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Old 26-03-09, 02:55 PM
Alastair S. Alastair S. is offline
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Unhappy New Egg Tempera Artist Problems.

Hello everyone,

I recently started learning Egg Tempera, having had only self-taught oil painting experience before, and I think that I am having problems due to the differences between the two medium.

I have read the Daniel Thompson book on Egg Tempera, and will be reading soon his translation of Cennini's Book, but I have attempted to start some icon paintings and run into nothing but stress so far. Here are a couple of issues I'm having:

1. Sometimes when I go to paint over an area the paint beneath comes right off the gesso, exposing a white area.

2. When I tried to paint a glaze over an entire area the paint beneath got moist again and started to blend with the paint above, making a muddy mess.

I must confess that I started with non-traditional methods. For example, my paint is high quality goache (hope it's spelled right) mixed with egg yolk and water, rather than pigment, egg, and water. And my gesso is drywall compound mixed with white glue. I'm definitely going to switch to traditional materials, but in the meantime I'm wondering whether it's my methods or my materials that have caused the above problems. I wasn't sure whether the white glue made the surface too non-absorbent and the paint wasn't grasping well enough (my surface is sanded very smooth and hard). I also wasn't sure whether problems were caused from the inherent qualities of goache as opposed to just pure pigment, but an experiences egg tempera artist told me goache would do just as well pretty much. Finally, I wasn't sure whether any of my problems were caused by adding too much egg. I thought that more egg would make the underneath less likely to 'bleed' into the above glaze, but it definitely doesn't seem to prevent that.

Sorry for the very long post, but any help that anyone can give into why I am experiencing the above problems, and possible solutions, would be very appreciated.
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Old 27-03-09, 03:25 PM
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PhilS PhilS is offline
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Hi Alastair,
Short answer: traditional gesso and powdered pigments. Even with those, you will experience paint "pick-up" problems. Work with your brush squeezed out very dry and keep your brush moving. If you work too long in one area you will start picking up the paint in the underpainting. Just let it dry completely and start over again.
Glazing large areas is tricky. Let the painting set for a week or two before glazing and, again, work fast- don't overwork a specific area or the underpainting will lose its adhesion to the gesso.
Squeeze your brush dry, keep the brush moving, use traditional, time-tested materials.
Good luck,
Phil
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Old 28-03-09, 12:23 PM
Alastair S. Alastair S. is offline
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Thanks for the answer, Phil. I've bought a bunch of pigments and some rabbit skin glue. I'm just having a little trouble now finding some of the other traditional materials for making the gesso. If anyone in Toronto knows of a good store for this, please let me know. I've found a 'traditional gesso' dry mix in Curry's Art Store, which contains rabbit glue, crushed marble, and titanium white. It's by Fredrix, but I'm not sure about the quality.

One other question, it seems to me that, by looking at step by step instructions and pictures from people's egg tempera paintings, that although an egg tempera painting starts off with a very 'cross-hatching' look to it, that with glazes it can eventually turn into a more smoothly shaded look. If someone could please verify this for me I would appreciate it. Unfortunately most paintings displayed do not contain a close up detail picture of the final product.
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Old 28-03-09, 01:46 PM
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Koo Schadler Koo Schadler is offline
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Hello Alastair,

As mentioned in other postings, the quality of the glue is paramount (see the discussion "First ET Painting, Progress Series" begun by Mat G). I've used Fredrix's dry mix. It makes a hard gesso (which is a fine- just a matter of personal preference) but I'm not confident of the quality of their glue. But its a start, and certainly a million times better than not using true gesso.

There are plenty of resources in the US for high quality gesso ingredients, many of which are listed n the supplier page of this Forum. I can also recommend www.naturalpigments.com. But it seems, from what I've read from other postings, that this is problematic for Canadians as the shipping costs are so high. Is this true? I'd be interested in hearing from you Canadian et painters about getting your supplies.

The "look" you develop in tempera is a matter of personal preference. That look ranges from visible, intentional cross hatching...to very smoothly blended surfaces...and every step in between. The cross hatched look is more inherent to tempera, as it is a linear medium. Your paint dries quickly, and hence in the form of the brushstroke with which it was applied. It can be a lovely effect, like weaving. Tempera is less conducive to getting a more smoothly blended surface, so it takes more time but can be done. The trick is to apply paint thinly (so you don't leave too much of a mark), build up many, many of these these thin layers (which optically blend together eventually), and periodically unify things under glazes and scumbles. The latter two can be difficult to apply smoothly, but I've found that with thinned paint and either a wide watercolor brush, or cosmetic sponges, I can apply unifying glazes of color, or scumbles of transparent white, and leave minimal marks. Make sure to control the amount of paint on your brush or sponge. It takes practice. That's the other part of blending smoothly....lots of practice. I tend to go the smoothly blended route, and would post a close-up example here, but I am a computer neanderthal and don't know how to do so. But I can email you an image if you like.
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Old 29-03-09, 12:36 AM
Alastair S. Alastair S. is offline
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Thank you for the reply, Koo. I shall check out the website that you listed. If shipping costs seem to be a bit prohibitive to Canada then I will give Fredrix's Dry Mix a shot. I'll probably get some to try anyways, as I'm eager to restart another painting and shipping might take a while. I will let you know about how much shipping charges are when I check it out. I will PM you my email address and would be very indebted to you (as I am already for your help) if you could email me an image of a detail of an ET painting.
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Old 29-03-09, 01:24 PM
dbclemons dbclemons is offline
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Kama Pigments in Montreal also carries the separate raw materials you need for gesso. I don't know if they have marble dust, but do have calcium carbonate. Their rabbit skin glue is good quality.
http://www.kamapigments.com/
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Old 29-03-09, 01:59 PM
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PhilS PhilS is offline
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For what it's worth, I used to use Fredrix exclusively. Last year I got a bad batch (the RSG wouldn't dissolve, no matter how much stirring or heating). I wrote the company explaining the problem and received no reply. To be fair, I bought a second container and had the same problem. Then a friend, out of the blue, said that her batch of Fredrix was bad. Apparently they are (or were) using old glue.
Needless to say I can't recommend them. There are other suppliers (I believe my last purchase was from Natural Pigments?)
Or, you can do as dbclemons recommends and make your own.
Phil
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Old 30-03-09, 02:24 PM
Alastair S. Alastair S. is offline
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Thanks again for the replies. I checked out 'Natural Pigments' and the shipping for a bag of Italian Gesso was $16.36 for First Class International Mail, $20.58 for UPS Canada, and $64.21 for UPS Worldwide Expedited. While I assume that the shipping for multiple items will seem more reasonable, it might be worth investing the time in checking out what's around Toronto or nearby to see what I can acquire around here, or see about making my own.
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Old 30-03-09, 06:49 PM
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Alastair, give Stevenson's a try. They sell a very good quality calcium carbonate that I've used for many years. They also sell hide glue. I don't believe it is rabbit skin though I've used it. You can download a PDF of their catalogue, page11 has their pigment list. They sell fairly good brushes, Series A-300 are great for egg tempera. Buy enough supplies and you'll get a discount. If you go to the warehouse and have any questions the owner is more than very helpful.

Phil, I too have had the experience of the glue not being able to dissolve into a solution, I made the mistake of stockpiling an excellent batch of glue (loved it because it never created pinholes). If only the RSG containers were marked with a best before date ;-)
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Old 30-03-09, 11:21 PM
Alastair S. Alastair S. is offline
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Thanks for the tip, John. I'll probably drive over there after I check out the catalogue.
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