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Picture of Egg Tempera Painting
Egg tempera is a painting technique that has been used for centuries. It is inexpensive and easy to learn. If done right, the final product can be amazing. The picture below is an example of the tempera technique on wood (by Niccolo Semiticolo, 1367).

The version I am going to outline in this instructable is what I was taught by my teacher in grad school. I have not tried comparing it to other tempera techniques. If you would like to learn some other ways of doing this, you can visit www.eggtempera.com.

You can also find some history of egg tempera painting on Wikipedia.

Step 1: Why egg tempera?

Picture of Why egg tempera?
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The great thing about egg tempera is that you can use almost anything to make pigment. Tempera artists often grind and mix thier own pigments. The egg acts as the binder, and will stick almost any pigment to many different surfaces. This means you don't have to rely only on the colors offered by paint companies.

Personally I have never ground my own pigment. I prefer to use watercolor that is available at art stores for coloring. This color variety is plenty for my needs.

If you decide you don't want to use watercolor, and prefer to grind your own pigment, you might want to do a search to find the right way to process the materials.

If you would rather experiment than research, cool! But remember, WEAR A RESPIRATOR when grinding pigment. Things that aren't usually dangerous can become poisonous if ground to a super-fine powder and inhaled.
 
I wanted to tell you why vinegar and waters are used when making tempera.

Adding water and vinegar to the egg yolk in increments is actually a hard task to master. Too much water and the mixture is too thin and doesn't paint properly, too thick and it won't layer and will crank or peel.

Because egg yolk dries quickly, the water and vinegar makes it into a proper emulsion, so to suspend the pigments properly. Without it, the painting won't last, nor will you be able to paint with it properly. If you want to paint it thicker or layer it (also making the colors richer) you can add a little oil to the mix.

The yolk membrane must be removed,. You can hold the slotted spoon over your mixing dish and make a slit in the yolk, through the slots of the spoon and the yolk will fall in the dish and leave the membrane behind. The membrane makes it mix improperly or uneven. It can make it too thick as well.

Divide the yolk in half or quarters (to make 2 or four colors. Then add a ratio of half of each listed,: oil and vinegar. Then u add water slowly until it's thin enough to spread evenly, but thick enough to hold color. You can add myrrh or fragrance to the oil, to make it smell good (emulsion smells). Then slowly mix with the pigment into the emulsion.

By quartering the egg yolk, u can have several colors to use. And since it dries quickly, smaller portions can be made and maintained better. You can put your mixed tempera into the egg she'll halves and put in a crate to hold, for ease of use.

Paint on wood, or similar textures, because tempera is not flexible and will bind to wood better. If applied to tarnished wood, or lacquer before and after, will help the colors last longer and be richer. Paint in portions, staple it and use small brushes, that way you can layer and add heavy detail. Learn old style painting and practice making the tempera making to your personal mixes, and you can make old world art!

Hope this helps and good luck!
blksheep (author)  tanya.goodwin.5455 months ago
Thanks Tanya! That is a great explanation. Better than my professor :)
Oh, I almost forgot., the vinegar, and also removing the membrane keeps the egg yolk attracting bugs or going bad on the wood. So does tarnish and Lacquers (apply before and after). I also meant for you to stipling the painting (the use of an harder brush and applying by pressing it on the surface, rather than using strokes), it makes it apply easier, and allows you to control, blend and layer the colors to look more natural. These paintings tend to be opaque and/or pastel looking, by adding base colors and over tarnishes will help with that. Also using more oils will make it more like heavy oil based paints, and the color richer. Hope this helps.
Oh, I almost forgot., the vinegar, and also removing the membrane keeps the egg yolk attracting bugs or going bad on the wood. So does tarnish and Lacquers (apply before and after). I also meant for you to stipling the painting (the use of an harder brush and applying by pressing it on the surface, rather than using strokes), it makes it apply easier, and allows you to control, blend and layer the colors to look more natural. These paintings tend to be opaque and/or pastel looking, by adding base colors and over tarnishes will help with that. Also using more oils will make it more like heavy oil based paints, and the color richer. Hope this helps.
Uncle Kudzu7 years ago
it might be best to avoid the true cadmiums and cobalts when choosing pigments to grind. can't imagine snorting that stuff would do a body good. as for easily finding pigments, mightn't artists quality soft pastels be a good source, as they're mainly pigment with a little gum of some sort as a binder?
Like chalk pastels or oil pastels?
KwartzKitten, soft chalk pastels of a good quality is what I meant. Oil pastels have waxes, mineral oil, and stuff like that as a binder for the pigment, whereas a quality artist grade chalk pastel might use just enough of something like gum tragacanth to bind the pure pigment together as a stick.

Cheaper brands might have fillers and extenders like chalk, but might still work well enough if you grind them down. Oil pastels would just make a mess. Try to find an art store that sells soft pastels individually (open stock), and that way you could experiment without laying out much money. And do be careful not to inhale the ground pigments - just like you wouldn't breathe pastel dust when working with them in the usual way.
Right, what was I thinking? Oil would be like trying to use a really soft crayon, at least in this case.

Either way, I have some pretty good chalk pastels at home, so I'm going to try that next chance I get.
blksheep (author)  Uncle Kudzu7 years ago
I've never tried that, but I bet it would work.
This is great! I've been wanting to try this technique, but I have a couple of questions:
Will the smell attract bugs? Should I take precautions, especially in the summer?
I live with several other people in a suburban neighborhood, and I don't think ANY of them would appreciate rotten-egg smell. Where do you suggest I should put it? How bad would it get?
Do you know if there's anything to mix with the egg that would negate the smell? If not, that's okay.
...Oh! You use the yolk!

Boy was I confused. I was trying to figure out how to store egg white.
agis685 years ago
Hi there!!! As Greek Orthodox i started to paint religion images some years ago...Are many good schools in Athens. This istructable is ok but just good for giving the motivation to start with this technique. Actually i was ready to publish my own (in a few days)...take an example of my images here...
P5300041.JPG
blksheep (author)  agis685 years ago
That looks great! I'm by no means an expert in the egg tempera technique. I just put up the instructable for people to get an basic idea of how it's done. I'm looking forward to your post.
agis68 blksheep5 years ago
I agree and u did good, also u may use this method for any painting, not only for religion images. thnx
hydrnium.h27 years ago
If you don't have a slotted spoon: To get just the yolk just make a funnel with some paper and put the egg in there, the yolk will stay and you can catch the white underneath while it drains away.
Erfunden7 years ago
I've always wanted to try this. Sounds like fun. Why wouldn't you save the whites for cooking later? I know some people who eat only the whites and toss the yolk.
I've got to try this!
very nice artwork!