Egg Tempera Painting





Introduction: Egg Tempera Painting

About: 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 bit and I'm figuring out how to be a good husband and dad.

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

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
Pigment (We'll be using watercolor.)
A container (I used a cup. Probably not the best idea considering some watercolor paints are poisonous.)
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 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.



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    31 Discussions

    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...

    14 replies

    Hello there!

    where did you take that subject of your religion image?

    it is almost the same of the icon that I have at home, but I do not know from where it comes :-(


    check this:

    Great I found a lot of saint Georges, I have one icon which I think is ancient as well, how much it may worth if originals?

    depends the age, the followed technique etc.....If it's original orthodox icon, usualy at the back there is the name of the artist, except monks they don't sign the icons because wasn't painted by them but from the Holly Spirit through the hand!...Anyway depends the age also....Imagine an icon of 5-6th century (Empire Komninos dynasty) its so precious and actually cannot be shelled. We are talking about 3-60millions US$ depending condition. even a burned icon has value (from a burned church-monastery during centuries). But because all these are under state protection, even when be found you take some award (enough money) but not the icon.

    Double Icons (ordered by client) with Jesus and his Mother in Olive tree (the bole was taken from a left-over of an olive tree after fire)

    IHSOOUS AND PANAGIA.jpgJESUS and Holly Mother.jpg

    First of all I searched the internet and churches for images....I have a massive collection of images taken even from net even I shoot them from religion areas. Now The image of yours is nice but is not for nothing maded under the byzantine-orthodox principles....difference in colors, in shadows and the illuminations of textiles and clothes are much different from the orthodox Iconography....If you like to study more look for the rublev iconography who is the best that kept the orthodox iconography spirit, and materials and use from Ottomans while Byzantine empire smashed. After that here in Greece we have two iconography schools with different perspective of procedure.....While in simpe tempera we start from light to dark colors, in iconography we do it backwards. The reason is that the light it comes from Holy spirit, and help us smooth and illuminate the darkness. All the people that paints iconography in Orthodox religion we pray first and we call the Holly Spirit to help us and be a guide for us. Also we pray during the procedure. So the two schools are . The Kretan and the Macedoninan (thessaloniki). The first it start from dark skin and illuminates it gradually (Only the skin all the other as I said before). The second is more conservative and more attached to the old byzantine rythm so is using more layers than the other school and the result is a pretty smooth skin, almost divine, like a porcelain doll


    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!

    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

    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.

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

    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.

    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!

    1 reply

    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.