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Rebeccafiduccia 28-06-17 01:17 AM

Mische technique
As a long time oil painter I recently stumbled across the mische technique which seems like a way to create the effect I am looking for with my work. This is my first time attempting egg tempera. Luckily I raise chickens so that's a plus. I have been watching and reading what I can about the mische technique , have seen that some people add Damar varnish to their egg and pigment. But I worry I'm not getting the ratio right. When I put my oil paint glaze over the layer of tempera highlights I've done, it removes it, it's not indelible. Could anyone offer any advice for how these ratio of yolk to water / water to pigment should be? What consistency /how opaque should the mixture be for painting the highlights? What am I doing wrong? I hope I'm. Posting this correctly. If not please let me know. Thanks in advance!

Koo Schadler 29-06-17 06:34 PM

Hello Rebecca,

When egg yolk and oil are combined it creates a emulsion paint, commonly referred to as "Tempera Grassa" ("fatty tempera", in Italian). If the % of yolk is greater than the % of oil, it's an egg oil emulsion and is water soluble. If there's more oil than yolk in the mix, it's an oil egg emulsion and is soluble in an oil solvent.

So, what's your percentage of egg and oil, and what thinner are you using (water or oil solvent)? If your paint is in the water soluble category and you put a layer of paint on top that contains water, the new layer will re-wet the underlying paint and can cause lifting. As any pure (versus emulsion) egg tempera painter knows, if you work the surface too much the underlying layers readily lift because they remain water-soluble until the paint has polymerized for a bit; it usually takes anywhere from a week to a month or more for polymerization to have sufficiently occurred so that underlying egg tempera layers are resistant to water.

Which drying oil are you using, and how long are you waiting between layers? If you are working with an oil egg emulsion (the paint has a greater percentage of resin and oil than egg) it should dry in about 24 hours or so (varies, depending on the oil), and after that the underlying layers should not easily dissolve.

A couple things about Mische: First, while it's sometimes touted as the working method of Northern Renaissance painters, there's no evidence to support this. My understanding is that is was developed by Otto Dix in the mid 20th c., in an effort to replicate the effects of northern painters. There isn't to say Mische isn't an effective technique that might be perfectly suited to your goals (or that you mentioned anything about its origins). I just want to clarify a common misconception about it.

Second, about damar: It is not an old master medium, as is sometimes thought; it first started to be used in the 18th century. The benefits of damar is that it dries to a hard, durable paint film fairly quickly (as soon as the solvent evaporates) and is sparkly and jewel-like initially. The problem is how it ages. Like all natural resins, damar yellows considerably over time and grows brittle; its life span is estimated to be as short as 20 to 30 years. Additionally, it is dissolved by solvents commonly used to clean the surface of paintings and/or to remove varnishes - which means if a painting with damar is restored at some point, the restoration might dissolve and lift underlying paint layers. The use of damar in painting mediums is discouraged by conservators.

This isn't to say don't use damar - no painting lasts forever, and every artist is free to choose his or her medium and working method. I just want to be sure you are aware of the drawbacks of damar so you can knowingly choose its pros and cons.

I make an egg oil emulsion that is just yolk and sun thickened linseed, no resin added. It's very simple, takes less than a minute to make: Measure out a tablespoon of extracted egg yolk into a small bowl. Using a small whisk, vigorously blend in a bit less than a tablespoon of a drying oil until you have something akin to hollandaise sauce. Combine this medium with equal parts pigment and you are ready to paint. The paint is water soluble (since there is more egg than oil in the mix) and dries pretty quickly (although it underlying layers are still water soluble for several days, until the oil begins to cure and polymerize). I'm not sure if you could follow the Mische technique exactly with this medium, as underlying layers may not be sufficiently cured to layer as often as Mische requires - but it might.

If you can answer some of my initial questions, perhaps it would be possible to solve the riddle of your dissolving layers. Thanks for checking in to the forum.

Koo Schadler

Khem Caigan 02-09-17 11:08 PM

Hi, Rebecca -

This reply addresses the issue of undried tempera paint lifting from the canvas when painting over it. If you use pigment rather than dye in your work, you might want to try polymerizing/drying your paint with a source of ultraviolet light (lamp or sunlight). Photopolymerization might give you an edge with regard to the waiting time between painting over a layer of egg tempera, or even egg-oil tempera. Caveat - most dyes (and some pigments) will degrade and fade when exposed to ultraviolet light.

- Khem Caigan

Rebeccafiduccia 17-12-17 08:17 PM

First of all, thank you so much, in all my scouring the internet I have not been able to find this information. Secondly sorry for the long lapse in the post after destroying a painting while trying this I took a break from attempting tempera but I'm ready to go again. Hoping it wasn't too long to continue.
I've been using a combination of distilled water and yolk and blending in small amounts of the varnish. I've been allowing 24 hours of drying time, although I thought it dried very quickly I understand you're saying the mixture needs to polymerize down which I could use UV light or wait longer? I've been mixing that with white pigment. Since I'm using turpentine and oil for the layers over the egg tempera, I need a water soluble tempera solution with more egg than anything else, is that correct?
Or should I stop using water and use, I need to go back and look, I think linseed oil and yolk with slightly more yolk?

Rebeccafiduccia 17-12-17 08:19 PM

And how long do I need to wait after glazing with the oil and turpentine before going back in and painting another layer of tempera?

Rebeccafiduccia 17-12-17 09:09 PM

It also occurs to me that my glaze probably needs less turpentine and more of a linseed oil and varnish mixture. Possibly this is part of the problem?

Koo Schadler 01-01-18 03:17 PM

Hi Rebecca,

Pure egg tempera paint and egg oil emulsions (which have more egg than oil and are water soluble) dry to the touch very quickly (within seconds for thin applications of paint). This initial drying is merely the evaporation of water content from the paint.

The second step in “drying” is polymerization: the process of proteins in the yolk and/or oil linking up (think of a bowl of spaghetti – protein strands – curling around one another) to form polymer chains. Polymerization occurs gradually, through the absorption of oxygen. UV light (from sunlight and some artificial sources) expedites polymerization in egg yolk. For egg tempera it takes about 3 to 6 months for complete polymerization (depends on # of layers, thickness, drying conditions); oil paint needs anywhere from 6 months to many years (for very impasto paint) to fully polymerize.

(An aside: Heat also speeds up polymerization of yolk – think of what happens when you cook an egg – but too much heat is not good for either the yolk or traditional gesso, as it can create cracking and makes minimally less translucent paint films).

Once egg tempera and egg oil emulsion paints have fully polymerized, they are no longer water-soluble. So the longer you let your painting sit, the further along it is in polymerization, the less likely underlying layers are to lift when fresh paint is applied.

You can wait 24 hours, or 48 hours, or a week...however long you like between layers - there is no set time to wait, merely the fact that the longer the paint sits, the further along it is in polymerization, the less vulnerable underlying layers are to lifting. The drawback is not everyone wants to wait between layers. I apply anywhere from 10 to 50 layers in a day; the potential to rapidly apply many layers (opaque color, glazes, scumbles, splatters, whatever) is one of the reasons I work in egg tempera. But to do this successfully I’ve had to learn how to apply the paint in such a way that I don’t lift underlying layers. This takes practice.

What is your “varnish”? Adding a varnish to paint is generally not a good idea for several reasons: most varnishes tend to yellow, grow brittle with age, and if a painting is cleaned at a future date, solvents used to clean the varnish on top will also dissolve the varnish within the paint, thus destroying the paint films. Also, turpentine is a fairly noxious substance. If you want to work with it healthfully, make sure you have adequate ventilation in your studio. I don’t mean to tell you how to paint. Materials and working methods are entirely personal choices and you may (as many people do) add varnish to your medium and use turps – I just want to be sure you are aware of the drawbacks.

Hope that helps!


Rebeccafiduccia 13-01-18 12:16 AM

I see now that I have to be patient with learning the technique of
this. Do you thin your Tempera with more or less water for different effects? Finding the balance in how lean to fat my layers of oil are between the layers of tempera has proven quite difficult. I'm unable to thin the tempera at all because it will bead. I'm unsure if that's, something I should be able to do and my glazes are just too fat. I'm probably not waiting long enough between layers, it's cold and I'm not getting as much sun on the piece as it needs probably. I'll consider that moving forward. For fat or if I said varnish, I'm using 1/3 linseed 1/3 stand and 1/3 turpentine (the odorless kind or turpenoid, turpentine makes me very sick otherwise) I tried using a super white water based paint for a layer but when putting on my next oil glaze color after , it really seemed to almost obscure all my work, I did not see the luminescence I was hoping for and the mark or hatching I'd made wasn't really visible. I'm doing a second layer of white in oil paint mixed with the painting medium I described just to experiment and see if there's a simpler way for me to achieve this effect of layered luminosity and color effects as I'm waiting on tempera that I ordered to see if something premixed works better or at all. Ive been unable to find any information regarding why the mische technique only would work with tempera.
Im sure a lot of these questions are frustrating for someone as adept at this craft as most of you are, I really appreciate all the feedback. It helps me discern what is merely my impatience with learning in a new medium and what is me actually going about it wrong.
So once the tempera has polymerized, if you were to do a glaze in mostly turpentine to keep that layer lean as possible, would it dissolve the tempera layer?
How long would you wait before glazing? I realize it's not exact and depends on many factors ., but let's say it's cold and the sun is scant and maybe there's a space heater nearby... days? Weeks?

Koo Schadler 15-01-18 07:09 PM

Hi Rebecca,

Questions from your last post in quotation marks, my reply below them....

“I see now that I have to be patient with learning the technique of this.”

When I demonstrate how, for example, to paint a sky, and then students try it, there are invariably some who say, with discouragement, “but it doesn’t look as good as yours!” I say, “well, you’ve been painting in egg tempera for 1 hour, I’ve been doing it for twenty years – I hope my sky looks better than yours!” Understanding a medium, developing skills, these things take lots of time. After all, if painting were easy we’d all be Botticelli (or whomever you love)! So yes – be patient and persistent. As Cennino Cennini said about painting, “Begin by adorning yourself with these vestments: love, reverence, obedience, and constancy.” What was true in the 1300s is true today.

“Do you thin your Tempera with more or less water for different effects”?

Yes, you control the quality, density of the paint by adding more or less water. You do NOT change the consistency of paint by adding more or less egg or pigment. The binder (yolk) to pigment ratio, which you establish when you first mix the paint, should not change. However water can come and go (i.e. you add it to the paint, it evaporates from the paint).

“Finding the balance in how lean to fat my layers of oil are between the layers of tempera has proven quite difficult. I'm unable to thin the tempera at all because it will bead.”

I know about pure egg tempera and egg oil emulsion – I’ve never combined the two within a single painting, as in the Mische (meaning “mixed”) technique. So it’s hard for me to say what’s happening. What I can say is oil and water don't mix, so applying water-based tempera over oil-based paint is tricky. Artists who are experienced in Mische (i.e. Brigid Marlin: could tell you more and hopefully one will chime in.

I can offer a few suggestions that may help the egg tempera paint flow better, not bead up, over the emulsion layer:

1. Make sure your emulsion is an egg/oil emulsion (more yolk than oil in the paint, water-soluble). I question the workability and durability of egg tempera over an oil/egg emulsion (more oil in the mix, solvent soluble) or tempera over pure oil paint.

2. Give the paint layer time to dry. How long, I can't say - an hour? A few days? It depends how much oil is in your emulsion, drying conditions, etc. Do a “touch dry” test; i.e. when a finger is pressed to the surface it doesn’t leave a fingerprint.

3. Once the egg oil emulsion layer is dry, lightly sand it before applying pure egg tempera on top. Sanding opens the surface, makes it a bit more porous, which will help the tempera to not bead up and adhere better. Sand very gently - you are not trying to remove paint or make scratches, just invisibly roughen the surface a bit. For this type of sanding I use a 1500-2000 grit, flexible sanding sponge, available at auto supply and woodworking stores.

“I tried using a super white water based paint for a layer but when putting on my next oil glaze color after, it really seemed to almost obscure all my work…the mark or hatching I'd made wasn't really visible…”

A thin, semi-transparent layer of white is called a scumble - like a veil of gossamer. No matter how much you’ve thinned the paint, if a layer obscures what’s underneath it’s not a scumble (it's a snowstorm). Think of what a landscape looks like on a misty day…that’s what a scumble should look like. Thin the paint some more and try applying an even thinner layer. If your glazes (transparent layers of color) are also too obscuring, same thing - thin them some more.

“I did not see the luminescence I was hoping for… see if there's a simpler way for me to achieve this effect of layered luminosity and color effects…”

There are many ways to achieve luminosity in a painting. Botticelli painted high-key, high-chroma, flatly lit, thinly painted egg temperas; Rembrandt painted low-key, low-chorma, chiraoscruo lit, impasto oils – in short, they were exact opposites in terms of mediums and working methods, yet both achieved luminosity in painting. I think conveying luminosity is less dependent on a specific medium or working method, more determined by the organization of the visual language (values, colors, light source, etc). I have a handout on the subject, which I’ll paste in a separate post. Nothing wrong with the approach you’re taking, just want to clarify Mische is not the only way to achieve luminosity in painting.

“I’ve been unable to find any information regarding why the mische technique only would work with tempera.”

The basic idea of applying many distinct paint layers, including occasional scumbles (as a base for glazes, i.e. transparent color, to sit on) is not new or unique to Mische or egg tempera. Other mediums do this as well; however since Mische involves so many layers, a medium that dries quickly (like tempera) makes the process go faster. I expect acrylic could achieve similar effects and also dries quickly; pure oil can also be layered, but it’s a slow process since oil is a slow drying paint.

“So once the tempera has polymerized, if you were to do a glaze in mostly turpentine to keep that layer lean as possible, would it dissolve the tempera layer?”

Turpentine is not a solvent for egg tempera – water is. So turps would not dissolve the tempera. However strong solvents can swell and weaken tempera paint films, and potentially draw out plasticizing components that may lead to embrittlement – so too much solvent over egg tempera is ultimately detrimental to the painting.

If you are using an egg/oil emulsion (more egg than oil in the mix) it is water soluble, not turp soluble. If you are using an oil/egg emulsion (more oil than egg) it’s solvent soluble, but then not suitable as a base for an egg tempera glaze (since it’s primarily oil based and would repel a water-based paint like tempera). At any point you can transition to an oil/egg emulsion or pure oil over egg tempera - but then can't go back to egg tempera. In other words, oil-based paints go fine over water-based paints, but it doesn’t work well the other way around.

In short, thin the paint with water, not turps - as long as you are using a water based emulsion, which I recommend.

“Thin” and “lean” should not be conflated. A thin paint layer – i.e. one that is semi-transparent or fully transparent – isn’t necessarily the same as “lean” (i.e. contain minimal binder). Ideally in tempera you want all the layers properly tempered, with correct ratio of binder (yolk) to pigment (about equal parts each) in each layer. In this already long post I don’t want to go too far into the “fat over lean” principle; suffice to say that egg tempera paint layers are all so thin that “fat over lean” is not as great a concern as it is in oil (in which the thinness or thickness of paint layers can vary dramatically, and thus “fat over lean” is a critical consideration).

“How long would you wait before glazing? I realize it's not exact and depends on many factors, but let's say it's cold and the sun is scant and maybe there's a space heater nearby... days? Weeks?”

When working in either pure egg tempera or a water-based, egg oil emulsion I layer as soon as the previous layer is dry to the touch, which is generally within 5 to 10 seconds (depending on how watery the layer is). A hairdryer can be used to speed up drying time, but do NOT let your surface get hot (it can crack the gesso). A space heater can be used to warm up the room, but don’t put your painting too near one. As mentioned in a previous post, the longer you wait, the further along in the polymerization process the paint is, the less likely underlying layers will be disturbed by new applications of paint. So it depends how long you are willing to wait between layers. Myself, I prefer about 5 seconds between layers :-) - but, as also mentioned, this is applicable only to water-based egg tempera or egg oil emulsions, and takes practice and a deft touch to get away with.

If you are using a solvent-based, oil/egg emulsion or pure oil paint, before adding more layers you ideally should wait at least until the surface is “touch dry” – i.e. you gently press your finger to the surface and it doesn't leave a mark (or, even better, wait until the surface is “hard dry” - you press a fingernail tip to the surface and it doesn't leave a mark). But if you are using either a solvent-based oil egg emulsion or pure oil, I don’t think you should be layering egg tempera on top of these paints – they are too incompatible. Adhesion may occur in the short term but, in the long term, can lead to delamination, and the different polymerization times and varying flexibility in the paint layers may lead to cracking. These things can take decades to occur but are more apt, maybe even inevitable, in such a complicated, layered paint system.


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