Ralph Larmann

Art Department

University of Evansville

egg tempera

Egg yolk creates the binder for this type of painting. The yolk of the egg contains albumen, a substance which when applied to a surface creates a strong permanent transparent layer.

The process of preparing the egg yolk for use as a painting binder has been written about in historical texts. Here is an overview of that procedure.

Book Source

  1. After breaking the egg, pour the contents from one half shell to the other allowing the the egg white to fall away (an egg separator can be used here).
  2. After most of the egg white has been removed, gently pour egg yolk, which should still be intact, into the palm of your hand.
  3. Carefully roll the yolk from one hand to the other wiping away the excess egg white from the free hand. Have a towel handy for this part of the procedure.
  4. Use a cloth (or paper towel) to lightly dry the exterior of the yolk.
  5. Pinch the yolk so that you can hold it up, like a mother cat picks up a kitten, and puncture the egg yolk over a recloseable container. It is essential that no egg white or pieces of the egg sac are left in the solution.
  6. Add dry pigment powder which has been slightly wetted and mix into the solution until it reaches the consistency of thin gravy. The reason the pigment should be slightly wet is to keep the powdered pigment from being breathed. Never handle dry pigment without the use of a dust mask or respirator. Dry pigment can be toxic if breathed.
  7. If need be add a small amount of water to make the paint more fluid. Try not to add too much because a solution that is either too thin or too thick will result in cracking.
  8. Close up container and repeat procedure for all colors to be used.

Egg tempera works best on a finely sanded oil-gessoed or rabbitskin glue prepared wooden panel. An excellent product to use for the painting ground is a product named Claybord, which is available in art supply stores. Masonite or plywood are good substitutes for the traditional solid wood panel used in earlier times.

When applying egg tempera, it is imperative that you work quickly. Egg tempera is extremely quick-drying. An effective technique for creating the planes of color and value is hatching and cross-hatching.

hatching & cross-hatching

Hatching is the use of linear strokes laid closely to each other to create a value or color. Cross-hatching occurs when the strokes overlap, creating darker values and deeper color.

updated 07/15/04

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