Tempera & Pure Pigments
What is Tempera? Tempera is a painting medium consisting of pigment held in a water-soluble natural emulsion – usually egg but can also be glue, honey, milk in the form of casein or a variety of plant-based gums. It is permanent and extraordinarily long lasting with 1st century AD examples still in existence. It should not be confused with the poster colour known in America as ‘tempera paint’ which, although made from pigment and glue, is closer to gouache.
How is Tempera used? The traditional, and still much favoured, method of using Tempera is to create the paint from scratch whilst painting, mixing the necessary colour as required. Increasingly, however, there are ready-mixed Tempera Paints available in a tube. Mixing the paint is a simple process of pouring a small quantity of the required powdered pigment onto a palette, adding a few drops of distilled water and then gradually mixing in the egg yolk or other relevant binder. Mixes should start with a similar volume of pigment and binder although it should be noted that some pigments require more binder than others and that the more egg added, the greater the transparency of the resulting paint. The paint is then applied in very thin transparent glazes to wood panel, canvas or board that has been primed with gesso. The glazes are layered on top of one another to achieve the desired colour, depth of colour and tone because the paint dries too quickly for blending to be possible.
Who uses Tempera? Tempera was the primary painting medium from antiquity through to the 1500s when Oil Colour began to be favoured. It was – and continues to be - used for icon painting and painted panels in churches, through the Renaissance by Artists such as Botticelli and has been re-visited by Artists at various points during the intervening centuries to the present day. Artists such as Giorgio de Chirico, Otto Dix, Marc Chagall, Andrew Wyeth and contemporary portrait painter, Robin Lee-Hall, have all used the medium.