How You Can Use The Sgraffito Technique With Acrylic And Oil Paint

Sgraffito in Painting

The good old sgraffito. If you thought that your brush was the only place you could paint, you’re wrong. Sgraffito in painting is about carving motifs into your painting ground with a solid item. With a paintbrush, this works out very well in painting.

The term is commonly used in ceramics. Here a special scratching tool is used to scratch the glaze of the clay and thereby create patterns.

Sgraffio in Pottery
Sgraffio in Pottery | Via grizzlymountainceramics / Flickr

The term sgraffito comes from the Italian word “sgraffire”, which literally means “to scratch”. The technique is to scratch into a layer of wet paint to reveal what is underneath. This may be a dried layer of paint or the white canvas.

What do you need for a sgraffito in painting?

Any object with which you can scratch in the paint can be used for the sgraffito. The wooden end of a brush, a painting knife, a fork or even a long fingernail are useful tools for a sgraffito in painting.

Don’t limit yourself to scratching a thin line. You can use the technique to set white accents in your painting by exposing the canvas at this point. This has proven itself, for example, in the sparkle of the eyes, in a reflection on glass and in the direct representation of light.

Sgraffito with oil and acrylic paint

With these two mediums, there’s a basic rule you should follow. The layer of paint you want to expose using the technique must be completely dry. Only then should you apply the the layer of paint which you are going to scrape off in the areas of your choice.

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The top layer should still be wet or semi-dry in order to take off the paint easily. Otherwise you will scrape off both layers of paint or mix them, which can quickly lead to a mess.

The technique of sgraffito in painting is especially effective with a strong Impasto like Van Gogh used. In this case scraping reveals another texture layer and increases contrasts.

These painting mediums are also well suited for writing on canvas. Because the colours are opaque, you can use a fine tool to work out extremely thin letters, which you would never be able to do as precisely with a brush.

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