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"For the use and good and profit of anyone who wants to enter this profession."
-- Cennino Cennini, sometime before 1437

Why Use Egg Tempera?

Egg tempera is a terrific medium with many advantages. It is water-based, non-toxic (depending on which pigments you use) and permanent. Unlike oil paint, it will not yellow, change in color, or grow transparent over time, and you never need to use toxic paint thinners or solvents. Unlike acrylic, it has a proven track record going back hundreds of years. Egg tempera shows the beauty of pigments off to great advantage. Colors are clear, bright, and pure.

Egg tempera is ideal for do-it-yourselfers. Since you mix your own paints, you know everything that's in them. There are no proprietary recipes or secret ingredients that could compromise your art. And it is much, much cheaper than buying paints ready-made.

Why Not Use Egg Tempera?

Egg tempera works best painted on a rigid surface, such as a wooden panel. Although egg tempera dries to a tough film, it also grows brittle, and my flake off a flexible surface such as paper or canvas. (This is egg tempera orthodoxy, but I note that Ben Shahn has done stunning temperas on paper. Experimentation is needed.)

The tempera painting surface is prepared in a labor-intensive manner using chalk gesso, a special kind of plaster. You need this white, slightly absorbent surface; regular acrylic gesso will not do. It's not odious work, but it takes some preparation.

You cannot paint thickly with egg tempera. You must use thin layers, or it will crack. Impastos, knife-painting, and heavy, textured brushstrokes should be saved for other media.

Egg tempera dries quickly, but the painting time is more like that of oils since the layers do need to cure, or oxidise, so they won't be picked up by later layers. Each layer needs time to set. This will be dealt with in more detail in later instructions.

Finally, as with any quick-drying paint, smooth, blended effects take a great deal of work. Acrylic painters live with this, too, of course.

Still want to check it out? Good for you. Click on the instruction pages listed at the left sidebar.