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Some General Tips on Egg Tempera Paints

Egg Tempera on Claybord

Egg yolk is made up of approximately 50% water, 15% albumen, 25% fat or oil and 10% lecithin. It mixes easily with water or with oils and dries very rapidly to a strong, permanent surface. Many of the beautiful paintings from the Renaissance were done in egg tempera. Egg tempera is a brilliant, semi-translucent paint that dries almost instantly. This will have a profound effect on the artists painting style as it does not lend itself to washes, wet-into-wet, or oil-style blending techniques. Instead, egg tempera is best suited to short, overlapping strokes using cross-hatching for blending and toning effects. If beginning the painting with a layout drawing, use colored pencils or pastels. Graphite or charcoal will show through and affect the finished painting. Unfortunately, egg tempera can have a tendency to crack with age. To reduce the dangers of cracking, paint on a firm surface like Claybord. To avoid mold and bacterial growth on the painting, use only sterile water (bottled or boiled) to mix with the paint.

3 Recipes for Egg Tempera

Here are three recipes for egg tempera but there are many more. If grinding the dry pigments is not something you want to try right away, substitute gouache for the "pigment paste" in each of these recipes.

Recipe 1


  • 2 egg yolks
  • cold sterile water
  • 1 drop vinegar
  • pigment paste (pigment ground with water)

Pierce membrane of yolk and let liquid stream into glass measuring cup. Discard membrane. Add equal amount of water and stir. Pour into a glass-stoppered wide-mouthed bottle. Add vinegar to preserve. Will keep 3 to 4 days. To add pigment, put a little of the paste of ground color in a cup and add about an equal bulk of the egg yolk mixture. Stir thoroughly with a brush. Paint a few strokes and let dry. If dull and chalky, add more egg mixture. If very shiny add a little more ground color.

From Ralph Mayer's "The Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques"

Recipe 2


  • egg yolk
  • 1 part sterile water
  • 1 part alcohol
  • dry pigment.

Separate the yolk from the white, discarding the white and placing the yolk in your palm. Pass the yolk gently from one palm to the other drying the empty palm. When the yolk sac becomes fairly dry, pick up the yolk with your thumb and forefinger and hold it over a clean, small jar. Puncture the yolk and drain it into the jar, add water and shake into a pale emulsion. Deposit small quantities of dry pigments into the wells of a porcelain specimen plate. Use an eye dropper to add water and/or alcohol to each well and grind with a glass rod. Add enough yolk water with brush to cause a color stroke to dry with luster.

From Robert Massey's, "Formulas for Painters"

Recipe 3


  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 tsp. raw linseed oil
  • 4 drops vinegar
  • pigment paste (pigment ground with a tiny amount of water or alcohol)

Break the egg and drop the contents into a small clean jar. Add the oil, cap the jar, and shake the contents until they combine completely. Add vinegar as a preservative. Strain the whole mixture through two layers of cheese cloth into a fresh jar. This emulsion produces a paint which can be thinned or diluted with water, and which is slightly less oily than other egg/oil emulsions. Grind pigment paste into the emulsion, using only as much pigment as you need for one painting session.

From Robert Massey's, "Formulas for Painters"

Using Claybord Original & Egg Tempera

Claybord is particularly receptive to this durable and vibrant pigment. The smoothness and absorbency of the surface is very similar to a 'traditional' gesso panel made with chalk and hide glues. Egg tempera requires the use of a rigid surface to prevent cracking and aging. Claybord is the perfect solution to saving you many hours of painstakingly preparing your own panels. Claybord can be used with either commercially available or homemade pigments.

When using egg tempera, begin by using three to four thin washes of paint washed over the entire panel, allowing paint to dry thoroughly between layers. The first four layers should dry overnight to allow good adhesion for subsequent layers. Use a very large brush and stay away from detail work in the beginning stages. Outline the shapes and shadows to position the subject matter where desired in this stage. After the preparatory layers are finished, alternate to smaller brushes narrowing down the clarity of the forms and subject matter. Continue painting in thin layers and allow adequate drying time between layers. Gradually increase the paint thickness as the layers develop. Repeat the previous step many times gradually narrowing the size of the brushes. When the final stages have been reached, a brush as small as #00 should used to create precise detail. The paint consistency in the final stages should be relatively thick so that the vibrancy and character of egg tempera is thoroughly enhanced. Varnish after adequate drying time is complete and frame.