Sunday, October 3, 2010

Support and Ground

Let me begin by saying that the MonaLisa Gessoed Art Board by Speedball does not offer a proper ground for egg tempera.

Gesso is a much maligned term these days, referring to grounds from gypsum or calcite bound with hide glue, to 100% acrylic dispersion polymer, and sadly over to various acrylic concoctions with no proper claim at all to this term. This last monstrosity coats my "gessoed" board. In all fairness though, the product's packaging does not specifically state use for egg tempera. I could be a bit guilty of making leaps in my excitement to get started.

Last night I knew I was in trouble when my palm lifted dried tempera right off the surface. Using the tip of my palette knife I could push the pigment loose. As a rank beginner, I thought I'd do a bit of research before coming to hysterical conclusions. I hit the books late last night and again this morning. Long story short, I have every right to hysteria and Natural Pigments can satisfy every possible need for me to practice egg tempera in true fashion. Leaving out the details of the hows and whys for now (they will come once I have regrouped), here is my order list:

Item 1
Product ID: 209-002
Product Name: Basic Dispersion Set
Product Price: $70.00
Quantity: 1

Item 2
Product ID: 920-BP0912
Product Name: Birch Panel (9 x 12 in.)
Product Price: $12.25
Quantity: 1

Item 3
Product ID: 510-11CHK1K
Product Name: Chalk (Fine Ground Calcite 1 kg)
Product Price: $6.85
Quantity: 1

Item 4
Product ID: 510-12ESGXX
Product Name: Easy Gesso Extra-Fine (500 g)
Product Price: $13.50
Quantity: 1

Item 5
Product ID: 926-HB0912
Product Name: Gesso Panel, Hardboard (9 X 12 in.)
Product Price: $9.15
Quantity: 6

Item 6
Product ID: 624-2190
Product Name: Half Pans (10/Pack)
Product Price: $2.95
Quantity: 3

Item 7
Product ID: 510-21RSGL5
Product Name: Rabbit Skin Glue (500 g)
Product Price: $12.50
Quantity: 1

Item 8
Product ID: 651-SFKN080
Product Name: Surface Knife (80 mm wide)
Product Price: $8.00
Quantity: 1

Please note that the glue listed here is not really from bunnies (although in some cases may) but a trade term for high quality hide glue. That somehow makes me feel a bit better, although am thinking that a good acrylic ground may be in my future.

The pans are for my watercolor adventures, an experimental alternative to tubes.

So although my ground proved unusable, I did gain experience with my paint. There seems to be a sweet spot between too eggy and too watery, something like not too sticky and goopy on the brush, and too wet to lay down precisely. Even on that non-stick surface, I could reach a point where the tempera would flow nicely in a stunningly fine line. I used brush sizes 1, 0, and 00. Below is a closeup of an area where I used fine strokes in an attempt to simulate translucent and tiny veining. Note the example of pigment literally sliding across the support.


  1. Several gasps:

    1. Outrageous non-gesso gesso.
    2. Your shopping list. (Biggest gasp. Pure envy.)
    3. Lovely, lovely fine-stroked texture on portion painted.

    It is awfully late here and I am off to bed. But I am pretty sure I'll have good dreams now ... :-)

  2. 1. There is a blessing in that non-gesso as it spurred me onto research.

    2. Natural Pigments is so awesome. I'm sure there will be more supplies to come.

    3. Thanks! I can hardly wait to get started with the real thing.

    I've been living and breathing tempera lately. I suspect I'll be dreaming it as well! :-)

  3. Jeesh! I'm away from my computer for the weekend and I come back to find you all took a new path in our artistic journey; it took me a few extra minutes this morning to read and catch up, but I'm with you, I'm with you!
    Tempera! Now that's something I truly have no experience with. I think you are going to have to be our sole trail leader here on this adventure- how exciting!
    If it makes you feel any better, our Currier Museum in Manchester NH has a few of Andrew Wyeth's egg temperas, the most famous being Spindrift c.1950 and I remember a few years back there was a major restoration effort on this painting in particular, as the tempera was flaking off in a major way. Obviously someone with the initials AW didn't do his homework!
    ~ gretchen

  4. Haha! :-) You know, Gretchen, I so appreciate your perspective. I just went back to affirm that there have only been a few posts with egg in them. It sure seems longer. I am rather exhausted from web sites and books, all egg tempera. Phew, I think I need a break!

    I heard of an artist whose commission was suddenly "changing". Ants were munching the painting right off the ground! And then there is the time a pet wolf ate the painting!