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What is Sgraffito?

Sgraffito is an oil paint technique of scratching. Sgraffito involves scoring into the oil paint after it has been applied to the oil painting support. In sgraffito painting technique, an oil paint brush handle, an oil painting knife, a fork , a comb or any rigid instrument is used to scratch the surface layer of wet paint. This will reveal either the ground color or a layer of dry color beneath. Sgraffito allows lines of any thickness to be drawn into the oil paint. As for the history of sgraffito, sgraffito got its name from the Italian word graffiare which means to scratch.

Sgraffito or scoring in oil painting

Sgraffito painting technique and scoring painting technique are often used in oil painting to depict hair, creases in skin and marks on flat surfaces such as walls or pavements. Examples of sgraffito and scoring at work by the Old Masters are the works of Rembrandt. Rembrandt used the sgraffito and scoring technique extensively, scribbling into thick, wet paint with a brush handle to pick out individual hairs in a sitter's moustache or the pattern of lace on a collar.

Best sgraffito painting technique

The best sgraffito painting technique depends on the thickness of the oil paint and to what extent  the oil paint has dried. Even thoroughly dry oil paint can be scratched into, as long as a really sharp point is used. In this case, the scored lines will be white, as all the layers of oil paint will be removed. It is best to restrict scratching into dry paint to rigid boards because it might damage oil painting canvas.