Practical Exercise 1- Egg Tempera – Tubes (1)


  • Medium: Daler Rowney egg tempera and Winsor and Newton acrylic
  • Support: Cass Art Watercolour Paper Smooth, Hot Pressed paper, 300gsm (140 Ibs)
  • Colours: Egg tempera: Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson, Titanium White, Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber. Acrylic: Renaissance Gold
  • Brushes: Winsor and Newton round, sizes 1,5,6/Winsor and Newton short, flat, 4
  • Size: 13 x 17.5 cm


My aim in this exercise was to try out egg tempera from tubes. I wanted to see how the paints works to allow comparison for further exercises using dry pigments.

I also wanted to try and work in a more traditional way, similar to the approach taken for icons that I had been researching. For the exercise, I used a photograph of a polychrome sculpture from the Burrell Collection in Glasgow and created an initial tonal sketch to work from.

For ideas on techniques I referred to An Artist’s Handbook by Margaret Krug and Techniques of Traditional Icon Painting by Gilles Weismann.

I began with the initial drawing, verdaccio and background stages onto Claybord as a support. Some online sources recommended Claybord for tempera and others were less in favour. I found it made the paint feel quite slippery and the brushstrokes streaky, though, not being used to using tempera that was, perhaps, my handling of the paint.

On the second day, I decided I had been too heavy-handed with the verdaccio and tried to lift a little of the paint off. The result was that it lifted from the surface completely so, at this point, I decided to switch the support to Hot Pressed paper and start again.

Session 1

Cartoon drawing

I started by tracing a line drawing from the tonal study and rubbing raw umber dry pigment onto the back. This was then retraced onto the paper to create the cartoon. I used a mix of Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna to go back over the outlines left by the pigment.

Verdaccio underpainting and background

For the verdaccio underpainting I mixed Ultramarine, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and a little Cadmium Red to create a dark greenish-brown colour. Working from the tonal drawing and photograph I built up dark, light and mid tones using dilutions of the initial mix.

From research, the next step is to work on the background and draperies first to make it easier to work out the correct values for the flesh tones.

For the background, I used a mix of Alizarin and Cadmium Red. I tried using the technique of ‘little-lake’ method or ‘le petit lac’ mentioned in Weismann. The aim is to paint larger areas with a transparent wash as uniformly as possible. A little pool of paint is created at one end of the surface and gradually enlarged by adding more paint. The result is a subtle, mottled surface.

Session 2

Hair and cloak developed

For the next session, I used a mix of Yellow Ochre, Titanium White and Cadmium Yellow to create a mid-tone for the hair. Darker and lighter tones were also mixed using either raw umber or titanium white, respectively. Darker tones were added first then the lighter tones applied.

For the cloak, I worked in the same way using a darker tone of Alizarin and Burnt Sienna with middle and lighter tones subsequently added.

I wanted the background to have a gold effect so in lieu of gold leaf I added a wash of acrylic paint in Renaissance Gold.

Session 3

Modelling of face

I didn’t have Terre Verte colour for the underpainting of the face so I used a mix of Ultramarine, Cadmium Yellow and Titanium White to create an approximate colour. For the shading on the face I used the same verdaccio mixture from Session 1.

Rosetta wash added to face

I then applied the rosetta, a wash of alizarin and Titanium White, across the face which helps to give a glow to the flesh tones.

Session 4

Final image with flesh tones developed

For the final session I created flesh tones using a mix of Yellow Ochre, Titanium White and Alizarin. For the flesh the lightest tones are worked on first, followed by the middle and darkest tones.

On Reflection

  • As I worked on the painting I realised that the features on the face were somewhat out of alignment and, with the translucency of the egg tempera this was not easy to adjust – though it may not have been regardless of the medium used. I decided not to worry too much about this as my main focus was to explore the properties of the paint and the processes for applying it.
  • I didn’t have all of the colours suggested through research but created approximate colours with what I had.
  • I found the cross-hatching, when creating the modelling for the face, quite tricky. Perhaps it was case of less haste more speed and taking more time.
  • I did feel that I lost some of the translucency towards the end and was working over layers perhaps more than I should have been doing.
  • Subsequently, I have discovered that with more preparatory work Claybord should be able to be used as a support so will reconsider using it.

Overall, a useful exercise which will allow comparison when using colours created from dried pigments. I liked using the egg tempera from the tubes, they had a buttery quality than I hadn’t expected but I believe that they have oil added which may account for that.

Related Posts

Practical Exercise 2 – Egg Tempera – Dry Pigments

Practical Exercise 3 – Egg Tempera – Tubes (2) –

Early Medieval Art – Research Notes –

Icons in Byzantine Art – Research Notes –


Ampersand (s.d) Some General Tips on Egg Tempera Paint. At: (Accessed 19.06.17)

Krug, M. (2007) An Artist’s Handbook: Materials and Techniques. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

Weismann, G. (2012) Techniques of Traditional Icon Painting. Tunbridge Wells: Search Press Limited.