I am starting a new adventure in painting, egg tempera. As with all things I find an interest in I have been researching, reading and obsessing about this new medium for weeks now, when I learned about the glazing properties and luminous quality of egg tempera I knew I had to try! I also contacted several artists with knowledge about the technique and I can't say enough about the generous nature in which they shared information with me. One artist sent me New Techniques in Egg Tempera by Robert Vickrey via USPS, which was a very good read and quite inspiring. Koo Schadler, master egg tempera painter, sent me several e-mails with detailed information answering my particular concerns about the medium. I am a huge fan of her work and it was amazing to converse with her! I had read several posts by her on various art forums about egg tempera and she is so passionate about painting.
I also had a memorable visit at local artist Juan Wijngaard's home and studio. He graciously invited me over to learn about egg tempera, his space is the picture above--his 'daily grind'. We spent the afternoon talking about painting and drawing, viewing amazing artwork and I left feeling so inspired. His studio is a dream, filled with his figurative oil paintings, landscapes and charcoal drawings from life. All the photos here are of his amazing space.
~*~*~Juan Wijngaard's art studio~*~*~
I soon placed an order for dry pigments through Natural Pigments, I use several of their oil paints and knew I would receive the highest quality supplies. There's something about art supplies that I find so luscious, it's hard to describe. When I get a box of paints in the mail I really take my time savoring the new packages and containers. The colors are so beautiful! I also ordered true gesso, a mix of rabbit skin glue and marble dust. I have never used traditional materials to prepare my panels, acrylic based gesso has always worked fine for my oil painting, but I was excited to try out something new and was curious about the different quality of the primer and it's application.
I use regular masonite from the hardware store and always coat it with PVA size to isolate the surface from my primer. These had a coating applied already, they had a slightly tacky feel to them. I'm not sure if it's necessary when using the mixture I was about to apply, which has rabbit skin glue in it already, but I figured it wouldn't hurt. After soaking the gesso, (which was RSG and marble dust together in one mix), I placed the mixture over a pan of hot water which immediately liquified the gel to a milky consistency. As it cools it thickens up quite a bit. It was tricky to apply in smooth even layers. I realized the trick--lots of sanding to create a super smooth plaster-like finish. I felt like I was sanding half of the gesso off, but from what I understand that is normal.
Next I decided to grind all my pigments to prepare them for painting. I saw how Juan kept his in jars with water over the surface to keep them from drying out. Out here in the dry Southwest tempera paints can dry out incredibly quickly. I used distilled water and mixed the pigment until I got a nice smooth consistency. Most of the pigments were already quite smooth, which surprised me. I had expected there to be a grainy texture--hence the 'grinding' to a smooth paste. I breezed through most of the pigments by just using my palette knife and glass palette, then I got to the blues.... I had ordered Prussian blue which was a very fine dust and incredibly grainy. I worked it and worked it on the palette and switched over to my mortar and pestle. It was a disaster, if you think prussian blue invades everything on your palette when painting in oil, try manipulating the dusty particles w/out contaminating your whole studio. It was everywhere, thank goodness I was wearing gloves and a dust mask! I gave up on a getting a smooth paste and moved on to ultramarine blue which was slightly less grainy. Both the blues had a peculiar odor compared to the other natural colors.
My basic palette is complete. As soon as my panels cure a few more days I will attempt my first egg tempera painting. I'm nervous about the fast drying time, which is also what attracted me to the medium in the first place. I also read it can be tricky to get the proper proportion of pigment to egg yolk. I'm expecting a challenge but ready to try, we will see what happens! I will post my result soon.