Ever since I can remember I have loved art, and every now and then I get the urge to go to Hobby Lobby and find something random to teach myself. When I was sitting in my Late Medieval Italian Art History class on Monday, taught by Dr. Sally Cornelison, I was intrigued by the panel techniques we were looking at. One technique in particular really caught my eye, sgraffito.

Without looking at my notes and giving a super technical explanation, sgraffito is a technique that involves scratching away one layer to reveal another. The examples we looked at in class were beautiful and were panels laid with gold, that was then painted over. The areas where the gold was to shine through was then delicately scratched away to reveal the gold leaf. I was intrigued, and decided I really wanted to try it out.

The process begins by painting over the canvas with a material called bole. Essentially, it is a reddish clay that was painted as a base to bring out the color in the gold that was to be laid on top of it. Seeing as I had no idea where to find some of this "bole" I substituted it with a sienna colored acrylic paint.

I decided one coat was not enough, so I went with another coat of the red acrylic

I then started to lay the gold leaf. While Dr. Cornelison told us that it was very delicate, I guess I just didn't realize how delicate it really was. If you even breathe on it the wrong way it crumples up and poof there goes your gold leaf. I was not very good at it at first.

Did I mention just how fine it is?? You are supposed to use special brushes to apply the gold leaf, but seeing as I had limited resources, my fingers had to do. Well, I ended up with gilded fingertips.

So, like I said before, my first layer was a little shaky. By the time I had covered the 12x12 canvas, I realized I might need another layer.

So, I decided to add another layer. I was starting to get a little better at laying the gold leaf, and the second layer was much better than the first.

Even though this layer went much better, my fingers were still permanently gilded...

While Hobby Lobby might be full of lots and lots of fun arts and crafts, they unfortunately do not carry burnishers, so I had to find another way to try and smooth out my gold leaf. So, I turned to wax paper and smoothed it out with my fingers.

This stuff gets EVERYWHERE!

Eventually, I had a fairly smooth gold surface that I was happy with. I let it sit over night so that the size (the glue used to hold the gold leaf on the canvas) could set up.

So, today it was time for the layer of black. I really liked how the gold had turned out, and was contemplating whether or not I should even paint over it, but I decided to go forth with my sgraffito project.

It was very sad seeing my pretty gold covered in black acrylic, but I got over it.

I thought about making my own stencil, but decided I would rather spend money on one than waste hours cutting out an intricate stencil. While, ideally, I would have liked to have done my own, I just didn't have time. So, I took another trip to Hobby Lobby and found myself a stencil. It was a wee bit expensive, but I liked the pattern, and decided it was worth the $20.00

I figured out where I wanted the pattern on the canvas, and taped it down to my table, and was ready to start scratching!

So, the scratching begins. I found this random tool at, yes, Hobby Lobby. I have no idea what the tool is actually for, all I know is I walked down every aisle until I found something that looked like what we saw in class. It actually worked fairly well.

The acrylic was not easy to scratch off. It was actually pretty hard. I knew that I wasn't going for clean lines, so I was okay with the look I was getting.

This took a whole lot longer than I thought it would. I mean a lot longer. It definitely helped having a heavy duty plastic stencil, though, so in the end I was glad I splurged on the pre-made stencil. Hours later I was finally done...

I am really happy with the turnout, and while it is not even comparable to what they were doing on the panel paintings we saw in class, it was kind of cool to try it out myself. I definitely appreciate the art much, much more now having tried it myself.

If I were to do it again, I would probably let the black paint dry a little longer. I think that was part of the reason that I had a harder time scratching it off. I would also probably thin the black acrylic so that the black layer was not as thick as I made mine. Overall, though, I am glad I did it. Now I just need to figure out what I am going to do with it!

I showed my teacher, who told me that using tempera as a top coat would have probably made it easier to scratch away the black. Obviously, acrylic has a much more plastic-like consistency, and tempera is more fine. I worry that with tempera, the black would chip off too much. I'm happy with my acrylic results, but I think next time I might try using tempera, just to see what happens!


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