Saturday, 18 August 2012

Can you keep a secret?

Another stage in my uncharacteristically scientific approach to the making of Scagliola.  Having sieved the plaster granules to the right sizes and to get rid of the dust, the cardboard cut-out was placed over a section of existing Scagliola so that I could count - roughly! - the ratio of black to white, which is shown at the top of the cardboard.  That ratio is translated into the existing weight in grams.  Next step is to calculate the dispersal rate of both black and white, after I have made a recipe for the background colour of this bit of fake Porphyry.

As with all these ancient techniques and recipes, I often wonder why their inventors bothered to make a secret out of them.  If - like the Coca-Cola recipe - there are vast amounts of money to be made from selling carbonated and coloured, sugary water with caffeine in it, then I could understand.  The secret ingredient with Coke, however, used to be cocaine, but they stopped putting that into it about 100 years ago now.  Just think of how much money they have lost as a result of government health legislation.

When I used to do a lot of work for antique dealers, I would colour the repairs of new stone down so that they matched the surrounding material as well as possible.  I was quite good at this, and it was not very often that my repairs could be noticed from more than a few feet away.

Of course, the dealers began to expect miracles from me, and I constantly had to tell them to regard these repairs as a sort of camouflage.  I could - I told them - make a repair that was so invisible that you would not be able to see it even if using a magnifying glass, but this would take me about two months as opposed to two hours, and the fee would be correspondingly higher.  None of them took up my offer, for some bizarre reason.

Often, a dealer would coyly ask how I had achieved this natural-looking colour, not expecting to get a straight answer.  I would tell them that it was this stuff called 'paint'.

"If you tell people that,"  they said,  "then everyone will be doing it."

I would then tell them to have a go at it, and see how they get on.  The thing is that everyone could do it, but only if they have the patience to develop - through observation - an extremely accurate understanding of colour and how to apply it.  Have you ever looked very hard at moss-green lichen - or even moss itself?  I know you painters have, but your average antique dealer thinks that green is green and black is black.  The reality is that - when mixing a moss green to simulate lichen growth on stonework, you have to use about 4 different colours, including about 20% red - green's exact complimentary opposite.  There is also no such thing as a true black in the natural world.

I said that you painters may have analysed the colour green in the past, but Cro may remember an amusing incident from our college days, when the Head of the Painting department was panicking about the imminent arrival of judges to award points for the architectural merits of a new building on the campus, and a fellow student had - as an art-form - painted some white lines on the grass using traditional 'whiting' or chalk-dust, as they do on cricket pitches.

A handful of teachers were running around on the grass, trying to scrub out the white lines with their feet (the fools could have used plain water) and only succeeded in replacing the marks with muddy brown streaks.  Head of Painting to the rescue.

The Head came out with his palette and water-colours (I suppose they could have been gouache) and proceeded to slap layers of a hideously bright and inappropriate green over the mud, and no matter how many times he mixed and re-mixed the colour, he just could not achieve anything that bore the remotest resemblance to the simple blades of grass which surrounded the streaks of the wet and muddy furrows.

It was at this point that we - as students - began to question the qualifications of our Head of Department in Painting.  Poor sod.

Last word on the Olympic Opening Ceremony:  Perhaps the biggest secret ever to have been kept in modern times was the one imparted to the 50,000 people who attended the rehearsals.  The keeping of that secret by so many people deserved - in itself - a gold medal.


  1. Your Scagliola work is exemplary.

    I have seen several 'bear in garden' photos posted recently by them what live across the pond. Are these people nuts? If I had bears wandering about here, I'd move to another country!

    1. Alright, I don't want to frighten you, so I have removed the bear.

  2. Hi Tom,

    Had to look up Scagliola on Google, having not come across it before. You seem to have taken on a challenge.

    Look forward to seeing the finished article.

    Just caught a glimpse of the bear.. J.

    1. The bear is now back n Razmataz's garden!

  3. There are certain things I just would not attempt because I know I would bugger it up. I think you alluded to those who think things might be easy. I was one and have learnt my lesson!

    Having a pragmatic girlfriend who gives me a withering look every time I say, 'I could do that' helps.

    1. I get withering looks when I say, "I can't do that".

  4. Clearly, those under whose withering gaze we fall know us all too well then. You have obviously demonstrated your varied skills and here the girls would refer to you as that most deirable creature who can turn his hand to anything, a Black & Decker Man (I kid you not, that's what they would call you and it is a serious compliment from anyone here). Expectations of you, therefore, are evidently high.

    Sadly I kept my light so well hidden I have forgotten where I put it...

  5. I meant 'desirable' not 'deirable' which you may have misconstrued as a typo for someone suited to die which, of course, would hardly be a compliment.

    Continuing with the local tendency to apply humourous terms to human traits by connecting them to man made objects with similar characteristics, the girls would call our dear friend in Wales a Volkswagen. Something to do with the location of the engine. I guess the expression came into common use while the Beetle was still in production.