Egg Tempera thread

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on 28 Jun 2011 2:48 AM

There are a few egg tempera works scattered throughout the site, but I thought it might be good to have a thread particularly for egg tempera. Let's have your methods and other observations. This is a 10 x 8 piece entitled Buttermilk on a true gesso panel.

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on 27 Jul 2011 2:44 PM

No egg tempera painters out there?

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jbrisbin wrote
on 16 Jan 2012 12:36 PM

Just signed up for the forums today, so just came across this thread.

I'm very interested in Egg Tempera as well. I'm a web developer by trade but I've been interested in painting for a long time and only recently decided to start pursuing some self-guided education on painting. One of my favorite artists is Thomas Hart Benton so I'd like to eventually start trying egg tempera as it's a centuries-old technique that he (and many other great mural painters of the early 20th century) used to great effect.

I'm starting with the basics (draftsmanship and watercolor) to try and get a handle on how to represent things on a panel. I feel that beginners fear of seeing my mistakes staring me in the face, though, and have been basically too afraid to attempt a tempera painting yet. I've played with simple watercolors (using tube-style paints) and simple subjects. I'm also a photographer, so I thought I might try and take some of my more artistically-styled photographs and base a tempera painting on them. I haven't mustered the courage to actually attempt that yet, though. :)

I've read up on the technique of tempera and bought some pre-mixed gesso at Michael's and thought I would experiment with making my own panels. I do a fair amount of woodworking, too, so I can make panels in any size I want by leveraging my local Home Depot. I tend to like things "big" so I expect if I get involved in tempera with any vigor it will be on large panels with large compositions (of several feet). I know the traditional rabbit hide glue-based gesso is probably the best, but on large panels it doesn't seem particularly feasible (logistically or monetarily) so I was planning on using the pre-mixed gesso from the art store. I don't have the skill to worry about archival concerns yet, so I wanted something cheap(ish) quick, and re-usable (that I could paint over multiple times).

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on 16 Jan 2012 12:50 PM

There are some great resources on the techniques of ET (as we shall call it!). I was at a wonderful workshop given by Koo Schadler (kooschadler.com), and she has an excellent book put about it. Other ET books by Robert Vickrey (New Techniques in Egg Tempera) and The Luminous Brush by Altoon Sultan. The "gesso" sold in art stores is not gesso at all, but an acrylic material that will not chemically engage with the egg, so it's not just a matter of long-term archival concerns. Real gesso means gypsum or chalk and t's usually mixed with gelatin or rabbit skin glue. The acrylic material was called gesso but it is a completely different material. Andrew Wyeth's very large temperas use the traditional gesso.

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on 16 Jan 2012 12:59 PM

Here's a square format 24" x 24" ET I did about 20 years ago, entitled 'Low Ebb'.

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jbrisbin wrote
on 16 Jan 2012 1:50 PM

Fergus A Ryan:
The "gesso" sold in art stores is not gesso at all, but an acrylic material that will not chemically engage with the egg, so it's not just a matter of long-term archival concerns. Real gesso means gypsum or chalk and t's usually mixed with gelatin or rabbit skin glue. The acrylic material was called gesso but it is a completely different material. Andrew Wyeth's very large temperas use the traditional gesso.

Thanks for point this out! :) Lots of talk on the internet about using acrylic gesso but there's fewer places that explicitly say it won't bond with egg for doing tempera. It won't go unused, of course, as I also have a set of oil paints.

I like your samples posted here. Were they from reference photographs or en plein air?

I assume ET paintings are good projects if you only have a few hours or minutes at a time to work on a painting?

I'm also curious about how a traditional watercolor wash technique compares to ET (for the purposes of learning how to build up a painting in layers)?

 

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on 16 Jan 2012 4:54 PM

Hi jbrisbin, 

Egg tempera is also used by artists such as Stan Miller, in conjunction with watercolor paint, and he paints on paper. (See www.stanmiller.net). I've attached his September Shadows below. Also, on Wyeth's ET paintings you can see that he uses quite free washes in the manner of watercolor at the beginning (e.g., McVey's Barn), but he builds up detail in tiny strokes, with great patience, taking months sometimes. Hilton Brown has an excellent DVD on mediaeval egg tempera techniques, using an orthodox icon as an example. And Brandywine River Museum has an excellent book called Eggs and Milk. My Buttermilk above took three full days to paint, which is very quick for me, and I used reference photos I had taken in an abandoned hose, although I simplified the subject quite a bit, left things out, and emphasised the cool light flowing into the room. I worked on the background wall washes first, and then drew the image by using Saral white carbon paper to transfer the image. Low Ebb is of a scene quite near my home, so I did some compositional sketches, changed rocks around, and used quite a low res polaroid photo reference I had taken. I never use anyone else's reference material.

Fergus

 

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jbrisbin wrote
on 17 Jan 2012 4:01 PM

I'm having a hard time finding the DVD you mention. Any idea of where would be a good place to order one?

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on 17 Jan 2012 5:57 PM

I looked on the Brandywine Museum shop website and it's not there. You could try ringing at 610-388-8326. I looked on Ebay with no results. A great resource on everything egg tempera is http://www.squidoo.com/eggtempera.

Maybe someone out there reading this knows where to get Hilton Brown's DVD.

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on 18 Jan 2012 8:57 AM

OK, Jon, let's go straight to the horse's mouth. Here's the direct contact with Hilton Brown:

Hilton Brown
Painter, art technologist, and writer.
Harriet T. Baily. Professor of Art, Art Conservation,
Art History and Museum Studies at the University of Delaware.
Museum Studies Program
301 Old College,University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716.
Telephone: 302-831-8237.
Hilton.Brown@MVS.UDEL.EDU

Fergus
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jbrisbin wrote
on 18 Jan 2012 10:53 AM

Thanks for the info. I sent him an email and am awaiting a response.

I also emailed the Brandywine Museum and they confirmed they no longer have the DVD available (I was hoping they might have one there even if it's not listed on the website). But unfortunately, it's "no longer available".

Checked Amazon, eBay, and even the almighty Google. Nada.

So we'll see what Mr. Brown says.

The book the museum published (Milk and Eggs; etc...) sounds very interesting. I may go ahead and get that anyway. It sounds like a good resource to have. I'm as much interested in the Art History aspect as I am in the actual practice of the craft. :)

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jbrisbin wrote
on 18 Jan 2012 11:33 AM

Any suggestions on egg handling? It's harder than it looks! :)

I'm considering getting one of those nifty yolk separators to make it easier. I keep breaking the yolks on the shell.

I guess the smell of sulphur is part of the charm? ;)

I like the feel of it, though. It gets tacky very quickly but it's got a good feel to it. Dries super fast so you can paint over it in very little time. I've just been mixing watercolor tube pigment with egg yolk and using stiff watercolor paper as a ground. I don't have the skill to make spending time gessoing and mixing my own paint from dry pigment worth it.

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on 18 Jan 2012 12:54 PM

Jon - I haven't had any problem getting the yolk out without puncturing it. Crack the shell with a sharp knife while holding the egg upright. Empty it quickly on to a pad of kitchen paper. Roll it around. It may stick a bit though, or you could just empty it into your hand. Make sure you use fresh eggs. Some people recommend free range. Koo Schadler's book is best on the technical issues of various combinations of paint (watercolour).

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on 18 Jan 2012 12:58 PM

On mixing the paints, I just use pure powdered pigment (Sennellier or W & N). I wet the pigment with distilled water (from a dehumidifier!) to make a paste (it will keep in a very small airtight jar). The I add exactly the same volume of egg and mix the pile with a palette knife to paint with. Some pigments require more or less egg. It should be a sort of eggshell finish on the painting. If it's too crumbly there's not enough egg, or too slick there's too much.

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jbrisbin wrote
on 19 Jan 2012 2:28 PM

Got a response back from Mr. Brown:

 

Thank you for writing to me about my video on egg tempera painting.  As you probably know it was made as a project following the show I curated for the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA.  That 2002 show was titled: Milk and Eggs the Revival of Tempera Painting in America.  It was a traveling exhibition and was also shown at the Akron Art Museum, Akron, OH; the Sheldon Art Museum at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS and in Seattle, Washington at the University of Washington (I think but I don't remember exactly the location) during 2002.  My co-curator and I authored a very large book length catalog to accompany the show.
 
Since the video of me making an egg tempera painting was funded by a small federal grant awarded to the museum by the National Endowment for the Arts,  there were less than 500 copies made (it may have been even fewer copies) and so I believe it is no longer available.
 
I would suggest you write a letter to the Brandywine River Museum requesting your desire to purchase a copy of the dvd and, perhaps, the catalog as well.  If anyone will know if any copies are still available, that institution will have the answer for you.
 
Best of luck,  Hilton Brown
Bit of a bummer that it's not available any more. That would be a great resource to have on YouTube.

 

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