Working with Egg Tempera Paints

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Are you familiar with the term egg tempera?

Surprisingly enough this technique is not widely known, however it is making a comeback when artists realize the fantastic techniques that are available with this form of paint.

The other surprising fact is that this form of paint is one of the oldest used and came well before oil paints. Hieroglyphics found in caves and Egyptian paintings were all done in this medium.

Some of the greatest paintings we enjoy from the renaissance were done in this form. Most of these have a golden luminousness that is only possible with this form of paint.

Andrew Wyeth is one of the most well know modern painters who used this technique. His paintings are popular and beautiful with a three dimensional realistic look.

Why try this old painting Medium?

The reason that there is new interest in this medium is because of the wonderful depth of color, texture and luminescence that can be obtained with egg tempera.

Many artists are realizing that they can create a beautiful look that is not possible any other way.

Small hatch-marks made while painting with egg tempera can be used for shading and to create a fantastic look. Many people who do fantasy drawings are experimenting with this old medium and find it fun and exciting. Unlike oil, acrylic and watercolor, egg tempera colors grow more beautiful with many layers of paint.

The colors do not become muddy and dark when multiple layers are used. Applications of paint can be almost immediate because they dry so quickly. The difficult part is that these paints need to be mixed by hand and the surface must be prepared beforehand and thoroughly dried.

The pigments used are pure and not the same type that are commonly found in art stores today. Those tempera paints are used for children’s paintings.

There are however, some pre-made egg tempera paints available that can be tried.

What Surfaces can you Paint on?

This medium must be used on a hard surface such as Masonite or birch board. Egg tempera cracks on soft surfaces and a paper or canvas surface will be impossible to use. The surface should be sanded smooth and a type of glue called rabbit glue should be used to make the surface a bit sticky so it can hold gesso.

Golden makes rabbit glue in a powder form. The glue is mixed with water and heated.

Paint it on your surface with a large brush so it will be as smooth as possible. Whiting should be added to a second coat of glue and applied to your surface. This surface will be porous when dry and make it possible for the egg tempera to stick to the surface of your painting area.

How To mix Tempera

You can use egg tempera that is premixed and is available online and at some art stores, however if you want to paint like the old masters and are interested in trying this old style of paint you should mix your own. It’s not that difficult.

Because you will be working with real paint pigments that can contain materials not suited for inhaling, wearing a mask when mixing is advisable. The part of the egg you will be using is the yoke. The white part of the egg should not be used. Put the cracked yoke on a paper towel to make sure all of the white is removed. Add a small amount of paint pigment powder and about the same amount of water as your egg yoke.

The paint should be ground as you are mixing and a paint spatula can do this work nicely. Mix well and you are ready to paint. Because you are mixing your own paint you can create your own unique colors and make them as dark or as light as desired.


There are many great Tempera brands on the market today. Daler Rowney makes some great colors, as well as Eberhard Faber, FAS, Pearl, and Sennelier.

Your Imagination Is Now Your Only Limit

You can start painting or you can make a line-sketch or a full drawing with an India ink wash over it. If you choose this method your lights and darks will already be in place, however you may lose some of the transparency.

You may like to experiment with this wonderful medium on a scrap piece of wood that has been prepared with gesso. This way you can get the feel of the paint and all of the possibilities that are available for using this unique medium.

There is a new interest in this type of painting and a society of painters will have fun with it. To learn more about this interesting painting technique Dick Blick, a large distributor of painting supplies has premixed egg tempera available and you may try this type before mixing your own.

This can give you a idea of the many possibilities of this medium. Using this ancient technique for painting your own artistic creations will be a wonderful journey.

You, like many others may find that this your favorite medium.

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