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Ffion Blench, winner of the inaugural VAS : Inches Carr mentoring Award, has been learning the ancient Italian process of scagliola from a renowned master of this craft, Cristina Beretta. Gypsum plasters and gelatine glue are used in meticulously measured quantities, and in various wet and dry forms to replicate coloured marbles such as malachite, lapis lazuli, breccia, Verona rosso and yellow Sienna. Ffion is exploring ways to incorporate this heritage craft technique into her own work in decorative architectural plaster, and is keeping this ancient and  little practised method alive in a contemporary context.

“I have really loved the challenge of creating a visual likeness to these beautiful marbles in both colour and style.  It is going to be exciting to practice these techniques following the tuition I have received from Cristina, and explore ways of incorporating them into my own practice.

Being based in Italy, Cristina usually uses Italian plasters when making scagliola.  It has been an interesting challenge to identify and source a gypsum plaster in the UK that responds in a similar way to her own. The search for an appropriate plaster has revealed the enormous variety of plasters available as well as the huge differences in the way in which they behave.”

Ffion and Cristina’s collaboration has been generously supported by Dolci Colour, producers of natural powder pigments used by the Scagliola Association in Rima.

“What is so fascinating about the process of making scagliola is how the addition of natural pigments alters the behaviour of the plaster itself. We undertook a series of tests with the pigments to see how they affected the setting time of the plaster. Some pigments accelerated the setting while others extended it by several hours and I have been learning the art of balancing out setting times through the use of different concentrations of gelatine glue.”

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