Thread: Gesso problems
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Old 25-11-17, 07:13 PM
Koo Schadler's Avatar
Koo Schadler Koo Schadler is offline
Tempera Painter
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Alstead, NH & Zirahuen, Mexico
Posts: 317

Me again.

Well, if that previous post wasn't enough for you, I have more thoughts regarding your dilemma of trying to arrive at the right color and ending with a “stiff” look. Without seeing the image I’m not sure what you mean, but I’ll hazard a guess (and you can tell me if any part of my guess is relevant).

Getting a “stiff” look in egg tempera speaks to the pro and cons of the medium. Egg tempera is a very thin medium, and to bring ET out of the realm of watercolor requires the application of MANY, MANY layers. (Nothing against watercolor, but if painting in ET why paint like WC?) While there is the challenge in ET of not lifting underlying paint, this can be addressed – and so an adept tempera painter can accumulate nearly countless, distinct paint layers (unlike watercolor, which is always resoluble, so layers don’t stay distinct). But by the time enough of these MANY thin layers of ET paint accumulate to arrive at the desired quality of paint, an image can end up looking either over painted and sloppy, or as if the same line’s been drawn one too many times with a sharpie marker.

Does any of that resonate with what occurred in your painting? If so, here are two things that may help.

1) First, once you have an image more or less established try working with increasing thinned paint. If you build every layer with the same quality of somewhat "dense" paint (tho’ nothing is very dense in ET; it’s all relative) you may end up stating an object too emphatically, and/or more or less cover the underlying layers – in short, you either “over draw” with the brush or kill the atmosphere that comes from innumerable whisper thin layers. This is very hard to explain in words… suffice to say that if you are new to egg tempera, and think you are working with thinned paint, try thinning it TWICE as much, then modify your image with a few layers of this super thin paint - see if enough of these very thin layers add up to something visually significant, but in such a subtle way that you develop atmosphere and don’t overstate contours.

To reiterate: The quality perhaps most underappreciated by newcomers to egg tempera is how incomparably thin and inconsequential the paint can be at times, yet still those seemingly whisper thin layers contribute toward the development of an image (if enough such thin layers are applied - it takes patience....).

(By the way – once you have the proper ratio of egg to pigment, thin paint by adding water. Don’t thin paint by adding more yolk; too much egg just makes gummy, tacky paint.)

2) Another way to keep an image looking fresh (versus stiff) and atmospheric is to periodically apply whisper thin layers of transparent white (known as scumbles) on top. Think of it like laying on a fine mist, or nearly transparent layer of white cellophane on portions (or all) of a painting. A scumble will condense values (allowing a painter to better organize them), raise values (which means you may have to reinstate darks, but that's okay - this adds more layers and atmosphere to darks), impart a bit of opacity (which creates a great base for subsequent thin glazes of color), soften edges – it contributes all sorts of beneficial visuals that can counter a hard, stiff look.

There is much more I could say about scumbles – they are one of my favorite tools in the egg tempera toolbox – but I’ve already gone on too long. If you have any questions I’m happy to respond….or not say another word, I promise.

Good luck,

Koo Schadler

Last edited by Koo Schadler; 26-11-17 at 01:00 PM.
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