Jane takes a look at using tempera (or egg tempera) as a medium for painting. It was replaced by oil paints centuries ago but, for aspiring artists, is offers some unique and valuable differences over the use of oil paints.
What is egg tempera?
Tempera, also known as egg tempera, is a permanent, fast drying medium for painting. It consists of a mix of coloured pigments and a water soluble binder medium, usually glutinous material like egg yolk.
It has been around for millennia. The ancient medium…true tempera is made with the yolk of fresh eggs. Other users, for example Manuscript illustrators often used egg white and some easel painters added the whole egg.
Today artists add other things to the mix to provide different properties.
- Water to thin the medium down
- Oil to add some of the properties of painting with oils
- Vinegar to keep the mix fresh for a while longer before use
Tempera is also known as poster board paint, tempera paint is great for crafts and art projects because it’s fast drying, long lasting, and easy to clean. It’s also unlikely to flake, streak, or crack.
The colour of egg yolk
You might think that the bright yellow colour of the egg yolk will affect the colour of the paint. But the egg yolk is an emulsion that dries crystal clear with any bits of colour disappearing as it’s exposed to light.
The origins of tempera
The use of tempera has been found on early Egyptian sarcophagi decorations. Oil replaced tempera as a principal medium used for creating artwork during the 15th century in painting in Northern Europe.
Why do artists use egg tempera?
Tempera is more transparent than oil and holds less pigment, which allows light to penetrate through it and reflect off the white surface of the gesso below. Another advantage of egg tempera is that, unlike oil paintings,it is resistant to light, and its colours do not darken or change with age.
How long will egg tempera last?
The egg medium lasts up to three days in a chilly basement or a fridge before use. You can certainly tell when it’s going bad as it starts to smell revolving – rotting eggs!
Tempera dries almost as quickly as acrylic paint which brings its own challenges to the artist. But tempera can be as luminescent as watercolor. It is perfect for use for those painters who prefer to work through transparency.
Gadsby’s do not stock powdered pigment. However, we can get it to meet customer orders and would be happy to provide prices if required. The powder is pure pigment so it both ‘goes a long way’ and isn’t cheap, as you might expect.
Jane is a member of the Gadsby’s team. She has a wide knowledge of the arts & crafts products and materials sold by Gadsby’s both from the perspective of an advisor in the shop and, for many of the products, from personal use too.
Please note that this is not a service that Gadsbys offer to clients – just an example of the private work done by one of the highly skilled and knowledgable Gadsby’s team shown for your interest.