Monday, November 8, 2010

Gradation Blues

My sky has taken a turn for the worse. I am regrouping as I think over where I may have gone wrong. At this point, I'd like to try scraping down to gesso for a restart. More on all this tomorrow evening.

Now, here's a closing quote from Thompson on this sky exercise:

"This wide range of effects is easily, almost automatically controlled, and it gives the tempera painter an instrument of great power and adaptability. If he makes use of its special properties, it will reward the inconvenience to which it puts him. There is no sense in turning a studio upside down to gesso panels, grind colors, and then paint gouache. Good drawing paper stretched on a frame, or a good illustrators' board, and any of the excellent-made gouache preparations, will give just as good results. It is only to take advantage of the powers and beauties peculiar to tempera that the painter is justified in giving himself the trouble of practicing it. If he will be content with a graded wash of blue, it is folly for him to look farther than water color; if he will be content to blend his graded blue from dark to light out of opaque mixtures by scrubbing with a brush, his needs can be satisfied by good commercial gouache. But if he wants to control the painting to perfection, to shape the sky as he paints it, to give it some special quality of luminosity, to establish some deliberate relation between it and the rest of his painting, it may be worth his while to grind colors and break eggs instead of buying tubes and bottles in a shop.

"Nothing is a harsher test of a tempera painter's skill in his medium that this very problem that we have been discussing, a graded blue. Even competent painters often make their broad, light gradations chalky or streaky, for want of thoughtful handling. The secret is to preserve the opalescent half tone; for it can be turned toward transparent or opaque, and shaped and modeled as easily and subtly as clay under a sculptor's thumb."

It's good to hear of my sky exercise as "nothing is a harsher test!" :-)

I've been thinking... It is quite reasonable that I ponder Thompson's thoughts on egg tempera. I have never seen an actual painting! I have four visits to museums, gallery, and exhibition planned, three of them displaying egg tempera. More soon on this...

The Sinopia order, albeit incomplete, arrived today with some fine looking pigments. There are a couple of cads and a quin, but as usual it is the earths that most interest me, with such lovely names: Armenian Orange Earth Dark from the Lori Province; Raw Umber Greenish Dark.

Lastly, I just put in a Kremer order for a few earths and an earth color chart with 78 samples. I just love pigments! :-)

Thompson, Daniel V. Jr. The Practice of Tempera Painting. New York. Dover Publications. 1962. (Yale University Press. 1936.) p. 107-8.


  1. The book you are referencing has a deeply contemplative tone and I found myself thinking carefully about what he was writing, about nuance and patience and understanding. It brought home to me again that there are so very many interesting, absorbing, artistic pastimes to pursue, that one lifetime is clearly too short.
    That said, there can be little better than enjoying a life full of those interesting and absorbing pastimes, and gallery visiting sounds like a great idea.It will give you another viewpoint.

  2. And isn't it amazing that all this recent quoting takes place over only a few pages? This was a particular difficult section for me to grasp, hence the posts. Sort of a learning tool for me.