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Egg Tempera Medium

Dear Artsperts:
My daughter came home from school and tells me that you can paint with Egg Tempura. What is Egg Tempura?
Just Yolking

Dear Yolking,
It sounds like a mispronunciation of Egg Tempera, though tempura is making us hungry for Japanese food. And yes, Egg Tempera is a type of painting medium created by the artist who mixes color pigment with egg. You may be surprised to learn that the part of the egg that is mixed with pigment to form the paint, is not the white, but instead the egg yolk. The white of the egg and the membrane of the yolk are discarded (the membrane of the yolk is dangled over a receptacle and punctured to drain off the liquid inside). Egg yolk is never used by itself with pigment; it dries almost immediately and crackles when it is dry. To prevent this, artists use an agent like vinegar, water or white wine in variable proportions.

As tempera dries, the artist will add more water to preserve the consistency and to balance the thickening of the yolk on contact with air. Once prepared, the paint cannot be stored. Egg tempera is water-resistant, but not waterproof. Egg tempera is not a flexible paint – it dries both hard and fast. Anyone whose house has been the victim of an egging will understand this. The egg tempera medium creates a flat matte finish that is visually soft. Artists use a small brush and use a techinque called "hatching" to apply the paint. This medium dries so quickly that colors cannot be blended on the painting surface, so very tiny hatch strokes, almost like dots, are used to build the images.

Tempera paintings are very long lasting, and examples from the 1st centuries AD still exist today. Egg tempera was a primary method of painting until after 1500 when it was superseded by the invention of oil painting. In fact, every surviving panel painting by Michelangelo is egg tempera. Tempera painting continues to be used in Greece and Russia where it is the traditional medium for Orthodox icons. Some notable American Artists who used egg tempera include Andrew Wyeth, Thomas Hart Benton, Paul Cadmus, Reginald Marsh and Robert Vickrey.

Robert Remsen Vickrey (1926 –2011) was a Massachusetts-based artist and author who mastered the medium of egg tempera. His works are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and The Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro. A large memorial retrospective exhibition of Robert Vickrey paintings were on display at the Melvin Gallery of Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida in 2014. The exhibition then traveled to the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia.

This is such a challenging medium, that few artists attempt it. William Entrekin is one of the few contemporary artists who is fond of using egg tempera. In 1970 at the age of 24, Entrekin began using watercolor studies in advance of final work in oils. The use of watercolor then led to egg tempera. Many of his paintings are egg tempera and were exhibited at the Morris Museum of Art in 2014 during his solo exhibition.

So Egg Tempera is very much real – no yolk!

The Artsperts

Harmon-Meek Gallery - 382 12th Avenue South - Naples, Florida 34102 - Phone (239) 262-2699 - Contact Us

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