Wednesday, December 03, 2014

An egg tempera day

I did a workshop about egg tempera with Ruth Stage today.  This is a bit of a picture post with random jottings of things I learned today

Egg Tempera paintings by Ruth Stage
New England Art Club Exhibition 2014, Mall Galleries
The day came in four parts
  1. instruction by Ruth on materials and how to make egg tempera and the supports to paint on
  2. a review of her work
  3. we all had a go at painting on the gesso boards she brought for us
  4. a review of the egg tempera paintings in the National Gallery

Things I learned about egg tempera today

Ruth has been painting in egg tempera since her studies at the Royal Academy Schools. In 2013, one of her egg tempera paintings won the Lynn Painter Stainer Prize (see Lynn Painter Stainer Exhibition 2013: Review)

Ruth prefers to paint with egg tempera because it doesn't smell (ie good for those who have problems with solvents), has a good finish, dries quickly and looks different. It also has the advantage of getting more robust with age.

Ruth uses:

She recommends:
  • breaking the egg under a tap as this helps to remove the white of the egg
  • prick the egg yolk with a pin or squeeze the yolk out through your fingers leaving the egg sac behind
  • using a different plastic spoon for each jar of pigment to avoid contamination
  • only mix a tiny bit of paint as it dries quickly on a palette
  • wiping a gesso board with a damp cloth before you start to remove any film, dust or contamination
  • using like watercolour ie she would not recommend building light paint on top of dark
  • only using a couple of layers of thin paint - and waiting for the first layer to dry before adding the second. 
  • thinking about where to put the paint before applying it as it cannot be moved around in the same way other paints can - there is now working 'wet in wet' with egg tempera
  • scratching out to create texture or to add in a new colour
  • choosing subject matter which will work the need fore a different approach to painting with egg tempera. If you click the link in Ruth's name (at the top of this post) you can see a gallery catalogue of her work for a solo exhibition and how she uses calligraphic mark-making over a flat wash.
  • working upright most of the time
Here we are painting after lunch

NEAC Egg Tempera workshop in the Mall Galleries
Mine's the large one in the foreground - I'm painting from a sketch of Chartwell under the table!
Did you know that the Wilton Diptych is painted in egg tempera?

"Richard II presented to the Virgin and Child
by his Patron Saint John the Baptist and Saints Edward and Edmund" ('The Wilton Diptych') c. 1395-9
Egg on oak, 53 x 37 cm
Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino at the Battle of San Romano (c.1438-40) by Paolo Uccello
Egg tempera with walnut oil and linseed oil on poplar; 182 x 320 cm
Or that Uccello's painting of the Battle of St. Romano is a painting in egg tempera?  Or that it's possible to use oil with egg tempera - in this instance walnut oil is mixed in for the green paint of the foliage.
The support was made from about eight planks, was modified in the 15th century, and has a very thick priming of two layers of anhydrite in glue with a thin layer of gypsum in egg tempera on top. Drawing, both freehand and with a straight edge, and incising were observed and, unusually, some incised lines were applied into the paint, while graphic lines of paint were used to reinforce the image.
Egg tempera was the main medium, with walnut oil added for green paint to give some gloss.
You can find out more about Egg Tempera on the website I constructed following my first egg tempera workshop at the V&A back in 2006 - see Egg Tempera - Resources for Artists . Plus the links below are to my previous blogs posts about the V&A workshop
Note: The workshop was organised by the NEAC Drawing School and held in the Mall Galleries during the Annual Exhibition of the New English Art Club. It was one of the activities in the Galleries this week


  1. Great post. Does Ruth use the longhandled brushes because she has a loose style and likes the way the handle helps with that? When I've done egg tempera (with Russian icon painters) the brushes were short handled.

  2. Thanks

    She has a looser style than the type of painting used for icons

  3. Yes -- I like her work very much.


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