Egg Tempera

This is a very ancient medium. Once used by the Egyptians and Greeks and perfected by the icon painters of the old Byzantine Empire. It flourished for about 200 years in the hands of the early Renaissance artists (Botticelli, Duccio, Piero Della Francesca, Fra Angelico). The Tuscan painter Cennino Cennini documented the techniques of these Italian paintings in the late 14th century. In the 16th century, oil painting was perfected and nearly all painters embraced this new technique.

Egg tempera enjoyed a revival in more recent times with 20th century artists such as: Andrew Wyeth, George Tooker, Paul Cadmus, Ben Shahn, Bernard Cohen and many have experimented with it. Icon painters of the Orthodox Church never broke with this old tradition and still practice egg tempera today.

The technique consists in sizeing a wooden or MDF panel with a natural glue (ex rabbit skin glue) and then leaving it for 24 hours to dry. Then you coat the panels with 6-8 layers of gesso (a mixture of rabbit skin glue and whiting such as plaster of Paris). If using plywood it helps to soak a muslin or fine linen cloth in gesso and apply it to the panel for extra stability. The board is then sanded and smoothed to a high polish. The powdered pigments are traditionally mixed with egg yolk and ground with a glass muller, then water is added to obtain the right consistency. The egg yolk acts as a binder. The painting is built up in slow, transparent layers and each layer is affected by the former one. The flow of the brush makes tempera paints perfect for detailed work. It dries almost immediately and does not lift off. There is a very luminous quality to egg tempera and the pigments are used so purely that they maintain their saturation. The egg tempera technique is an important element in my work.

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