Sunday, February 20, 2011

Egg Tempera Experiments

Egg Tempera Lady
(Still a bit more to be done)

I've been immersing myself in egg tempera lately, preparing for a class I'll be teaching at Art Unraveled in Phoenix this August. It's really a challenge for me to work in this medium. I love it, but it requires me to almost entirely change my habits.

I love egg tempera because of its luminosity and how well it takes layers of thin glazes. Unlike oil paint, you just can't blend it. The layers dry quickly, which is nice, but sometimes I forget I can't dab and smudge or paint wet-on wet.

I enjoy experimenting with the linear quality of the medium. If you know me, you'll know I am not usually painstaking and patient. Egg tempera requires this, so the process is a real chance for me to get outside my comfort area.

I'm also in the midst of some experiments with using a looser style with the medium to see what happens. Here's my most successful of these pieces:

Happy Onion

Being less than a pristine housekeeper, I found a couple of onions happily sprouting in the kitchen. So I painted them before they totally rotted. I feel like I got movement here as well as the luminosity of the medium. The highlights on the onion were all done with scratching into the paint layers. Rather than use purple paint, I glazed layers of red and blue over the onion.

Another challenge of egg tempera is that you should not use it over acrylic gesso. That means that ideally one should use traditional rabbit skin glue gesso as the old masters did. I know I have a date with making this kind of gesso some time in the future. (I have bought a couple of panels that were prepared with the True Gesso, and there is nothing like it.)

In the meantime, I have come up with a substitute, but I can't say how archival it will be. I mixed one part marble dust, one part water, and one part PVA glue. It may be cheating, but it feels good to paint on. Don't hate me, real tempera painters!

Egg tempera needs a rigid surface. Fortunately, wood panels are my favorite supports, so I have plenty around.

Fresco-looking Person
I scraped away paint for the highlights in
the hair and for the stars

(I don't know why my scanner makes this white line down the middle. I suppose I'll have to replace it soon. Bah.)

Here's an experiment by Gauguin in egg tempera:

Milkmaid by Paul Gauguin

Royal Pear

In the above piece, you can see how tempera looks if you use it thickly. It reminds me here of casein paint. I plan to add glazes to the background and tablecloth to make the colors richer.

The book that has helped me the most is Egg Tempera by Koo Schadler, one of the finest egg tempera artists around. As you can see she paints in the old master style with a contemporary feel.

With my lack of patience and continual shifting between mediums, I'll never be able to paint like this. But I'm having fun increasing my ability to use this amazing medium in my own way.

Egg Tempera painting by Koo Schadler


Jessica said...

Gorgeous! What an inspiring post!

Anonymous said...

Yes. It takes my breath away.

Serena Barton said...

Thanks, Alison and Jessica!

Jessica, love the new version of your blog!

Anonymous said...

nice - inspiring work - i'm fascinated by egg tempera

Michael Fraley said...

Great to see your comments and efforts with tempera. I think my only comment about the PVA gesso is that PVA is a synthetic polymer. You probably already know that, though. I've used Claybord before, which also uses an acrylic binder for its kaolin clay-based panels. Not real absorbent, which tempera needs, but it's doable. Currently, I'm using Gamblin's gesso mix, which at $11 or so from Jerry's Artarama isn't bad.

Serena Barton said...

Thanks for your comment, Michael. I will try the gesso mix from Gamblin. Gamblin products are made right here in Portland OR, so they are pretty easy to find.