Introduction: 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?

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.

Step 2: Tools and Materials

You will need:

An egg
White Vinegar
Water
Pigment (We'll be using watercolor.)
A container (I used a cup. Probably not the best idea considering some watercolor paints are poisonous.)
Paintbrush
Something to mix paint on (aluminum foil, wax paper, etc.)
Something to paint on (wood, paper, cardboard, etc.)
A slotted spoon (optional)
Paper towel (for cleaning up spills and drying brushes)

Step 3: Seperate the Egg Yolk

The part of the egg used is the egg yolk. We need to seperate it from the egg white. The clean way to do it is to break the egg and filter it through a slotted spoon. Gently shake it if necessary to get the egg white to slide off. I also turned the sink on and gently rinsed the yolk. Be very careful if you decide to rinse, a heavy stream will break the yolk.

The other way is to filter it through your fingers by passing the egg back and forth gently from one hand to the other. It just depends on you and your level of comfort with gooey things.

Either way, be careful not to break the yolk sack. What you want is a pretty golden-yellow blob.

Step 4: Mix in Vinegar and Water

Now we need to add the vinegar and water to the yolk. The vinegar keeps the egg from quickly spoiling. It will still go bad, but you will have several hours of working time before it begins to stink.

I was told the proper measurement is 1/2 eggshell of vinegar, and 1/2 eggshell of water. I did it with the eggshell, which leaked vinegar all over me. No surprise there. Next time I'll use a teaspoon. I think the idea is to just slightly cover the top of the yolk, so it isn't exposed to the air.

NOTE: On eggtempra.com the technique is a bit different. They don't use vinegar, probably because it is acidic and I think that can effect the archival quality of the artwork.

Step 5: Adding Pigment

Squeeze out a small amount of pigment on your mixing pallete (I use aluminum foil).

The way we were taught to use the egg medium is to pierce a small hole in the yolk with the brush bristles. Now the bristles have eggyolk (and a slight bit of water) on them. Mix the yolk with the paint using the tip of the brush, then apply it to the artwork. Over time the yolk will ooze out of the yolk sack, that's fine, it's still useable outside of the yolk sack.

The online tutorial is a bit different. It says to pierce the yolk sack and blend the yolk with water, then use the yolk/water mixture with the pigment. I have not tried this, but I'm sure it works just fine.

When you use the yolk straight, it is thick and dries with a slight shine. I would guess that cutting the yolk with water will be thinner with less shine.

Step 6: Color Sample

Here's the paint sample that I made. You can see that the paint is not totally opaque. Watercolor is designed to be semi-transparent. This allows you to build a painting up by layers. You can make the paint even thinner (and more transparent) by adding more egg or more water.

If you want opaque coverage, you need to use gouache (pronounced goo-ahsh). Gouache is watercolor, but it is designed to go on opaque.

If you are using multiple colors, be sure to have a container of water to rinse your brushes and paper towel to dry them.

Step 7: Drying and Clean Up

Now just sit back and let it dry. Remember, you just painted using EGG, it will dry, and it will begin to smell. Just put it somewhere out of the way and let it do its thing. After a few days the smell goes away, and you are left with a beautiful piece of art.

To clean your brushes, use some dish soap and water. Don't let the egg dry. If you do the bristles will be ruined.

Comments

author
agis68 made it! (author)2010-06-26

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
author
Faith2 made it! (author)Faith22016-12-23

DUDE, THAT LOOKS AWESOME :O

author
agis68 made it! (author)agis682016-12-25

thanks....

author
beautiful7 made it! (author)beautiful72016-11-14

I know this is from SO long ago, but I'm wondering if you ever perfected the art of tempera painting? I love the icon, and am also wondering if I can see more of your work somewhere? Thanks!

author
agis68 made it! (author)agis682016-11-14

yes ofcourse always I try to expand the limits. But what are these limits. Orthodox church doesn't want icons are out of the order of byzantine icons. So when i paint for churches I use the classic method without any extrem things. But when I paint for my self yes theare I use new methods and try to learn and apply new color methods or more decoration effects but these are unfortunatly not accepted by Orthodox Church limitations....Also try new materials to preserve the wooden surfaces or more bright coloring.

Whell actually as I said in previous message I am preparing my isntructable very analytical not only for beginners but actually I don't have enough time now. If you like give me an email (if this is not against the rules of present forum and yours ) and I will send images of my work with description and everything....or just wait...till Xmas when I will have time to prepare and publish my work

author
blksheep made it! (author)blksheep2010-06-27

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.

author
agis68 made it! (author)agis682010-06-29

I agree and u did good, also u may use this method for any painting, not only for religion images. thnx

author
matthewtweedie made it! (author)2016-07-25

creative

author
RadhikaR4 made it! (author)2016-01-02

I went to a show where i saw this technique, since then I have wanted to try it. Reading your comments have inspired and enlightened me further on how to so. look forward to more information.

author
tanya.goodwin.545 made it! (author)2015-03-17

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!

author
blksheep made it! (author)blksheep2015-03-17

Thanks Tanya! That is a great explanation. Better than my professor :)

author
tanya.goodwin.545 made it! (author)2015-03-17

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.

author
tanya.goodwin.545 made it! (author)2015-03-17

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.

author
Uncle Kudzu made it! (author)2007-12-18

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?

author
KwartzKitten made it! (author)KwartzKitten2011-01-24

Like chalk pastels or oil pastels?

author
Uncle Kudzu made it! (author)Uncle Kudzu2011-01-24

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.

author
KwartzKitten made it! (author)KwartzKitten2011-01-25

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.

author
blksheep made it! (author)blksheep2007-12-19

I've never tried that, but I bet it would work.

author
KwartzKitten made it! (author)2011-01-24

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.

author
KwartzKitten made it! (author)2011-01-24

...Oh! You use the yolk!

Boy was I confused. I was trying to figure out how to store egg white.

author
hydrnium.h2 made it! (author)2007-12-11

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.

author
Erfunden made it! (author)2007-12-11

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.

author
Spl1nt3rC3ll made it! (author)2007-12-10

I've got to try this!

author
GorillazMiko made it! (author)2007-12-10

very nice artwork!

About This Instructable

92,296views

112favorites

Bio: In a past life I was a scenic designer, living in New York and building plays and fashion shows. Now, life has slowed down a ... More »
More by blksheep:Rust Preventative MixtureCustom Web Browser Start PagePipe-Handle Manual Chainsaw
Add instructable to: