Diversify your Painting Using "The Sgraffito Effect"

Diversify your Painting Using "The Sgraffito Effect"

Sgraffito is an Italian word meaning “to scratch”.

It shares an etymological root with the word graffiti and it reminds me, a former exchange student, of the Italian phrase for “I am mistaken”: ho sbagliato.

In short, it invites you to be playful. This technique is more than fun to say; it makes innovating your next painting as close as your fingertips.

The Sgraffito strategy emboldens artists to use the other end of the paint brush, a safety pin, a fork or even one’s own fingernails.

You can scratch your surface before or after you first put your brush to the page.

This technique allows for flexibility.

Painting Materials: Bring out your acrylics or watercolor paints, brushes, a pale for clean water and one for water tinted over time through wetting your brush, and whatever surface you are painting on.

Tools for the Scratching Technique: The real value in this strategy is that you can utilize just about any household item; essentially anything with an edge will do. For sharp objects: perhaps a razor blade, toothpick, knife, or safety pin. For blunt devices: an eraser, the other side of your paint brush or your finger nails or tips will suffice. 

The application of the Sgraffito technique can involve two practices:

1. On a dry surface: Before you take your first stroke, use a sharp tool to scratch into your surface. Consider a patterned or a spontaneously arbitrary design. You might also dip your instrument into your paint so that your markings become immediately visible. Otherwise, when complete, you can begin to paint over it to reveal your etchings. 


Sgraffito, painting by Michael Lentz, Retrieved at Saatchi Art
 2. On a wet, painted surface: Before your paint dries, use your chosen instrument to forge markings into the fresh paint. You can use either blunt or sharp improvised objects here and make your scribbles in any which direction you please.


Birds of Blue painting by Laura Barbosa, Retrieved at FineArtAmerica


It seems fitting; primitive; memorizing.

The Sgraffito effect can be commonly found in much of our natural world. The vertical lines that run up a blade of grass, the winding ridges of a tree stump, or the teensy groves on the petals of a flower.

Scratchings. Markings. On a wall, on the floor of a formerly occupied cell, on the door of the pantry to mark one’s growth over time, or communicate what we’ve learned about life through hieroglyphic script or our lettered alphabet... 

Sgraffito is a forgiving technique that allows us to more accurately re-present our etched and inscribed world on to paper, panels or canvas. 

By: Camylle Fleming 

Back to blog