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Tempera Paint Recipes







Egg Tempera (see also Egg Yolk and Egg White).

The whole egg, the yolk, or the white may be used as a tempera medium. Doerner (p.213) gives a recipe for using a whole egg, which requires with it an equal measure of oil, or stand oil, or oil varnish, and two measures of water added separately with thorough shaking. According to him, the freshness of the egg is important for the quality and the permanence of the emulsion. He says that pigments containing sulphur, such as cadmium, vermilion, and artificial ultramarine, when used with an egg emulsion, may decompose by combining with the nitrogen and sulphur compounds in the egg to form hydrogen sulphide, and he finds that the addition of vinegar or phenol is inadvisable because they discolor some pigments, and he prefers a drop of oil of cloves or small amounts of alcohol.

Among many other present-day recipes for egg tempera is that of Kurt Wehlte in Eli-Tempera und ihre Anwendungsarten (Dresden: Herrmann Neisch, 1931), pp. 28-29. He requires: 1 part of whole egg, 3/8 part of linseed oil varnish, 3/8 part of dammar resin in turpentine, and I part of water. For a somewhat different tempera, he suggests substituting oil for the amount of resin in this one. These are complicated emulsions, possibly with oil as the continuos phase (see Emulsions). A more simple medium which makes use of the whole egg is that described by Cennino Cennini, c. LXXII (Thompson, The Craftsman's Handbook, p. 51). He speaks of a tempera for wall painting, made of the white and yolk of an egg into which are put some cuttings of young shoots of a fig tree. These are beaten well together. A very rare form of egg tempera was developed by the Indians of Canada (see Douglas Leechman, 'Native Paints of the Canadian West Coast,' Technical Studies, V [1937], pp. 206-207). They used, among other mediums, eggs from various species of salmon, sometimes taken fresh, sometimes dried, and sometimes worked up by being chewed in the mouth together with a piece of red cedar bark.
The egg tempera which is traditional and reflects the practice of many centuries is that made simply with yolk of egg. It is described by Thompson in The Practice of Tempera Painting (p.96):
Take a raw fresh hen's egg, and crack it on the side of a bowl. Lift off half of the shell, keeping the yolk in the lower half, and letting the white run into the bowl. Pass the yolk back and forth from one half shell to the other several times without breaking it, so as to get rid of as much of the white as possible; and pinch off between the shells the little white knots which adhere to the yolk. Put the yolk into a cup, and break it, stirring up with it one or two tablespoonfuls of cold water. It does not much matter how much water you add; a little more or less makes no difference. You will probably develop a preference for a thick egg mixture or a thin one as you get used to it, and either is all right. The main point of adding the water is to cut the greasiness of the yolk a little, and make it fairly liquid. Pour it into a four-ounce, glass-stoppered, wide-mouthed bottle.
He recommends adding to this two or three drops of vinegar or 3 per cent acetic acid as a preservative and to make the medium less greasy. Into the egg yolk as prepared, the colors are mixed. They have already been ground in water and about equal parts of pigment paste and prepared yolk are put together, proportions being adjusted to the needs of each pigment, and the whole thinned out with water.
White of egg or glair has probably been most used as a medium for illuminating books, and for powdered or 'shell' gold, and for bole. The traditional use of it is described particularly in two MSS. One of these is in Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale MS. XII.E 27; it is translated with notes by Thompson and Hamilton, De Arte Illuminandi (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1933). The other is published also by Thompson, 'The De Clarea of the So-Called "Anonymus Bernensis,"' Technical Studies, I (1932(, pp. 8-19, and 69-81. The former is of the XIV century and the De Clarea is described by this translator (p. II) as 'a fragmentary extract from a lost work of the second half of the eleventh century.' There is little to be added to that treatise so far as preparation of the glair is concerned. The author distinguishes two kinds-one made by beating and the other by pressing. The latter sort is squeezed through cloth and is contaminated in the process. The beaten glair is better. The white is separated from the yolk and is thoroughly beaten in a platter with a wooden whisk until it sticks to the platter even when that is turned bottom-side up. Then the platter with the froth is left in a cool place, tilted slightly, until the glair liquid has settled out. With this the colors are tempered. Of this medium Thompson says (The Materials of Medieval Painting, pp. 55-56):
It is a delicate binder, very modest and retiring and inconspicuous; and it preserves the individual quality of a pigment beautifully…Glair is rather weak and brittle, especially when newly made, and partly for this reason (which militated against its use in strong concentration), partly because it was not dense enough to bring out the full quality of some pigments, it was often supplemented in book painting by gum Arabic.

excerpt taken without editing from "Painting Materials", Rutherford Gettens and George Stout, pp18-20.