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Making Egg Tempera

Egg Tempera is an ancient painting medium using egg yolk or a whole egg. It was famously used in Europe for illuminated manuscripts, and was the most common painting medium until it was surpassed by oil paint during the Renaissance. Once dried, egg yolk tempera hardens permanently and can last for centuries.

Here’s a basic recipe to make it yourself!

Tools for making Egg Tempera. Egg, water, gum arabic, clove oil, scissors, brush, paper towels, gloves, bowls.

Ingredients:

  • One egg
  • 1:1 Gum Arabic Solution
  • Water
  • Clove oil or vinegar (optional)

Tools:

  • Bowls
  • Pipette or measuring spoons
  • Paper Towels
  • Scissors or sharp knife
  • Whisk or mixing stick
  • Tiny spoons or spatula
  • Glass grinding plate
  • Muller

Preparing Egg Tempera Binder:

Separate:

Use as fresh an egg as possible. Break eggshell carefully, letting egg white drip into a bowl. Move the yolk gently between shell halves; don’t break the yolk.

Roll:

Carefully roll the yolk onto a paper towel. Roll it back and forth to remove all the egg white.

Drain:

Rolling the yolk to the edge of the towel, place another bowl under it. Pierce it with the knife and let it drain into the bowl. Keep the yolk sac out, and throw it away.

Water:

Use pipette to add enough water for a 1:1 mixture and whisk.

Gum Arabic:

Add 1:1 Gum Arabic solution to the yolk mixture and whisk.

*Clove oil

Add a drop of clove oil or vinegar to avoid ‘eggy’ odor and prevent mold. (this is optional)


Pigment Mixing:

Supplies for pigment mixing. Egg mixture, pigments, glass plate, brush, spatula, spoon, muller

Using the frosted side of a glass plate, add 1-2 drops of your egg mixture with a pipette.

Add a tiny amount of dry pigment and grind lightly with the muller.

Test your tempera– if it dries dull, add more yolk. If it’s too thin or too glossy, add more pigment.


Notes:

Without added pigment, the yolk mixture lasts 3-4 days.

Mixed with pigment, it lasts until dried, about 2-3 days.

Make sure to wash your brushes quickly after using. Egg yolk gets very hard! (Remember that egg tempera paintings last many centuries…) Olive oil soap is recommended.


Recipe by Bjo Trimble. Video by Anna Nelson.

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The Annunciation in Many Mediums

The spark of inspiration, combined with artistic skill and patronage by wealthy families or the Church are often the “back story” to many of the world’s great art pieces.

On a trip to Italy, we amused ourselves by capturing the many attitudes and poses of Mary and the Angel as we toured museums.

I’m particularly fond of the story of the Annunciation, where an Angel of the Lord visits a young woman, saying, “Hail, Mary!” Here, I found that angels can have multicolored wings.

As we are avid readers, we were laughing to see how Mary is often seen reading. Sometimes she is surprised, or annoyed, or turning away from the interruption.

Annunciation, Alesssandro Filipepi, called BOTTICELLI c.1489-90 Tempera on wood

The earliest examples we saw of the Annunciation were done as fresco (pigments painted into wet plaster on walls) or egg tempera (pigments bound with egg yolk and/or egg white) on animal skin parchment or painted on wood panels. We were astonished to see how brilliant the egg tempera was even though 600 years had passed!

Only in the later Italian Renaissance were the pigments bound in oil medium, usually upon a ground of gesso on panels or canvas. In contrast to the tempera, some of the oils had darkened. Or, reactions had set up between the lime in the fresco and the pigments themselves.

Annunciation, Alessandro Allori, Firenze, c.1603, Oil on canvas.

In most of these and other paintings of Mary, her gown and robe are painted in the most valuable and expensive pigments of the day. Both she and the angel (and a dove) may have haloes of gold, are surrounded by gold leaf or by rays of shell-gold paint. Great care was taken in depicting her surroundings, whether she is kneeling, sitting by a tapestry, or architectural elements- the artist used the “newest” style of perspective.

Our sincerest thanks and appreciation go to the fine art museums of Italy especially in Rome, The Vatican, Florence and Venice for their exceptional collections and efforts to maintain and restore these treasures for future generations to enjoy!

At Ancient Earth Pigments we strive to make sure that the pure pigments we sell are as versatile as possible. In the individual descriptions of each pigment, you can read whether it will be suitable for the medium you use, today, or the type of art you wish to learn in the future! Families of artists or friends can share a stock of pigments, each artist mixing with the binder or medium of their choice for their project- be it pastel, fresco, egg tempera, watercolor, gouache, oils, acrylics or even ceramics. One of my teachers is using our pigment to tint the grout around her inlaid turquoise jewelry!

Here is one of my works in progress- “The Annunciation” in egg tempera on sheep skin parchment. I’ve completed Mary’s face and headdress. I’ll deepen the values of her blue gown. The archways and background will be detailed now that I’ve established where I want the dove’s beam of light to fall.

The Angel is sometimes depicted as a child. The Angel’s face has had its under-painting of green shadows. Now, I can add the layers of translucent skin tones on top. Lastly, I’ll define the fingers and hands with stronger highlights and shadows. I’ve also shown some of my favorite tools. Wish me luck!

The above image, copyright Linda D. Nelson, 2020. This image may not be used for any purpose without permission by the artist.
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Hello!

I’m the new owner of Ancient Earth Pigments.

Hello!  I’m Linda D. Nelson, an all-ages art teacher, artist in Pastels, Oils and Watercolor, jeweler, activist and lifelong environmentalist. I’ve raised my family of 3 kids into strong adults with a great partner. I’m a woman of color who welcomes diversity.

I’m a co-founder of the Santa Barbara Art Association-Student Art Fund, a Non-Profit 501c3 which provides funding and grants for public Jr. and Sr. High School art classes in Goleta, Santa Barbara and Carpinteria, CA.

I support all forms of education by paying attention to local issues, rallying fellow students by connecting them with each other and sharing appropriate Calls to Action.  I’ve marched in Sacramento to support teachers and met with legislators.

My ‘Superpower’ is the ability to listen and help anyone of any age to become more creative and expand their horizons. My love of teaching arts and enjoyment of art history is a perfect fit with historical art pigments and tools. I’m developing my personal style in period illumination and egg tempera.  Ancient Earth Pigments is an awesome source for all of us to experiment in six or more mediums using one jar of color!

Can I help you experience something new and fun, today? Check out our convenient and affordable Historical Color Sets or the smaller beginner’s Pocket Pigment Kit.