Saturday, October 2, 2010

Egg Tempera Experiments

I'm not sure how it happened but I found myself simply needing to get egg tempera up and running. A trip to the local Michael's for a "Gesso" board although I'm not really sure what that coating is. Then it was to the supermarket for a dozen eggs--these days meat and eggs are mostly off my diet.

Back home, I then mulled up a bit of Natural Pigments' raw sienna and red ocher, and then some of Margaret's mineral. For the egg, first was to separate out the white, roll the yolk on paper towel to dry, and then pick up by the skin, cut a slit, and let it drip out.

Phew, that was a lot of work!

I sketched in some guidelines for a backlit sassafras leaf that I'd planned for watercolor, mixed egg into the mulled pigments in about a one to one ratio, and settled in with a #0 brush. I found that adding a bit of water was needed to smooth out the flow.

Here are a couple of snippets from Wikipedia:

"Tempera paintings are very long lasting, and examples from the first centuries AD still exist. Egg tempera was a primary method of painting until after 1500 when it was superseded by the invention of oil painting."

"Tempera painting has been found on early Egyptians sarcophagi decorations. Many of the Fayum mummy portraits use tempera, sometimes in combination with encaustic.

"Related technique has been used also in ancient and early medieval paintings found in several caves and rock-cut temples of India. High quality art with the help of tempera was created in Bagh Caves between late 4th - 10th century AD and in 7th century AD in Ravan Chhaya rock shelter, Orissa.

"The art technique was known from the classical world, where it appears to have taken over from encaustic painting and was the main medium used for panel painting and illuminated manuscripts in the Byzantine world and Medieval and Early renaissance Europe. Tempera painting was the primary panel painting medium for nearly every painter in the European Medieval and Early renaissance period up to 1500. For example, every surviving panel painting by Michelangelo is egg tempera."

Wikipedia contributors. "Tempera." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Oct. 2010. Web. 3 Oct. 2010.


  1. How exciting! What's it like to use after the watercolour? What kind of surface does the gesso have? Does the paint soak in? Are you using little dabs or can you spread it, what size is the area you're painting, and what size brush are you working with? The little bit I can see, when magnified, is a lovely range of speckled autumn-leaf colour. I shall be back tonight to see what else has transpired.

  2. Exciting it is!

    I'm off on a probably fruitless mission to collect new supplies. When back, I will try to put out an early post answering your questions and laying out next steps in this rapidly consuming endeavor. Just like life in general, expectations and reality collide...

  3. Looks like your off to a good start John. also makes excellent panels for egg tempera.Best~ Daniel

  4. Thank you, Daniel.
    Your work is absolutely lovely!

  5. PS You made me smile with your disposition of the egg yolk in a dish that looks just like its missing white.

  6. Purely accidental, but it does looked basted. ;-)