Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Visit from the lime plaster expert

I had a visit from Bob Bennett on Monday. He is Britain's recognised expert on lime plaster and an MBE. He was responsible, among other things, for the restoration of the plaster in Windsor castle after the devastating fire and was a hands-on plasterer there. He is an interesting and unusual man. He runs the lime centre near Winchester where I get my plaster.

Tips from the expert

Bob seemed impressed with my frescoes. He gave me a few tips. One of them was this. I'd plastered my new porcelain tiles on the reverse side ready for fresco work and asked him if the tiles were OK. He took an unplastered one and licked his finger and dabbed it on the reverse side. "No this is not absorbent enough" he said "See the wet dab is still sitting there. It should be sucked away by the absorbent surface. So you must coat it with Unibond (PVA wood glue) first, and that will be OK." So I scraped the plaster off and will start again! Another tip was to colour the plaster before I lay it on. Say a light grey for the top and green for the bottom if you are planning to paint a landscape.

Bob particularly liked the nude, which is on my Fresco visiting card. The card shows the fresco below which was painted on a roof tile and taken from a sketch I made from life in California. In 2005 I painted a large fresco on board - one of my first frescoes and had problems with the fresco peeling off the board. Since then I have found the way to prepare a board for fresco using tar paper and expanded metal lath.

Bob and I talked about producing a plastering book on similar lines to Illustrated Fluteplaying which I co-authored with Robin Soldan. I hope we can do this.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Start of a New Series of Frescoes June 2009

Here are a few of my new series of frescoes. Over the next few weeks I will be showing some of them on this blog, and talking about my problems and successes. I now have a new set of brighter colours. Here is Camelia 09 This is the first I painted with the new clearer colours.
Here is a testplate which I made to show both the opaque and the transparent qualities of the range of colours, and how they appeared both over and under a colour, and whether they would fade over time. I am told a fresco will last 10,000 years, so I hope I won`t notice any fading in my lifetime.
Up till now, I`ve felt hampered by my lack of vibrant colouirs suitable for flower painting, and it was a lovely feeling painting a pink flower from my bountiful bush in full flower. Next post I will put more about my method.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Questions I need answers to

  1. How do I test colours for lime tolerance? If a colour is lime tolerant, how long will this be safe for? 1000 years? 5 years?

  2. Are frescoes OK out of doors in GB? Is it advised to protect an outside fresco with something like an overhanging porch?

  3. If a colour e.g. viridian green is known as lime-OK, can I then buy that pigment, cheap and cheerful, at a local shop, or will it only be OK if it is ordered from specialists?

  4. I've read that ultramarine blue is not too reliable in lime, especially out of doors, but have heard a specially processed product is OK. Can anyone help?

  5. I am still unsure if I paint frescoes as transparent (watercolour) or opaque(oils) or a mixture of both? Any advice would be welcomed
  6. Is grinding the colour necessary nowadays?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Bunch of grapes May 08 Fresco

When I was painting this , I had no violet safe in lime, and in my frustration I used some "bright red," a violet pigment, and magenta gouache. I am waiting for a very slow pigment order to come through! The painting is freehand. I used Chinese brushes The photo was taken just as I was starting to paint. The leaves are mint as I have no vines.
Painted May 7 08

Birthday flowers for Lucy , fresco. photo later

Painting this was frustrating as I soon saw that the spring flowers needed clear yellows, blues ,pinks, and I had only earth colours that I could rely on being lime tolerant. How do I test for lime tolerance? If it is OK, How long will this be safe: for 1000 years? 5 years? Who knows? Are frescoes OK out of doors in GB? Is it advised to protect an outside wall with something like an overhanging porch?

Celtic Swirls on a blue ground & how I got started with frescoes

These panels were painted with my pigments bought some time ago for my mural paintings. The designs are inspired by decorative woodcarving. These are painted on roof-tiles. Andrew Gathercole`s workshop really helped me get started up in several ways, where to buy the materials, where to find frescoes both ancient and modern. Since then, I have visited several churches with interesting frescoes, then I bought lime locally,and studied lists of lime tolerant colours, sorting out any possible supplies I had in stock. Ordering from suppliers has been a problem as no-one on the phone can answer any queries, they only process orders. One of my queries is .. if a colour e.g. viridian green is known as lime- OK, can I then buy that pigment, cheap and cheerful, at a local shop, or will it only be OK if it is ordered just from the specialists who OK`d this colour?

How I got started with frescoes

We were in California with our son Paul and wife Catherine ,and just spent two days plastering a barn with mud and lime plaster (as you do). We were packing to leave in twenty minutes and I said to the barn owner "This is lime fresco material, Wow ,if I had some powder pigments I could paint a fresco." "I have!" he said and he ran back into his house and came out with a box of pigments. I mixed them in bowls.

He found me an old board and a trowel, I slapped on lime plaster and tried to paint on the wet surface with a hog bristle painting brush. Hopeless! It was like painting on custard. I had minutes to go. With force I sprayed the paint on the wet surface well with colour. I looked closer and the force of my painting stroke had created little cups in the soft plaster, each lined with strong colour. Yessss!.

I washed brush and charged it with the next colour. By now I was painting "Wind in the grasses" I called it. I picked up a slender stick and added linear strokes. The others were packing the car. "Time to go" they called. I sat my first fresco flat in the back and we were off.

Knight and his dog, Oak leaves and acorns.

After painting frescoes in California, back in England I felt out of my depth about what materials to buy and where to buy them, but I found a one-day fresco workshop March 8 08on the net with Andrew Gathercole where I painted this Knight and dog. I took the design from my sketchbook when I visited a church a year ago on the Isle of Wight . Workshop on March 8 08. Click on his name for details. The fresco is on terracotta roof tile which he had plastered with basecoat, and I plastered with topcoat and we ground the pigments and painted . Size approx 10 x 6 inches, 15 x 25 cm I thought I could plaster it on a wall of our house, so inscribed it Nick and Jeanie.

This was painted at the same time, painted out of my head, so not a botanical picture. I am wondering if the ultramarine blue is turning black or did I paint blue over dark red-brown, see top edge. I`ve read that ultra blue is not too reliable in lime, especially out of doors, but have heard a specially processed product is ok. I am still unsure if I paint frescoes as transparent (water-colour) or opaque(oils) or a mixture of both. Any advice would be welcomed.

Andrew told me about Aidan Hart and I looked at his interesting website . He has given me some very helpful advice on colours.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


These were painted as presents when we visited them in April. I worked from photos as they live far away. They are lime frescoes on roof-tiles. Above are Aline and Jasmine, below are Yaanis and Mira, with Justin.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Features fresco (abstract)May 2005 Photo later

This was painted in California, on a smooth stone like slate. It has lived outside in all weathers, rain sun frost and snow and stays just as I painted it.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Nude, back view,fresco May 2005 Photo later

Painted in California, from life, originally in water-colours. The board gave me problems after it was finished as I had mistakenly plastered straight on to it and the fresco separated from the board, but I poured Elmers glue(USA)between the plaster layer and the board, and it worked. The colours were a gift from a friend who knew her pigments and her excellent supplier. I have since learned the importance of the construction of the frame, the backing, extended metal lath, tar paper lining etc, and my next fresco was on a stable backing. Photo later.