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Creating the Cartoon

Dana here to continue the saga of the Bayeux Tapestry Fresco at Casa Seeger. I decided that since I had never done an actual buon fresco (good fresco or true fresco in Italian) I should use this opportunity to create my first one for our backyard planter boxes. I started by creating a "cartoon" of the scene I am going to paint. The cartoon in fresco-speak is not the kind you watch on Saturday morning, but rather the guideline that is used to show where to add pigment on the different wall sections you are painting.

I am learning that there is a HUGE difference between buon fresco and secco fresco or other types of "non- legit" frescos. Buon fresco is the traditional painting done with pigments painted on wet lime putty- a plaster substance that absorbs the paint as it dries, thus becoming the binder of the pigment which has just been dispersed in water for the painting process. The paint is applied to the wet lime putty (called the "intonaco" in Italian) and since the putty takes about 8-12 hours to slowly dry this is also referred to as the "giornata" or "days work". The artist therefore, only has this time to complete all of the "giornata" section and whatever dries at the end of the day she will be stuck with! Talk about unforgiving! I have a new appreciation for the muralists of the Renaissance, especially Michaelangelo- dripping wet plaster in his face and painting sections of the Sistine Chapel on his back one day at a time!

Secco Fresco is a method of applying the pigment mixed with a bit of watered down lime putty to an already dried intonaco. This is one of the methods the artist Giotto (pictured above is a scene of his from the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy) used to paint his brilliant blues (which don't fare so well in the alkaline environment of the lime) as well as cover up some of the seams from the different giornatas. Unfortunately, because this method isn't a part of the lime plaster itself, it hasn't withstood the test of time as the buon frescos have.

So.....Back to the cartoon. I needed a guideline for where the different sections of the Bayeux Tapestry would be painted in the wet lime plaster, so I projected an image of the scene onto a piece of paper and traced the outline. You can see a video of that below. I am discovering that buon fresco, like a lot of printmaking methods, requires a lot of planning! Next I will punch little holes along the guideline and when my plaster is applied I will QUICKLY rub or pounce charcoal through the holes to transfer my outlines to the wall! Stay tuned to see me in action as soon as my lime putty comes in!

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