Sgraffito ("scratched", plural Scraffiti and often also written Scraffito) is a technique either of wall decor, produced by applying layers of plaster tinted in contrasting colors to a moistened surface, or in ceramics, by applying to an unfired ceramic body two successive layers of contrasting slip, and then in either case scratching so as to produce an outline drawing. A combed wall surface is produced by dragging a comblike tool over a prepared surface, producing stripes or waves.
Sgraffito has been used in Germany since the 13th century, was common in Italy in the 16th century, and can currently be found in African art. Kut-kut, a lost art of the Philippines implements sgraffito and encaustic techniques. Practiced by indigenous tribe of Samar island around 1600 to 1800 A.D.
In Germany the technique is most predominant in Bavaria, shown in its native motifs. The use of Sgraffito was common in the creation of housing façades for the purposes of advertising.
In combination with ornamental decoration these techniques formed an alternative to the prevailing painting of walls. Of late there has been an unmistakable growing interest in this old technique, which as a means of expression can be introduced into various artforms. The technical procedure is understandably simple, and the procedures are the same as with the painting of frescoes.
Sgraffito played a significant role during the years of the Renaissance in Italy. During the 16th century the technique was brought to Germany by the master builders of the Renaissance and taken up with enthusiasm by the formative craftsmen. As a simple native art old examples of Sgraffito can be found in the wide surroundings of Wetterau and Marburg. The technique was also used in Thuringia, the Engadin, Austria and Transylvania.
Another use of scraffito is seen in its simplified painting technique. One coat of paint is left to dry on a canvas or sheet of paper. Another coat of a different color is painted on top of the first layer. The artist then uses a palette knife or oil stick to scratch out a design, leaving behind an image in the color of the first coat of paint. Sometimes a first coat of paint is not needed and the wet coat scraped back reveals the canvas. This technique is often used in art classes to teach the scraffito technique to novice art students.