What is fresco painting?

The Lime Cycle and the Fresco Medium (the process)."

The Lime Cycle and the painting time chart

The key to understanding the medium of fresco is the Lime Cycle:
This illustrated guide will outline the main concept of the fresco medium, its process, historical perspective, techniques.

Slaked Lime is mixed with the inert aggregate such as, any and all – sand, crashed marble, pozzolan (tuff – volcanic ash), etc. General mixing proportion is one (lime) to two (aggregate), exact proportions may vary per style. The work must be completed during the formation of the Calcium Carbonate.

1 – The Medium of Fresco – Carbon Based Art for Carbon Based Life

Fresco Painting refers to a method of painting or coloring of the object using lime resistant natural pigments (mostly ferric oxides) where the pigment is bound to the calcium lime surface through the chemical reaction known as carbonatation*:

Ca(OH)2 + CO 2 → CaCO3 + H2O

The resulting mineral, Calcium Carbonate (calcite, limestone, marble) becomes a binder making the Medium of Fresco to be the most permanent painting/coloring medium there is!

Painting in fresco is like Painting with “Molten Marble”!

*The process of forming a carbonate is sometimes referred to as “carbonation”, although this term usually refers to the process of dissolving carbon dioxide in water. Carbonation also describes the incorporation of carbon dioxide into chemical compounds. Our carbon-based life originates from a carbonation reaction that is most often catalyzed by the enzyme RuBisCO. So important is this carbonation process that a significant fraction of leaf mass consists of this carbonating enzyme.

Building materials is a small portion of a long list of uses for the Calcium Carbonate including industrial, biochemistry, medicine, agriculture as well as a variety of health, dietary and environmental applications. Calcium Carbonate is also a main part in coral, most seashells, eggshells and our bones.

Calcium Carbonate and Natural Pigments make the Medium of Fresco the most environmentally safe medium.

The Medium of Fresco is a Symbol of “Green Technologies” in Art.

2 – Brief History of Fresco

The history of fresco painting has begun thousands of years ago in the lime stone caves across the world. People that lived there painted their stories on its walls using naturally pigmented “dirt.” The process of the formation of the calcite on moist limestone walls of the caves has permanently bound pigment particles to the walls encapsulating them into the newly formed crystals of calcium carbonate (CaO3) creating “accidental frescoes”.

Chauvet Cave - Bull, accidental fresco, France

Chauvet Cave, accidental fresco, France

The discovery of this method of painting as the actual painting process has happened independently in every civilization at the same time as the discovery of making lime mortar. As people learned to build using lime mortars they noticed that if the building is painted while the mortar in plastered (stuccoed) walls is still wet the color will not peel or be washed off by the rain. The rest is history!

Collage of frescoes worldwide. Knossos Palace in Crete, Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, Temple of the Murals at Bonampak in Mexico, Byzantine Frescoes in Russia, China, Roman Pompeii, Italy, India.

Collage of Frescoes Worldwide

3 – The Form and The Style

The Wall painting is the most studied and referred to form of use of the medium of fresco. However it is not the only form that the medium of fresco can be and has been used. Among classic examples of wall paintings of Mediterranean (Europe), Pre-Columbian Americas, Modern Latin America (Mexico), Russia, China and Africa there are contemporary works in fresco that break the stereotype of fresco being only a wall painting.

Fresco Stacks, Mayan Red and Mayan Blue by iLia Fresco (Anossov)

Fresco Stacks – Mayan Series 2013, buon fresco, marble. iLia Anossov (fresco)

The style is simply a manner of doing or presenting things, a culture defined hierarchy of the form. As all mediums (fresco, oil, acrylic, etc.), fresco is form and style independent, which opens up the whole new world for the artist, cultural and historic dependencies no longer restrict the expression, providing contemporary art world with a fresh start on the millenniums old, most permanent and environmentally safe material.

Fresco Painting Lecture at the Fresco SchoolThe Fresco School
Established in 1996 in Los Angeles by fresco artist iLia Anossov (fresco), formerly known as “Nationwide Fresco Painting Workshop Program”. Hundreds of students have attended our workshops enrolling from US, Canada, Europe. Fresco School is the only Art School that offers ongoing fresco curriculum throughout the calendar year. Our buon fresco programs have traveled to many US cities.

Join this mailing list for the Open Studio Events, Artists at Work Fresco Painting Demos, Events and Art Fares and “No Prerequisite (BFF DVD Tutorials) Fresco Workshops” that we conduct time to time as well as free tips and guidance in your exploration of the Medium of Fresco.