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Rebeccafiduccia 27-12-17 03:27 AM

thinning out tempera
ive just begun experimenting with the mische technique, and i have no other tempera experience. i have always been an oil painter. i am experimenting with thin glazes of oil , and using 1 part yolk, slightly less linseed oil and 1 part water combined then mixed with close to an equal part white pigment , as a layer for highlights in between. i have gotten a lot of useful information on this forum already. my question is about the manipulation of the medium to make a more subtle highlight. im still not sure my mix is right. the end result is like a fairly opaque silvery line to as thick as white out depending on how many layers i put down. i can kind of make a wide mark but it dries quickly and there isnt much blending to be done. cross hatching seems to be the best way to blend up tones. but if i wanted even lighter hash marks, could i thin the tempera in some way? since my next layer will be an all over glaze of oil paint and medium , i need it to be water soluble, and since it is on oil already and will bead if i add water, then maybe i add more yolk? or is this how the medium is meant to be and i just need to get used to it?i would love to include a picture of what i'm working on, but i dont know if i can do that. hopefully this description makes sense.
any help would be appreciated.

Koo Schadler 01-01-18 02:37 PM

Hi Rebecca

Not sure if I understand your question, but here are a few thoughts. If your binder/medium is 1 part yolk + slightly less 1 part oil than you are making a water-soluble, egg oil emulsion. The correct ratio between binder and pigment for egg oil emulsions is about 1 part binder:1 part pigment - so combining equal parts of your binder/medium with white pigment is correct.

To thin the viscosity of this paint, DO NOT add more binder/medium (either yolk, oil, or the two combined) - that will throw off the correct ratio of binder to pigment you’ve achieved. Instead, add more water to thin the paint. Whatever water is added will evaporate, leaving behind medium/binder and pigment in the proper ratio. Add as much or little water as you like to affect the working properties of the paint.

Thinner, watered-down paint makes less dense, less opaque, less pronounced marks – so you should be able to make more subtle highlights with a thinner paint.

You are correct that an egg oil emulsion dries quickly (like pure egg tempera) and does not allow for physical pushing around or physical blending of the paint. To understand this, and not lift by overworking an area, and instead create "optical blending" through other means is perhaps the biggest challenge for newcomers. There are different ways to go about optical blending, such as crosshatching; or applying such very thin paint layers that they leave barely visible marks; or using sponges; or whatever means you figure out that gives desirable results.

The purpose of this forum is to talk tempera, not promote, so I don't generally reference my website, but in this instance I have a handout (too long to post here) available for free download at:

It explains, in depth with accompanying photos, how I “blend” in tempera. It’s by no means the only way to work in tempera, it’s just my way – but at least it will give you some idea of how one tempera artist has come to terms with the challenge of blending in egg tempera. Forum moderators, if I have overstepped by posting this link, feel free to edit.

Every accomplished painter I know arrived at his or her working method through MANY, MANY hours of attentive, inquisitive painting. So experiment, play, and be persistent - if egg tempera speaks to you, eventually you will come to understand the nature of the paint and how to make it behave (more or less!) on your terms.

Good luck,


Rebeccafiduccia 13-01-18 12:39 AM

That was VERY helpful. I'm looking forward to trying the sponge method though I've been enjoying the marks of hatching. In some ways I may be on the right track. But the ratio of egg and oil anf pigment in my tempera must be mastered, as well as timing and ratios in my layers of glaze. How long do you wait to glaze or scumble?

Koo Schadler 15-01-18 01:09 PM

When working in either pure egg tempera or an 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).

Underlying layers can't polymerize (cure) in 5 to 10 seconds, of course - so they are vulnerable to lifting once fresh paint is applied on top of them. Hence you have to develop a light and sure touch when applying fresh brush strokes a top uncured paint, and you can't re-work the freshly applied paint. As I say to students, "Put down a stroke and move on!".

To reiterate this critical point: If the underlying paint layers have not polymerized (which takes 3 months or so; who wants to wait that long to apply another layer!) any subsequent, fresh paint put on top immediately begins to rewet and soften the underlying paint, making it susceptible to lifting. So you CAN NOT rework or brush out the freshly applied paint layer; you merely lay it down, let it dry to the touch, then apply the next layer - and so on. Working this way, a tempera painter can apply 50 or more layers in a single day! Tempera's capacity for layering quickly is one of the reasons to work in egg tempera - almost no other medium (except acrylic) allows for so much distinct layering in such a rapid amount of time. But the trick is to learn not to disturb and lift the underlying, not-yet-polymerized paint layers.

When you say you must "master....the ratios in my layers of glaze": To clarify, once you've mixed the proper ratio of binder (yolk) to pigment (i.e. you've properly tempered your paint) you do not want to alter that ratio (either for a glaze or any other reason). You can thin the paint with it's solvent (water) - but don't add more egg or pigment. The water content eventually evaporates, leaving behind that correct ratio of binder to pigment.

My experience is that tempering correctly becomes second nature with practice. If you over temper (have too much egg in your ratio) the paint feels greasy, slick, it's hard to accumulate layers. If you under temper (have too little egg in your ratio) the paint feels dry, chalky, and the surface can't be gently polished to pull out a subtle, egg shell shine (which egg tempera is known for). It just takes lots of attentive, interested practice and experience; eventually, intuitively you will recognize when the paint feels correct and behaves properly.


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