In response to some requests for an egg tempera demo Dana has asked me to put together this article explaining egg tempera with a short demo. This is by no means meant as an exhaustive study of all that goes into a painting but should provide a good overview and introduction for those that are interested in taking the first steps towards painting in egg tempera.
Egg Tempera Painting
Egg tempera is an ancient painting medium that predates oil painting by hundreds of years. It was used in the middle-ages for religious icon painting and is in use today by a myriad of artists working in various styles. To be executed successfully, like any medium, egg tempera requires some preparation and knowledge of the materials and techniques employed. In this article I would like to explain some of those materials and techniques with the hope that you will be encouraged to try the medium or at least gain a better understanding and appreciation of it.
To make egg tempera paint you will need three basic ingredients: an egg yolk, distilled water and dry pigment. Traditional egg tempera paint uses only the yolk of the egg and not the white. Distilled water is used to ensure that the minerals in tap water do not affect the integrity of the paint film. Dry pigments can be purchased at any art supply store or online.
Some of the other materials you will need include brushes (mainly watercolor brushes), containers for paint, measuring spoons, a small water bottle or eye dropper, a traditional gesso panel and some paper towels. This is in addition to any materials and tools used to create your drawing and prepare it for transferring it to the panel. Below is a picture of some of my tools.
A. Paper towels
B. Dry Pigments
C. Masking Tape
D. Measuring Spoons
F. Water Bottle
G. Mixing Cups
J. Palette Knife
L. India Ink (not pictured)
I have included a list of suppliers at the end of this article.
About Traditional Gesso Panels
Pure egg tempera paint is brittle and requires a hard surface to ensure that cracking does not occur. It is also a weak binder so it must be painted on a surface that is absorbent enough to allow the egg to make a successful bond. A traditional gesso panel which consists of animal glue, whiting and marble dust are the perfect ground for egg tempera because it provides the absorbency needed to create the necessary bond. Acrylic gesso is not recommended since it is unknown how its expansion and contraction over time can affect a brittle egg tempera film which sits on top of it.
You can make your own panels or purchase pre-made panels. Visit the link below to learn more about making your own panels: http://www.eggtempera.com/grounds.html
I have included the name of some suppliers at the end of this article.
Making the Egg Tempera Medium & Paint
To make the egg medium I crack the egg and remove the yolk into my hand. I try to remove as much of the egg white as possible and then transfer the yolk to a paper towel to further remove any traces of egg white. Once the yolk has a somewhat matte finish to the surface I then pierce the yolk and empty the contents into a small jar. To the egg I add equal amounts of water and mix thoroughly until I get a smooth creamy mixture.
Tempering the pigment is one of the most important parts of your painting because if the pigment is not tempered thoroughly it will be powdery on the surface and will easily be wiped off. Knowing how much each pigment requires to be tempered correctly is hard to quantify. One method which is helpful is to paint a stroke on a piece of glass and wait for it to dry. Then using a palette knife or razor blade scrape the paint off the glass. If it rolls up and has a shiny appearance then you have tempered enough. Adding too much egg will make the paint greasy and hard to work with, so you need to also be careful not to over temper. Over time you will get to know your pigments and what each one needs.
When I am ready to begin painting I decide which area of the painting I will be working on during the session and I place dry pigments into mixing cups. To each cup I add some of the egg medium. I then thoroughly mix the egg and pigment to create my paint. Some pigments can be more stubborn than others but most should blend with the medium after thorough mixing. Commercial pigments are very fine and require very little mulling into the medium to get a good paint film. Some artist do mull the pigments so feel free to experiment with what works best for you. The most important thing about the paint is that it should be thin, not thick or pasty.
When I am ready to apply the paint to my panel I dip my brush into the paint cup wipe the excess off until it is almost dry and apply the paint in that fashion. The stroke should come off the brush in a dry easy to apply stroke. If you get a small dot at the end of your stroke you are working too wet and should dry your brush further. Painting with a wet brush can also cause lifting of layers.
Painting impasto is also not recommended because it can flake off the surface. The application of the paint is a slow process that requires many strokes to build up the surface. Don’t let that discourage you. As you learn more about egg tempera you will be able to use the layering to your benefit to create a rich surface with a beautiful weave of colors.
The Painting Process
I begin with a complete drawing of my composition on paper at the same size as my painting. I then transfer the drawing to the panel.
I build up my values using an under-painting done in waterproof india ink. The purpose of the under-painting is to help establish the value relationships. The under-painting can also be executed in egg tempera or casein. I choose India ink for its immediacy.
The painting is then built up in many layers of various colors and temperature. With each pass I try to further refine the passages and restate my drawing. Below is an example of one of the steps in the color build up and the completed painting.
Egg tempera is an ancient medium that can be used by contemporary artists to create luminous images with beautiful color and rich surfaces. While it is considered difficult, slow or rigid by some I find that the apparent limitations can provide freedom for artists with a sensibility for drawing and clarity in their paintings. Egg tempera has a strong following of artists that have dedicated their life and work to explore its endless possibilities. My hope is that I will inspire a new set of artists to pursue the medium or at least provide them a greater appreciation for this obscure and often misunderstood jewel of the arts.
Eggs: Any supermarket or farm.
Distilled Water: Any supermarket
Pigments:Blick Art Store
, Daniel Smith
Brushes: Blick Art
. Sable or sable-blend brushes are the best choice. Mainly rounds that come to and retain a nice point or blade shape.
Books: Koo Schadlers Egg Tempera Book (www.kooschadler.com)
, Altoon Sultan’s The Luminous Brush
, Daniel Thompson’s, The Practice of Tempera Painting
You can also view a printable version of this demo at: http://www.alexgarciafineart.com/fineart/demo/