Monday, 12 March 2012

Experimenting with egg tempera - just in case you're interested!!

Apologies for this posting which may be a bit boring unless you have an enquiring mind like me!

I bought some tubes of egg tempera a while back to do some painting experiments with. I wanted to paint on canvas over gold leaf without losing the sparkle.  Egg tempera is transparent so is ideal for this and was used widely for things such as icons.

I didn't know anything about it, and I eventually went off the idea of painting using it, because I was distracted by something else! I think Marc Chagall, used these paints in some of his most famous works. Egg tempera was already being used in the Renaissance; in the 16th century it was the predominant painting medium.

I bought Sennelier egg tempera which is based on a very old recipe. It consists of an emulsion made from vegetable oil, plant resin, egg yolk, and distilled water, as well as an anti-mould agent; it's transparent to semi-transparent, water soluble, and will not age, turn yellow or lose its luminosity over time.

I've been thinking about gold leaf and using it on a piece for the Orientation exhibition, so it seemed like a good time to get out the egg tempera and experiment a bit to see if it was possible to colour the gold leaf after it was applied, and to just see how it managed on cotton fabric alone. The photo above shows two swatches of the paint.

The first swatch was ironed on hot for about 2 minutes to see if "heat setting" made any difference to the colour when the fabric was washed. It smelt a bit, which made me wonder if it was toxic (on the vague off chance that there is someone out there interested in doing something similar themselves, it might be best to wear a protective mask of some kind.  I know the contents as listed seem ok, but I also know that some paint colours, particularly the cadmiums, are highly poisonous)

The second swatch was cut in half; one half I kept as a control and the other I washed without ironing first.  The washing was "worse case scenario" ie too hot for comfort!  Both samples were ok without too much colour loss, and the ironed one didn't lose any less colour than the non ironed.  The hand of the material altered when painted to become firm, similar to acrylics, but softened after washing to be the same as the non painted fabric.

 I expected all the colour to disappear so was pleasantly surpised. It's quite nice to use on fabric as it doesn't absorb quite so easily as acrylic and is more fluid in it's undiluted state, so spreads well.

Conclusion: Vaguely interesting!

On the left is a sketch using bamboo and my teapot. The scale is wrong and the teapot needs to be bigger and the bamboo thinner, but I'm getting there.
Oh, and I love this orange/red fabric which is a must for the teapot.

This piece isn't going to be large and will probably be mounted on canvas.


  1. Hi Annabel - Much as I love the effect, I've never used egg tempera so I shall watch your progress with great interest. I'm already surprised to hear how it survived the hot wash test - I'd have thought it was quite a fragile medium. Just proves that you should never make assumptions and should just try things for yourself doesn't it?

  2. Yes, it is odd that it didn't wash away. Perhaps the hot water and/or the ironing cooked the egg?!! I'm going to put some gold on fabric tomorrow and paint over it to see what effects I can get....I haven't got much gold leaf left so will just do a tiny bit to see what happens.