaster coats mean heavier fresco paintings, perhaps too heavy to hang in the living room. Our real challenge then, might be to make a lightweight fresco, on a support requiring the least amount of undercoats, so that the final painting will be light enough to hang on the wall.

As long as fresco remains such a delicate and finicky process, artists will be too intimidated to paint freely. Ideally then, we should mix a big batch of fresco plaster every weekend, so that whenever an artist is so inspired during the week, he can quickly plaster a tile and experiment with colors and brushing techniques. Eventually, once fresco preparation becomes second nature, fresco artists should be able to concentrate on the painted image. After all, it is the image, more than the technique, that is most important in the final analysis.


The below is a summary of the steps we followed to paint a small fresco tile:

  • Purchased hydrated lime from the tortilla factory
  • Sifted the dry lime into clean "reverse osmosis" water, sold at the Circle K
  • Waited over 6 months for that lime to slake into lime putty
  • Mixed that lime putty with 30 grit Superior Marble Sand (which I learned later was actually just 'cement and lime,' rather than marble or silica sand) from the construction store, to make fresco plaster
  • Soaked the Hardibacker tiles for over 30 minutes in distilled water, inside the plastic box
  • Pulled the tile out, and let it dry matte, so that there is no standing water on the tile
  • Troweled the fresco plaster onto the tile, using a round trowel to finish the surface, spraying the trowel with distilled water when necessary
  • Waited for the plastered tile to dry matte, so that it was firm enough to paint on
  • Previously we ground dry pigments into distilled water, to make a fluid color to paint onto the fresco
  • We painted onto the fresco tile with Chinese brushes. Gonzalo used bristle brushes
  • When finished, 3 hours later, we stored the tile in the covered plastic box for 3 days, to slow down the drying, hoping to avoid cracking

If we persist long enough with fresco, we might become as fearless as sculptors (thanks to Alison and Billy for being examples).

Monday, December 14, 2009

25_Inspiration and examples

Richard Wright won the 2009 Turner Prize for a gold leafed fresco this year.

However, I found no frescoes in Arizona. I even trekked over the border to Magdalena, Sonora, because I heard about a possible fresco there, but it was not fresco. However, I later discovered online that they are painting frescoes at Alamos, deeper into Sonora, near Hermosillo.

The mural in at the Municipal Palace in Magdalena, by Miguel Grijalva, seemed to be painted in acrylics:

I read about a fresco in the Tucson Weekly, and heard about another fresco that was created and destroyed recently in Tucson.

Inside the Wells Fargo Bank in downtown Tucson, there is a beautiful mural painted in 1955 by Jay Datus, surely influenced by the great Mexican artist Saturnino Herran, as Gonzalo pointed out. It is not fresco, but inspiring nevertheless for its scale, color, composition, and how it integrates into the architecture. Jay Datus also painted murals in oil in Arizona State Capitol in 1938. The murals he painted for the First National Bank of Arizona in downtown Phoenix, are current stored in the basement of the Arizona Museum of Natural History in Mesa.

Mural series in the Arizona State Capitol:

This pthalo blue tube of oil paint shows that Jay Datus did not paint the Arizona Capitol murals in fresco:

Also in Phoenix, I saw inspiring graffiti murals by El Mac.


There are frescoes in other parts of the Southwest.

Frederico Vigil is currently painting a large fresco in Albuquerque in the Torreon at the Hispanic National Cultural Center. Just outside of Albuquerque, Stephen Bennett is showing several frescoes in Corrales.

I visited an old WPA fresco by Taos resident Howard Cook, in downtown San Antonio, inside the main post office:

Diego Rivera painted frescoes in San Francisco, such as the one in the San Francisco Art Institute, and another at the City College of San Francisco, originally painted for the Golden Gate International Exhibit in 1940. The frescoes in Coit Tower are not his.


The renown lithographer Ernest DeSoto talked about the famous Mexican Muralists, Los Tres Grandes, when I interviewed him at The Drawing Studio in Tucson in the fall of 2009. He assisted Siqueiros with his mural at San Miguel de Allende, and knew Orozco in Guadalajara, and met Diego Rivera:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

24_Fresco secco and unrelated techniques

One can also paint on the fresco after it has dried -- with a technique known as "fresco secco," or "a secco." This is different from the "buon fresco" which we have been pursuing; that is, different from painting into wet fresco plaster.

Unlike in "buon fresco," with the "fresco secco" technique, the artist first needs to mix the pigment into a binder, like egg yolk, to paint onto the dried fresco. Artists in the Middle ages apparently painted their frescoes with a blue egg tempera, "a secco," because their blue pigments did not work well in wet plaster.

We have not yet used egg tempera to paint onto, or retouch, dried frescoes:


The remainder of this blog deviates from fresco into other quirky techniques, which I developed after challenging conventional painting practices. I followed the same approach which we took to fresco painting, by first breaking the medium down to its basic materials. Then I was able to reconstruct the technique on my own terms, and put together a painting kit. I expect that the labor-intensive fresco exercise should lead to more of these kinds of painting solutions -- such that, even if I do not paint another fresco after writing this blog, the effort has been worthwhile. Likewise I suspect that other artists would benefit from attempting a fresco, even if they abandon the technique in favor of oils, or for other mediums below.


While I have not yet painted in "fresco secco," I have painted in egg tempera. I first dip the brush into the jar of egg yolk, then I jab that wet brush into a jar of dry pigment. The brush picks up enough pigment to make paint, when swirled onto a plastic palette. I learned this technique from a Sinopia paint demonstration in the 1990s.

One advantage of egg tempera is that the artist can wipe away mistakes anytime he is painting, but weeks later the paint dries very hard:

The egg tempera painting kit. I should probably use the Golden Absorbant Ground acyclic gesso, or make traditional gesso from rabbit skin glue and chalk, to apply to the boards:

All the dry pigments and necessary accessories fit nicely into a zipper notebook to make a portable egg tempera kit. I bought the notebook and plastic boxes at Office Depot:

Portable egg tempera kit zipped up, so that it is easy to carry around:

This portable silverpoint kit fits into the Guatemalan binder shown below. The mechanical pencil holds a piece of gold wire which I bought from Rio Grande Jewelry. The blue leadholder clamps onto a piece of silver wire which is easier to find, for instance at regular jewelry supply stores in Albuquerque. First I cover a piece of watercolor paper with white gouache, to add enough tooth to the surface to file off the hard metalpoints. I have not yet tried the Golden Silverpoint/Drawing Ground shown in the picture. Nor have I coated any paper with ground chicken bones mixed in saliva to create silverpoint surfaces, as they did in the Renaissance. However, I have drawn silverpoint on boards I merely gessoed, and then enjoyed painting egg tempera over those drawings:

I painted with vegetable watercolors -- like wild saffron, red cabbage, and elder. I stored the powders in contact lens cases, which I pushed into an oil-based clay filling a plastic pencil box:

One can employ the same glass muller and plate used to grind fresco pigments into water, to grind the pigments into other mediums to make paints. Pigment into linseed oil (left in photo) makes oil paint. Pigment into acrylic medium (center) makes acrylic paint. Pigment into gum arabic (right) makes watercolor:

Pigment into melted beeswax makes encaustic paint (do not use cadmiums, cobalt, or lead in encaustic because it is not good to breath in heavy metal vapors). To make crayons, add a bit of melted candlewax to harden the blend, pour the mixture into a drinking straw, and throw the straw in cold water:

This mug warmer did not help much for making crayons, but most any small electric heater will do the job:

I have made soft pastels merely by mixing pigments with doughy French Chalk from Champagne. Those who prefer their pastels a bit harder might mix in dilute gum tragacanth or methylcellulose solutions to the dough:

Wet pastel dough under halogen light, made of Mayacrom® Violet and French chalk. Roll between fingers into logs and let dry:

The same pastel dough under fluorescent light, made of Mayacrom® Violet and French chalk:

I usually fix my pastel drawings with a mix of Everclear and skim milk, mixed about half and half, which I apply with a plastic pump spray bottle. The alcohol breaks down the surface tension of the milk, so that the fixative sprays more as a midst. The milk alone, without the alcohol, tends to form droplets and polka-dot the artwork. I now use drinking alcohol, because I once poisoned myself after fixing a lot of pastel drawings with a rubbing alcohol mixture. Fat free milk is better, but usually I can only find 2% skim milk at the store. I read about this fixative in Robert Massey's book, "Formulas for Painters."

This fixative is best used on thicker paper, such at the amate Mexican bark paper, pictured below:

I also like drawing with mushroom ink, because it has far more dimension than the harsh commercial inks. Its organic brown subtlety wobbles over a broader area of the spectrum, and thus is more inviting to the viewers. I just push the tops of the Shaggy Mane mushroom into an empty coke bottle, and the mass decomposes into a fluid ink by the next day. I then strain the ink and fill up my fountain pen.

The mushroom ink also fights a bit against the artist to add extra character to a drawing; it pools where the artist lifted the pen, while larger areas dry grainy, rather than smooth:

One of my charcoal drawings on canvas, sprayed with the milk/alcohol fixative, and then painted over with mushroom ink and homemade red earth watercolor (from the Colorado River in Moab):

Doors serve as good makeshift easels. In Juarez I commissioned someone to modify a lightweight door from Home Depot, so that it folded in half and fit in my car. Whenever I find a studio-squat now, I just unfold the door and attach plastic hooks over the top edge, to hang a canvas.

I sewed the edges of the canvas together previously, in order to slip dowels into the top and bottom for support, and forgo stretcher bars. The canvas hangs like an Asian scroll painting, and easily rolls to fit into a mailing tube. I leave enough margins around the image so that I can stretch the canvas later on, if I choose to:

I also commissioned a smaller easel in Juarez, based on a simple design I saw in Tokyo. Basically the easel is a tall triangle, no different from some display easels, except that it folds in half. Removable pegs support a (folding) drawing board. The pegs fit into holes, drilled into the front of the easel at various heights. The 8 inch plastic footstool from Staples folds flat, and completes the low drawing easel set up:

The whole easel setup above folds to fit into a baseball bat backpack, which I carry around as a "portable studio:"

When I paint in oils, I let the painting scroll dry inside a hard plastic porfolio, which fits in the back of my car: