Tempera – first steps

December 12th, 2018 / Illustrations Basics, Painting Techniques

The last few blog entries were about water paints and painting techniques using these paints. This week we will be on the borderline of the subject related to this type of painting thanks to the tempera. What is tempera? What is the story of creating it and how to do it to be satisfied with the results? This post is about all that.  And a small challenge / curiosity at the very end. Enjoy!

tempera strokes Turdus Concept
Temperas are almost the oldest painting technique known to man, which has already been used in antiquity. It was used to decorate wall paintings, and in the Middle Ages it was used to create icons or frescoes. In ancient Egypt, it was precisely when using tempera that famous wall paintings were made, with which many of us associate this civilization. And what is tempera actually?

It is a thick water paint in which the characteristic ingredient is an emulsion (i.e. an oil-in-water or water-in-oil suspension) and a pigment. There are several types of tempera, depending on the emulsifier that was used to make it. Typically, tempera consists of three basic components:

  1. the so-called oily phase, which may be oil or varnish
  2. water phase – water or water-based adhesive
  3. emulsifier – as we know, water does not combine with oil, so that an emulsion is necessary to create an emulsion. Its selection and appropriate proportions are crucial to gaining good tempera.

Emulsifiers are both natural and synthetic substances. It is because of the type of binder that we distinguish several types of this paint:

  • egg-type stamps,
  • casein caseters,
  • rubber stamps,
  • resin-based titles

tempera tubes Turdus Concept

Tempera – know-how

How to paint with tempera and what effects can be expected? Tempera is something on the borderline between watercolors and oil paints. By adjusting the density of the paint (the amount of water that we will dilute it) we can get both the effect of the glaze, i.e. the transparency of the layers, characteristic of watercolors, as well as full coverage. The type of emulsion depends on what effect we can achieve as well. Emulsions more oily will bring the picture closer to that painted with oil paints, while more watery – to the effect of watercolors. If I had to briefly summarize the tempera, then they are definitely paints thanks to which we will obtain a very delicate, silky texture with a smooth surface, with slightly visible brush strokes.

When painting with temperas, however, you must remember that these paints dry very quickly; After finishing applying one layer, you can proceed to the next one. However, we will not do them with impasto paintings – temperas will simply be too easy to crumble and flake off. Due to its versatility, tempera can be painted on a variety of substrates: paper, wood, fabric or plaster. Until around the 16th century, tempera was one of the most popular painting techniques, despite the rather demanding preparation process. Both the preparation of the paint and the protection of the substrate were quite labor-intensive. It used to be painted on the board most of the time, which required priming of the surface – a mixture of glue and plaster was used for this (from Italian the foundation is guesso, or simply plaster). Today, we can buy ready-made temperas, and the canvas is usually pre-impregnated, which significantly reduces the time needed for preparation.

The purpose of tempera

Despite the fact that tempera is a full-fledged painting technique, it was often used to make underpaints (one-color version of the painting) for oil paintings. However, the effects you get are worth the effort. Paintings created with tempera are characterized by resistance to weather conditions (do not darken or fade under the influence of sunlight), dry quickly, we have great flexibility as to the effect we want to achieve (laser or full coverage), the paint after drying is relatively flexible. Due to the dense consistency of the paint it is possible to obtain very precise strokes. The last thing that’s worth mentioning is its susceptibility to moisture; images made with this technique must necessarily cover with a varnish after finishing work.

making tempera Turdus Concept
At the end of the promised curiosity and a little challenge. As I mentioned in the introduction, tempera as the oldest known paint can be relatively easy – we will prepare it successfully at home from widely available ingredients (after all, our ancestors did not have access to the art stores). So try to make tempera yourself at home. And it is being prepared very simply. The only thing we need is a yolk of eggs, a little water and a few drops of vinegar (eg vinegar). Well cleaned egg yolk (try to get rid of as much protein and protein strands as possible) piercing over the glass and slowly pour the egg yolk into the dish. Then mix the liquid yolk with water in the amount of 2: 1 (2 parts of yolk per 1 part of water). In order for the temperature to dry up too quickly, add 2-3 drops of vinegar and mix thoroughly …. and it’s ready! Of course, when we add loose pigment, we get tempera in any color, but in this way we created a paint that was originally used in antiquity.

I encourage you to try this method and play with tempera (in this case egg). Show off the results if you’ve mixed in the paint yourself, or let us know if you’ve ever painted this type of paint. Until next week!