Friday, June 19, 2009

Answers to FAQs and 3 more tips about painting with egg tempera

As a result of my brief demo on egg tempera medium (see June 14 post) one question that came to me is whether to buy liquid tempera in jars that is sometimes sold as a children's product. This is just poster paint. Look for dry powder pigment, sold in jars, available through most art stores, and also through Kremer Pigments, which is mixed by you with water into a paste and then mixed with egg medium. You can also buy a limited palette of egg tempera paint pre-mixed in tubes in some art stores, but since I haven't worked with it, I can't comment on using it.

If you want to varnish your egg tempera, or work over it in oil, you must isolate it with a layer of blonde shellac or liquin. I recommend either of these rather than spray fix to isolate it best. Varnish is not required, and you can also "buff" or "polish" an egg tempera, once it is more thoroughly dry, gently with a soft cloth to enhance it's beautiful natural sheen.

Three more important recommendations:

Choose a rigid support. Choose a thick four-ply board with a smooth absorbent surface such as Strathmore cold press illustration board or Crescent hot press illustration board to practice on at first. I don't recommend paper or bristol because it will warp with the addition of too much water and the paint may crack. Egg tempera is a rigid medium, so choose a rigid non-bendable support. The most ideal surface for egg tempera is a rabbit-skin glue gessoed panel (such as poplar wood or high quality birch plywood). Panel is a different experience too, than working on rag illustration board, but in both cases it is possible to build up many layers. Acrylic gesso will not absorb the egg tempera paint as well as rabbit-skin glue gesso, and the paint may not bind as well. I've tried clayboard also, but only with mixed results, so I don't recommend it.

Apply the paint very thinly, and in layers. A common mistake most beginning egg tempera painters make is to apply the paint too thickly in one individual layer. Build your paint gradually and remember that the principle is translucency. You are building layers to create an illusion of color and this also results in more luminous color. Remember that the principle is juxtaposing translucent layers. Layering creates an illusion of a color---for example a layer of green, with a layer of vermillion on top would make a warm shadow on a face.

How much egg medium is too much or too little? If the paint is chalky and dusting off your surface you have too little medium. If it becomes tacky and sticky, you have too much medium. As you gain experience your finished painting will eventually have an even 'sheen' or satiny patina. You can help even it out at the end by gently applying a thin layer of egg medium in the areas without sheen.

For any other questions which may arise I recommend the Society of Tempera Painters website at: http://www.eggtempera.com and it's forum link.

Moving along next to my next miniature!......

7 comments:

Kathleen Coy said...

How interesting, I didn't know you could buff an egg tempera painting to a sheen. I'm learning so much from your posts, Mona! :-)

artbyakiko said...

This is very useful information! I'm glad to report that my first experiment didn't turn out to be a disaster. lol I could have used more layering. Will show the result in my blog.

DEB said...

You are going to make egg tempera artists out of us all yet! My first piece sold on ebay already! I'm working on a 2" square portrait of Mother Teresa next.

artbyakiko said...

Do you prepare a large amount of pigment paste and use a portion at a time in each session, or make the paste at each session? Do you ever mix the power directly with egg medium without first making a paste?

Mona said...

Great Deb and Akiko, glad to know you are enjoying egg tempera. In answer to Akiko's question, I've done it both ways.

Mainly what I do is make small amounts of pigment and water pastes in baby food jars and keep them capped in the refrigerator in a plastic shoebox with a lid (or an artbin with snap on lid), and I can use these over a period of about a month before I make a new paste of an individual color. I have a flat palette for most of my mixing directly as I paint, but for some colors that are specific and over larger areas I may temper ("tempering' is the term for mixing pigment water and egg) the paints in a round ceramic palette with cups. You can use an eye dropper (I save mine from Bach Flower Remedies) to portion out the egg medium and you can get small glass rods from Pandora to grind the pigment into the egg medium. You can also mix directly on your palette with an old brush.

Miniature Art by Karen Hull said...

Thank you for sharing all this info on egg tempera Mona, I have to really sit down and study it. It seems so complicated but worth it to produce what you do!!! :)

artbyakiko said...

Mona thanks again for the great tip about the eye dropper (I can use a medicine dropper from our cat's med; I have tons of unused ones) and the glass rods. :)