Practical Exercise 2 – Egg Tempera – Dry Pigments


Medium: Egg Tempera – dry pigments
Support: Cass Art Watercolour Paper Smooth, Hot Pressed paper, 300gsm (140 Ibs)
Colours: Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber, Alizarin Crimson, Terre Verte
Brushes: Long, round, sizes 1,5,8/Short, flat, 4
Size: 18cm x 27cm (7½ x 10½ inches)


My initial aim was to be more prescriptive with the application of paint to allow me to compare using egg tempera from tubes, as Exercise 1, with dry pigments. However, as the exercise progressed, and I struggled a little with creating the egg tempera from dry pigments, I decided to apply the paint in a looser, less traditional way.

Session 1

Intial drawing on plywood support with gesso

Initially, I worked with a piece of thin plywood which I had coated with several layers of acrylic gesso. I wasn’t sure if this would work as a support but wanted to give it a try. I started by creating a drawing based on one of the examples in Techniques of Traditional Icon Painting by Gilles Weismann. This was traced and Raw Umber dry pigment rubbed onto the back. This was then retraced onto the plywood to create the cartoon.

The pigments seemed finely ground and, at this stage, up against time constraints, I decided to use them as they were. The result was I came unstuck very quickly. The paint was streaky when applied, gritty when dry and, when I rubbed the paint with my finger, was lifting off the support. At this point I decided to use Hot Pressed paper for the support and start again, working in a less prescriptive way.

Session 2

Dry pigments ready for use

I didn’t have the sandblasted glass or glass muller for mixing the pigments so improvised using a mortar and pestle. This wasn’t a success as the pigment quickly formed a thin paste which was difficult to scrape off and I was left with very little pigment to work with. I improvised by crushing the pigment on tracing paper using the pestle. This wasn’t ideal but I was able to get something I could use.

Background and draperies blocked in

Background – I began by mixing some Yellow Ochre with the egg emulsion and a little distilled water. With a No 4, flat brush I created a wash across the paper as an initial layer. Once dry I added a wash of Alizarin Crimson over the top before gently rubbing over different areas with damp cotton wool to lift out some colour and create a weathered effect.

Draperies – For the Virgin’s cloak I applied an initial layer of the Alizarin Crimson.

Faces – At this stage I considered trying the more traditional approach for the face but using looser brush strokes, so I added a wash of the Terre Verte across the faces and used Raw Umber to mark in the shadow areas.

Development of background and faces

With the background layer dry I liked the weathered, almost fresco-like effect of the surface so I added another layer of Alizarin Crimson and used damp cotton wool to merge some areas of paint and lift out other areas.

Session 3

Final version

For the next session I concentrated, to begin with, on the background and draperies.
Background – I added a wash of Yellow Ochre around the head of the Virgin and child to represent a halo and used damp cotton wool with a circular motion to lift areas out of the paint and create some more texture.

Draperies – For the Virgin’s cloak a second layer of Ultramarine. Then I added a little Alizarin Crimson to the Ultramarine for the darker areas around her neck. For the trimmings, I used a wash of Yellow Ochre.

Faces – I liked the weathered effect that I was getting for the background so decided to see if I could do something similar with the faces. My thinking was of the faded textures of frescoes and I tried to create an effect like this. I added layers of Burnt Sienna and Yellow Ochre to the Virgin’s face and began to lift areas out with damp cotton wool and reapply paint while still wet, trying to get that effect of paint absorbed in plaster.

On Reflection

  • In this exercise, I wanted to use egg tempera created from dry pigments. I didn’t have all the equipment recommended in An Artist’s Handbook: Materials and Techniques and improvised. If I was doing the exercise again I would try to be more prescriptive with the materials but, up against time constraints, I worked with what I had.
  • Despite difficulties, I enjoyed creating the paint from scratch and, second time around, using the Hot Pressed paper and taking more time to prepare the pigments at least the paint seems to have adhered to the support.
  • I was using the paints in a less traditional way than in the previous exercise and found that it was more robust than I would have thought from my research. The pigments seemed to dry more quickly than the tube versions but it was still possible to merge and manipulate colours. Overall, I think I preferred using the paint created from the dry pigments as I found that, with the tubes, the paint was streaky, although that may be my lack of experience with the medium.

Related Posts

Practical Exercise 1 – Egg Tempera – Tubes (1)

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

Early Medieval Art – Research Notes –

Icons in Byzantine Art – Research Notes –


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.