Monday, June 25, 2018

Ancient Medium - Egg Tempera Painting, Part 7 - Techniques and Conclusion

Part 7 – Craft as much as Fine Art!

The painters of 2000 years ago didn’t have the tools and knowledge we have today to work in this medium.  We are fortunate to be furthering our craft with the help, and on the backs, of those many painters who went before.  We wouldn’t be the artists we are today without them!

Example of splattering effects on fabric
folds over gilding
Giovanni di Francesco Toscani
Firenze 1372-1430
Tempera on wood
Without the handy overnight orders from Amazon or trips to Jerry’s Artarama, artists then had to invent and make whatever tools and techniques they needed to achieve their desired goals.  Therefore, to some extent, the art of painting in any medium is as much craft as it is fine art.  If an artist then wanted a certain result they had to do whatever necessary to achieve it.  This may have meant certainly building or creating their own tools, devising techniques such as splattering or sponging, frowned upon by some experts in today’s artwork. The technique of sponging or airbrushing on the underpainting of large areas such as sky or large color fields can quicken the process of laying down enough layers to allow the painting to begin to materialize.  The process of actually painting whether with sponge, brush or other tools is a meditative one that demands mindful attention.

While there are many examples throughout museums around the world, I found some interesting examples of 15th century egg tempera paintings in Florence, Italy, at the Ospedale degli Innocenti that are as brilliant today as the day they were painted because of the polymerization of the egg molecules with the raw pigment (no linseed or other oils getting in the way).  What makes these most interesting to me is that these artists used techniques that some of today’s experts disparage as too crafty and not sufficiently academic (such as splattering or sponging).  I presume these two artists used the techniques then as we do now, to achieve a certain effect.  A couple of examples are shown below:

Example of sponging to mimic marble, shell or onyx

Giotto di Bondone
Firenze circa 1265-1337
Tempera on wood

Conclusion of Blog on Egg Tempera Painting - Thank you for your interest and following my blog.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Ancient Medium - Egg Tempera Painting, Part 6 - Care of Egg Tempera Paintings

Part 6 – Care of Egg Tempera Paintings

Since it is an organic medium, mildew can be gently wiped off with a moist cloth, applying a little physics to the genome of mold means it will disappear if the painting is placed in the sun for a few minutes and gently vacuumed with a soft brush attachment. Unlike oil, properly tempered egg and pigment will not develop the craquelure of aging on the surface as seen in old oil paintings.  Egg tempera colors are less likely to yellow although certain varnishes will yellow on egg tempera as on oil.  Egg tempera will also not fade as much as oil as long as lightfast pigments are used just as with oil.

Sustainability of the Substrate

In a recent article on egg tempera painting the author failed to mention that as important as the medium is to the painting, so is the substrate on which the painting is painted.  Proper preparation of the panels includes applying hide glue, tempering of the paint (grinding the egg mixture with the pigment) and the final curing all contribute to the longevity of an egg tempera painting resulting in few if any problems.  The environment in which the painting exists must also be considered.  Will addressing these issues completely protect a painting?  Probably not entirely, but they will greatly enhance the life of the painting. Consider what had to be done to bring two Leonardo da Vinci oil paintings to this country – Ginevra de’ Benci from Liechtenstein and Mona Lisa from France, both painted over 500 years ago.  Both had to adhere to elaborate environmental control procedures to prevent damage. Ginevra de’ Benci was the more difficult as it had resided in the same gallery of a castle in Liechtenstein for centuries.  The National Gallery in Washington, D.C. had their handler place a special climate-controlled case on the floor of the gallery in the castle directly below where the painting had hung for centuries.  The case was left open for days to a week before the painting was carefully packed and the controls set on the case.  It was then transported by air, but arrived on the east coast of the U.S. during a winter blizzard.  The plane was diverted which set all the wheels in motion for the case could not be opened in customs.  It was allowed to change to a new flight undisturbed.  When the painting arrived in Washington, D.C. the case was placed on the floor of the gallery where the painting would then reside and the controls were set to gradually adjust to the climate of the painting’s new home before the case could be opened and the painting hung in its new home.

Next Up, Part 7 – Conclusion:  Techniques – Craft as much as Fine Art!  (on June 18)

Monday, June 11, 2018

Ancient Medium - Egg Tempera Painting, Part 5 - Layers and Finishing

Part 5 – Layers and Finishing

Many layers of diluted pigment are used to create an egg tempera painting.  It takes approximately 100 layers to begin to see the substance of a painting (see section on Techniques for speeding up this process).  A finished egg tempera painting consists of about 300-500 layers (this can vary greatly depending on the subject matter, the technique and the artist).  In a recent article an author described the “very thin layers….” of an egg tempera painting as susceptible to damage.  I’ve not seen a report on how many layers the Old Masters actually used, but I assume their efforts were similar to today’s as both are based on similar pigments and their constituent properties.  Tempered and applied correctly there will therefore be many, many layers of pigment that, once cured, are very durable.  Dust and grime can affect an egg tempera painting just as it does oil paintings, but I doubt that it penetrates 500 layers unless some substance is poured on the painting or moisture is too high and the painting not protected in a suitable environment. This is also the case with oil paintings.  With normal wear and tear from hanging on a wall, an occasional dusting, very light vacuuming, moment in the sun, or damp sponge-path sets the egg tempera painting right again today!

Polishing the Painting

Like oil painting there is one last step.  With an oil painting this is typically a layer of varnish.  Once the egg tempera painting is complete and has dried for at least a few days to a week (better to let it cure, if you have the time, for a year), the final polishing is performed.  Using a cotton ball or cheesecloth the painter gently buffs in a circular direction over a section at a time until the entire surface of the painting has been polished.  If the paints were properly tempered then the end result is the most beautiful satiny eggshell finish that feels like microfiber or silk.  If the pigment has not been properly tempered then pigment will come off on the cheesecloth or cotton ball.

This can be the final step, although some painters follow it with a coating of varnish that restores the look of freshly applied paint just as it does with oil paintings, but varnish is not necessary with egg tempera. Other forms of finishing have been used but these two are the most basic.

Next Up, Part 6 – Care of Egg Tempera Paintings (on June 18)