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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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Making Liquid Gum Arabic

Making Gum Arabic

This is a resin binder used for tempera, watercolor and gouache; unless mixed with egg yolk or other additive, gum Arabic stays water-soluble through the ages. If not interested in mixing dry gum Arabic into a liquid, you can purchase liquid gum in art stores. Making your own is far less expensive.

 You need:

  • Gum Arabic powder
  • Distilled water (only necessary if your faucet water is alkaline)
  • Small deep bowl
  • Small saucepan
  • Pipette
  • Whisk
  • Lidded container
  • Clove or other strong essential oil to help prevent odor and mold as liquid ages
  • Glycerin [optional]

Method:

  • Put 1 tsp gum Arabic powder into a jar with 1 cup of water
  • Stir well to remove lumps in the powder; a small whisk is handy
  • Place jar in a saucepan filled with hot but not boiling water
  • Keep saucepan over heat long enough to dissolve the powder
  • Gum Arabic slowly dissolves and looks like water with resin odor.
  • Add 1part gum Arabic liquid to 5 parts glycerin for smoother liquid [optional]
  • Let stand 2-4 hours, to overnight
  • To mix paint, use pipette to add 2 parts water to 1 part gum Arabic, then add it to dry pigment
  • Use a muller to grind the pigment with the water-gum mix, working it until the paint it smooth

Short-cut Method:

  • If in a hurry, do this:
  • Stir gum Arabic powder into 1 cup very hot but not boiling water
  • Keep stirring or whisking until the powder dissolves
  • It may be necessary to heat the powder / water mixture until powder dissolves
  • Rushing things can leave undissolved powder in the liquid

Storage:

  • Well-capped, gum Arabic liquid keeps at room temperature for several days
  • To keep 6-8 months, add 1drop essential oil to prevent mold from forming and refrigerate.
  • If gum thickens, add a few drops of distilled water

Image: Our finely powdered gum Arabic, ready to be made liquid when needed.

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Making Watercolors & Gouache Paints

Making Glair (Egg-white Binder)

for making watercolor paint.
This binder makes transparent watercolors or gold-leaf adhesive. It’s a protein, so is water-soluble only while wet; fairly permanent when dry.

You need:

  • 1 egg white
  • Small deep bowl
  • Pipette*
  • Whisk
  • Lidded container
  • Clove oil*
  • Soapy water for dirty brushes
  • Paper towels for cleanup
  • Small trash bag
  • Art brushes
  • Gum Arabic*
  • Practice paper
  • Paper, parchment, etc. to paint on

 Method:

  • Separate white from yolk, remove opaque ‘eye’ thread.
  • Whisk white to stiff peaks like making a meringue
  • Cover bowl loosely to keep dust-free and set overnight.
  • Next day, scrape off foam and feed to the dog or toss it
  • Pour liquid into container, add drop of clove oil if desired.
  • Add about 1:1 glair and gum Arabic
  • Mix with pigments as with making egg tempera.
  • Glair will keep 1 week in refrigerator if well sealed.
  • Once old glair gets moldy, it’s not good for art, so toss it out.

 

Gouache (Opaque Watercolor)

This recipe creates watercolor paint with white filler‡

  • Mix 1 part whiting‡ to 6 parts pigment.
  • Adjust for depth of opacity as desired.
  • Some artists like a semi-opaque paint. Go for it!

‡ chalk*, kaolin* or titanium dioxide*

* Item sold by Ancient Earth Pigments

 

Image: Red capital “N” with green and russet watercolor edging, from unknown Medieval
manuscript. Note that the capital letter is “inhabited” by a monk-like scribe or artist.