The hazards of pigments may be classed in three broad categories:-
Highly Toxic. Materials that will cause severe illness or death from a single exposure of a small amount.
Toxic. Materials considered toxic may lead to the same results as above but require larger amounts or greater lengths of exposure. These materials may also cause less severe illness.
Slightly Toxic. These materials may cause temporary irritation or illness but more severe results may ensue if an overdose occurs.
The choice of pigments colors is a personal one, however, certain colors work well in tempera, some do not. Here is a list of more commonly used pigments.
Lead White/Flake White Highly Toxic
Has wonderful painting characteristics and excellent tinting strength.
Titanium White Not considered toxic – do not breath the dust.
The most widely used white being very permanent and having the greatest opacity and tinting power.
It can have the tendency of overpowering other colors it is mixed with. Try mixing a two to one ratio of titanium and zinc white.
Zinc White Not considered toxic – do not breath the dust.
A difficult paint to apply. Its only use is when blended with titanium white to emulate the characteristics of lead white.
Mars Black Not considered toxic – do not breath the dust.
Blends well with egg and water and has a warm, brownish hue. It is best to mix the dry pigment with the yolk using as little water as possible therefore resulting in a black with optimum tinting strength.
Ivory Black Not considered toxic – do not breath the dust.
A very cold black and most commonly used in tempera. However, some brands are difficult to temper with egg and water.
Yellow Ocher Not considered toxic – do not breath the dust.
Comes in a variety of tones all of which are permanent. Even a fairly subdued yellow like ochre appears quite brilliant in egg tempera, giving it a wide range of applications.
Naples Yellow Highly Toxic
A beautiful natural light yellow.
Cadmium Yellow Deep Toxic
Has great tinting strength and maintains a richness that works well with egg tempera.
Raw Sienna Not considered toxic – do not breath the dust.
An excellent color for glazing and warming colors.
Burnt Sienna Not considered toxic – do not breath the dust.
A brown or a red? In egg tempera it can be considered a red because of its brilliance. Very versatile and useful.
Venetian Red Not considered toxic – do not breath the dust.
A rich pigment with great tinting strength. Useful when mixed with black for details.
Red Ocher – do not breath the dust.
The modern name for Sinopia, the color used in the Renaissance for painting flesh tones. Remarkable for high lights.
Vermilion Poisonous – do not ingest or breath the dust.
True vermilion is quite beautiful but expensive and has questionable permanence. The modern substitute is more permanent though slightly more orange in color than the original.
Cadmium Red Toxic
Permanent but tend to be garish compared to earth reds.
When mixed with water they can generate a strong, almost putrefying smell.
Chromium of Oxide Green Toxic – suspected carcinogen
A pale color with good tinting strength. Very useful for underpainting and laying in solid green tones. It must be glazed over or mixed with other colors to create a rich green color.
Viridian Green Toxic – suspected carcinogen
A man made color with intense tinting power. There are differing opinions about its usefulness – some painters avoid it – others use it for its intense color for effect.
It can be used sparingly with others colors (ochres, blues, reds) to give a variety of greens.
Terre Verte Not considered toxic – do not breath the dust.
A very light transparent green traditionally employed for underpainting flesh. It is very difficult to work with because it does not flow easily.
Cobalt Geen Toxic – do not breath the dust.
This varies from company to company. Depending who makes it, one may encounter a favorable result or a disaster! Some varieties solidify in the jar after a day, others resist being ground with water.
A generic label for green for which each pigment company comes up with its own shade. Some are good, others are totally wrong for tempera.
Ultramarine Blue Not considered toxic – do not breath the dust.
The modern replacement for Lapiz Lazuli. It is not as dense a blue as Lapiz but it has a very deep rich tone. Although it works wonderfully as a glaze, it looses much of its beauty when mixed with white. The pigment if made into a paste will solidify – best to mix dry when required.
Ultramarine Blue light Not considered toxic – do not breath the dust.
Not as intense as the above and resembles a dark shade of cobalt blue. Useful for skies and glazing and it will form a paste.
Cobalt Blue Considered toxic – do not breath the dust.
A replacement for azurite. A very clean and clear blue which does not weaken too much when mixed with white, making it one of the most useful blue colors for tempera. Several grades and shades of cobalt are sold.
Cerulean Blue Considered toxic – do not breath the dust.
A wonderful color but can be gritty therefore making it impossible to create a smooth, consistent color.
Manganese Blue Considered toxic – do not breath the dust.
A greenish blue that works well in tempera. The greenish cast can be a problem because it affects some of the natural color harmonies of tempera.
Burnt Umber Considered toxic – do not breath the dust.
A deep rich brown which works well in tempera although some sources may be very gritty.
Raw Umber Considered toxic – do not breath the dust.
A useful brown with a slightly greenish tinge.