Tuesday, January 5, 2010

First Attempt at Egg Tempera

First, let me say, Happy New Year !! 2010!! It's hard to believe we're already in the first week of a new year. Where does the time go?

Now on to new work! After I finished the stone with the illuminated G, I needed something that I could paint in miniature using egg tempera. I wanted to keep it simple so I decided to do another illuminated letter. I didn't have as much of a problem as I thought I would with cleaning the egg yolk for the medium, (thank you Mona for your demo)! I found that using my hands to clean off the yolk worked better for me than the paper towel though. Until I know better what I'm doing, I am using watercolor instead of powdered pigments, except for titanium white. My surface was a 100% rag illustration board. My friend Janie Olsen ordered some of the True Gesso panels and is bringing me one on Friday. The True Gesso panels are not made with acrylic gesso, but made with the rabbit skin glue formula and are perfect for egg tempera painting.

Below is what I did and the problems I ran into. I think the hardest part was knowing when I had enough medium mixed with the paint. Also, I noticed the paint that was already applied was fragile and could scratch easily. I used thin paint to seal the surface and then on top of that I would use cross hatching and thin glazes. Sometimes the paint would lift off if it wasn't completely dry so I would work on another area.

You can see the cross hatching on the gold/orange area.

Here is where I've covered all the surface with thin layers.

I have continued to build up color and light. Here is where I started noticing problems. There is a flaky place just above the "a" and "y". Then the same thing started happening on the lower left corner. I was going to repair it on the bottom left corner by building it back up, but thought I'd leave it for awhile and see if anyone has any solutions. I also wonder about just using some of the medium alone on top of the flaky place above the "a" and "y" to see if it would stabilize it.

I continued to work on it because I was hoping to save it. I loved the glow and the colors. You can see the flaking places really well here as I used my brush to lift them off hoping I could repair them. I started to repaint, but gave up because I wasn't sure if I would run into this elsewhere as well. At this point I had already spent too much time without any assistance. I would like to know if I am on the right track, if this flaking is because I've not used enough egg medium, or if it's because I added too much paint or too many layers without it being dry? From the research I did, it sounds like the answer could be YES to all of them. But I don't know which and I'd like to avoid it again!! I'm having Janie look at it when she comes over. She's done some egg tempera and took one of Koo Schadler's one day workshops. I'm hoping she can at least give me her opinion. Any other suggestions would be welcome. I know Mona Diane Conner does beautiful work in egg tempera and sometimes visits here, so maybe she can give me some insight. I will try again. However for now, I need to move along and get some work finished for all my miniature deadlines coming up!

This is the new attempt so far of the same image using acrylics. I'll post the finished work when it's done. I enjoyed using the egg tempera so far and I'll be going back to it when I get a slot of time to try again. I think it's probably like anything else that you do. You have to do it a lot till you work out the problems and get better at it. So for now, I'll put the egg tempera on pause. Thanks for reading this post.


Tatiana Myers said...

Congratulations, you got hooked!
I love working with tempera paints and often do mix it with watercolors. I also see no evil in using of ready paints from Sennelier and some ready tempera medium from the same company, what I'm mixing with my own pigments. Illustration board works very well for me too. I think you will love it, Barbara! Always good to try something new.

AutumnLeaves said...

Barbara, this work is just gorgeous. I enlarged it to look at it and have to admit that my textbook is so right! The medium of the picture plane can and does lend to the beauty of a piece. I could not see the flakes you mentioned, even in the enlargement. Not only do I love the illuminated manuscript, but your choice of word just is wonderful...I really, really like this piece!

Barbara A. Freeman said...

Hi Tatiana and Autumn and thanks for your comments.

Tatiana, have you had any problems with the surface flaking? Are you using the egg yolk mixed with the watercolor as well as the ready made tempera paint? I'll have to take a look at the Sennelier.

I'm glad you like it Autumn. I am doing the word over again in acrylic, (last photo). I'm hoping to have it finished soon and will post it. I haven't given up on egg tempera though, just had to move on to get something finished.

DEB said...

Barbara, it's a fun medium to work with, isn't it!? I am just a beginner too, so I'm sure Mona will have some great advice. But I will say that I too have experienced the flaking. I thought it was because I used too heavy a layer. Also, one piece I did for a friend ended up peeling months later. I think this was because I put it into a rigid plastic toploader - probably only a few days after I finished it. I think this medium really needs months to dry completely - especially if you use a lot of layers. Also, a comment about the sennelier ready made egg tempera tube paints - The blue color has sulfur in it, and really stinks, at least to me. The tubes also have expiration dates you should be aware of. And the tube paints I have dry to a chalky finish. Mona told me that they aren't supposed to, but mine do - as opposed to the glossy finish that you can buff. The tube paints really seem like just stinky gouache to me. If I'm going to do egg tempera, I prefer the powder pigments and the egg yolk, where I have more control over the intensity of the gloss and the color. Of course, I haven't posted most of my experiments, because they haven't resulted in salable pieces.

Barbara A. Freeman said...

Hi Deb. Thanks for letting me know I'm not the only one! I'm sorry to hear that you had the flaking and on one months later. That's what concerns me. What surface did you paint on?

Like I said when I did my research, all of the things I thought I did wrong, were all probably the cause. I did read that about the ultramarine blue, the make up of it is what causes the smell. Not only the tube, but also the powdered pigment. Did you use the powdered pigments with egg yolk and if so, which brand? I am sticking to the watercolor until I am sure this is something I can do successfully and want to continue doing. I like not having to deal with varnish. However, I am allergic to eating egg yolk, so I also want to make sure using it as a medium isn't a problem. Sometimes it takes a bit of time before I get symptoms of a reaction. So far, it's not caused me any problems. I think it would suit the way I work since I like drawing and using layers of colored pencil. Mona is having computer problems, but hopefully she'll see this when she's back online.

Mona said...

Barbara, what a beautiful egg tempera, and an illuminated word is so appropriate because of how egg tempera is traditionally used for illuminated manuscripts for many centuries! I loved your illuminated "G" as well! Just gorgeous!

I've been offline for a week with some computer woes that I am still trying to sort out, so am still catching up in general. Two thoughts I have are (1) painting too thickly over an area and (2) not enough egg solution are two things that can cause a flaking action. I recommend trying a thin layer of just the egg solution over the area, allowing it to dry and then paint another thin layer over it. I can barely see the flaw in your photo, so maybe this would be enough to correct it.

The best way to determine if you are using the right amount of egg is if when your layering is done you have a nice 'sheen' or satin looking patina. If it looks oily or greasy, you've added too much egg; if it's chalky and matte, too little. A nice way to compensate if your finished painting has an uneven sheen is give it a final thin layer of egg solution overall once you've let it dry chemically for a time, (perhaps after a week, or it you are in a hurry, do a little test patch).

It's great trying both the gesso and Strathmore surfaces---it is a different experience on each, and don't worry if on panel the first layers look scrubby or discouraging---just keep going and on the third and further layers to achieve a more even look. The key is very thin layers, and daubing your paint brush on a paper towel after loading it and before application to avoid too much paint at once.

Barbara A. Freeman said...

Hi Mona, I'm so happy you were able to reply. Hope you get your computer problems taken care of.

Thank you for your comments on my work and especially for your tips on the egg tempera. When I'm able to get back to working on it, I will try putting the egg solution over it and then repair the trouble spots. This will be my practice piece. Perhaps I was over loading my brush. I read and researched so much and have it all in my brain, but when working old habits get busy. When you said, "The key is very thin layers, and daubing your paint brush on a paper towel after loading it and before application to avoid too much paint at once", I know I probably didn't do the daubing on the paper towel. So I probably did have too much paint in places even though I think it's thin. I do drag my brush across my glass palette first before applying though. I'll just be more mindful next time!

Thanks for letting me know about the differences in the panel and the Strathmore. Do you know if the panels can be cut, it is an 8" x 10"? Janie said it looks like it would be a problem to cut, that it could damage the surface. She said they, (True Gesso) are going to consider offering a 4"x 4" size which would be great.

Thanks again Mona for your help.

storybookstudio said...

Barbara you new work looks great I can't wait to see it in person and get you your gesso panel! All the previous comments are really interesting. I am really looking forward to starting a "real" egg tempera piece soon-- still have just been practicing

Barbara A. Freeman said...

Hi Janie and thanks. Looking forward to seeing you and showing you my practice piece! You should bring your practice work along.

Thank you to ALL my blogging friends for your helpful comments and support!

Mona said...

Barbara, p.s., just want to emphasize that although I was sharing some general advice, your egg tempera is truly awesome on the first try!

Re: cutting a panel smaller, my local framer has been nice about cutting a small panel down, (esp. if I buy a small frame while I'm there!) He's done it even after I've painted a mini where he trimmed it down to a 4" x 6", although it's best to pre-cut of course. From watching him do it, I saw that you need to lock the panel in position with a brace on your table surface and use the right type of saw (which a framer will have), but it comes out fine, and you can just lightly sand any rough edges.

Another panelmaker I've used has been willing to cut small sizes, and cut a box of small panel chunks for me for egg tempera workshops.

Tracy Hall said...

This egg tempera discussion is fasciating and great of you to share your progress Barbara. I'm not sure I would be brave enough to even attempt it! Your letter looks terrific.

Tatiana Myers said...

Hi, Barbara!
I tried to post a response to your question, but I guess something didn't work... That is OK.
So, here we go again...
Do I have a problems with flaking?
No. I never did. Then, of course I read about it and from what I understand with both - gouache and/or tempera paints it is impotent to start with very subtle layers, never out it on think. In fact, I'm most of the time treating my tempera as watercolor, so it is subtle, transparent and layers are "see though". This way, it shouldn't flake, and should work just fine.
Egg mixing. To be totally honest I never did it. I'm not big fan or raw eggs then it comes to cooking,and with amounts of paint I use, I usually need very little, but sometimes have to make sure that I can keep it for a while... So, I'm using ready factory paints a lot, but because I have some problems with their colors, I came to the point of using ready medium.So far I'm working with Sennelier, but I know, that are some others on a market too..
Like this one:
Don't know, how good is it, but Sennelier works for me with my dry pigments. Speaking of "mixing from scratch", we coming to interesting point... every country has different approach to what tempera is about. I'm going to play with it, when I'll have more free time. Some mixing arr with vinegar, some adding some vine, Germans (of course!) will use some beer, etc., etc.I don't think I'll have a problems with own mixes, I'm a chemist after all, but so far I didn't have to do it...
And I also like Illustration board as support.

Barbara A. Freeman said...

Thanks Mona. I hope I get a chance to work with it some more. I think it would suit the way I work, but I need to get the hang of it first! Also, thanks for the information about cutting down the panel. I don't have the tools and not sure I know anyone here to do it, but it's good to know it is possible.

Thanks Tracy, it was time for me to stop reading about it and just do it!

Thanks Tatiana, I do think I was using the paint thicker than I should, and/or not enough medium in places. I also know there are different opinions on using the vinegar, wine and oil of clove. I hadn't heard about beer though! I did know about the Kremer products and have them bookmarked. When you say you are using the Sennelier, do you mean you are using the dry pigments with the ready made medium? Or are you using both the ready in tube egg tempera paint and bottled medium? From reading your first comment, I think you are saying you use all of them, except for the raw egg. You use tube egg tempera paint, powdered pigment and sometimes watercolor, all with the bottled egg medium. Is this correct? That's good to know because it would increase the color choices. I do know that watercolor which I am using will be different from using the powdered pigment due to the watercolor having gum arabic in it. So many things to learn and try. This is only my very first try. I didn't expect to have eveything just fall in place! After all, it's the process that you learn from. I do have a long way to go. Now all I need is the time!

Thanks again. You all have been so helpful!

Tatiana Myers said...

"You use tube egg tempera paint, powdered pigment and sometimes watercolor, all with the bottled egg medium. Is this correct? "

Yes, it is totally correct. And... sometimes, when I don't have correct color, I may try to mix my own, by smashing one of my soft pastels and mixing it up with the medium... Soft pastels are practically a pure pigment and softer they are - so lesser binder they contain... So I personally feel safe sometimes to scratch some powder of my Terry Ludwig pastels (I have great selection of green in terry Ludwig). It was my personal idea, but later I found out, that other people did it before me. I like to experiment with my paints, how you can see. Usually it works... sometimes I'm getting myself into total disaster! :-)

Barbara A. Freeman said...

Thanks Tatiana for sharing. Sounds like a great way to get the colors you like using.