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!
1:1 Gum Arabic Solution
Clove oil or vinegar (optional)
Pipette or measuring spoons
Scissors or sharp knife
Whisk or mixing stick
Tiny spoons or spatula
Glass grinding plate
Preparing Egg Tempera Binder:
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.
Carefully roll the yolk onto a paper towel. Roll it back and forth to remove all the egg white.
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.
Use pipette to add enough water for a 1:1 mixture and whisk.
Add 1:1 Gum Arabic solution to the yolk mixture and whisk.
Add a drop of clove oil or vinegar to avoid ‘eggy’ odor and prevent mold. (this is optional)
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.
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.
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.
Gum Arabic powder
Distilled water (only necessary if your faucet water is alkaline)
Small deep bowl
Clove or other strong essential oil to help prevent odor and mold as liquid ages
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
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
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.