Another egg tempera study

Egg tempera portrait

Egg tempera portrait

I’ve made another egg tempera study, again from a photo portrait by Steve McCurry. This one turned out a bit better than the first – it’s done in natural Venetian red and titanium white, again from Rublev. I am really liking this new (for me) medium. I’m thinking I’m going to do lots more with it.

I’m currently working on a third study that doesn’t seem to be going so well… part of the problem may be an alteration of my technique. In this painting I’ve posted here, I used the egg tempera pretty much like gouache, applying the paint in thin but substantial brush strokes. But from what I’ve read, and from some feedback I received, egg tempera is at its best when it is built up slowly in thin layers. So I tried that in the current painting, which is a grisaille of raw umber and titanium white (if I finish it to my satisfaction I’ll post it here); but I was immediately thrown off my stride by the change. I wound up switching back to my older style after a few layers.

(Part of the problem was the drawing itself, I definitely screwed that up and needed to fix it with the paint, which is something I don’t like to have to do. Also, my wrists are weak – I have bad recurring tendonitis in my wrists, and they go sour if I overuse them – just too weak to be scrubbing at the panel forever. I do ink drawings that require that sometimes, but I wouldn’t be able to do them every day. I want to be able to paint every day, or close to it; so I paint standing up, the easel at arm’s length, and have at it, relaxed and loose. It’s really the only way I can paint if I want to do it regularly.)

Another reason I’m getting excited about the egg tempera is that it seems like it might be able to replace the mixed media technique I posted on a few weeks ago, the one that layers inks, watercolors, gouache, a separating varnish, and oils. The ink drawing is already a part of the egg tempera painting process, and the egg tempera itself can stand in for the watercolors, gouache and separating varnish, and can be painted over with oil glazes directly. This simplifies the process a lot, and it does away with the thorny problem of finding the right natural varnish for the separating layer – I was going to be trying shellac and all sorts of things. Also, it doesn’t get much more traditional than this. I like the innovation of the methods I was using before, but – well, according to one or two schools of thought, oil glazes over egg tempera or tempera grassa were used by the early Flemish masters. How cool is that? No secret medium – just oil over egg.

Obviously I’ve got a lot of work to do before coming to any decisions – but one of my problems is that I just think too much. But maybe, in this case, it’s led me in a good direction. A few more studies in straight egg tempera, then I’ll get those gesso panels and try out the tempera grassa, then oil glazes over all.

The wedding is in one month! – L.Lawrence


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2 Responses to “Another egg tempera study”

  1. Lindsay Says:

    Hello, I am trying to learn about earth pigments too and how to find and use them. I am in San Diego and I am wondering how to contact you to hopefully learn more. It is so hard to find artists who know. I learned about them traveling in the Amazon and making my own paint and paper. Please send me an email when you can 🙂

    • llawrence Says:

      Hi Lindsay, I haven’t been around for a while, that’s why I didn’t reply sooner. You’ve got some nice work on your site. In San Diego, I’d try out in East County. Seems like the further east you go, the better the earths get…

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