Practicing New Painting Techniques: Sgraffito

by Leslie Miller in Painting Techniques

I taught a Zoom acrylic class during the pandemic lockdown, and every week I was on the lookout for some fun, new idea or technique to keep the class engaged. That’s when I came across the technique of “sgraffito.”

According to Wikipedia, “graffito is the singular form of the Italian graffiti, meaning “little scratch.”  So of course, sgraffito is a painting technique where you scrape or scratch through a wet layer of paint, revealing the color of the dry layer beneath it.

Poppies and Purples


I had been aware of this technique but had never really tried it in any of my paintings. But I had a reference photo I wanted to paint from that really lent itself to the sgraffito technique.

To make sure I could correctly explain it and give all the necessary info to the class, I did a couple of little practice pieces, one on a canvas sheet and the other on a little 5×7″ canvas board. I put some dark acrylic paint on both, let it dry, and then added some greens, since my intended project was a field of flowers and weeds. Then, using a variety of different tools like my palette knife, the back end of a brush, and even my kitchen spatula, I practiced scraping. I wanted to see how thick the top layer needed to be and how quickly we’d need to work, considering the rapid drying time of acrylics.

I thought the results were pretty cool, so I went on to do the above painting, Poppies and Purples, with my class. We all really enjoyed this project! Along with the sgraffito in the top section, it has finger-painted poppies and some kind of purple flowers as well.

But what about those unfinished practice pieces? Here they are as originally painted:

Sgraffito Practice Paintings


One of my students mentioned that she really loved the practice paintings as well. After looking at them for a while, I decided I would finish them, but of course I didn’t want  to do the same finished project we’d done in the class.

This turned out to be a fantastic exercise in  imagination, creativity, using my color sense, composition skills, and all other art-related skills!

I did two finished pieces which I liked enough to include on this website. Here’s the first one, Testing 1-2-3:

Testing 1-2-3


And here is the second one, “The Rain, the Park, and Other Things.” This one was quite the challenge and required layer after layer until I had something I really loved…

The Rain, the Park, and Other Things


Which is your favorite? I’d love to hear your feedback!




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