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MITRA Forum Question Details

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  • Sennelier Egg Tempera and Acrylic Gesso panelsApproveRejectUn-ApproveSubscribeUn-Unsubscribe
    Question asked 2017-03-08 11:44:47 ... Most recent comment 2017-03-15 21:04:00
    Egg Tempera Grounds / Priming Rigid Supports

    ​i have read the descriptions for how to make real ET paint (fairly easy) and real ET panels with rabbit skin glue and whiting (very laborious).

    I cannot believe that lazy people like me who buy ET in tubes still have to make a panel. Panels with true gesso on are availale from few retailers and are expensive. Sennelier make passing reference to use on canvas with acrylic gesso, but their information is very poor.

    Are you able to offer advice on using these tubed ET paints with commercially available wood panels with acrylic gesso, please?

Answers and Comments

  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    I have used a few suppliers of panels with real chalk glue grounds for one-three day workshops that I give and have found them quite affordable. A quick Google search should yield a few suppliers to choose from. Make sure to include genuine, real, or true in your search.

    I cannot recommend painting egg tempera on canvas covered with acrylic gesso. Egg tempera becomes increasingly brittle over time and it should really only be used on a rigid support. However, tubed egg tempera paints are always egg-oil emulsions to my knowledge. These may be slightly more flexible than pure egg tempera. One would really need to preform tests for adhesion and cracking. Even if the tests were positive, I would only suggest painting your tempera very thinly and in a few layers to minimizes brittleness and cracking,

    Acrylic dispersions grounds are generally just not absorbent enough to ensure the adhesion of egg tempera paint. Of course, not all acrylic grounds are the same and you could experiment but I do not have good hope. As above, the egg-oil emulsions in the tubes may fare a bit better, but I doubt it.

    As to purchased panels outside of the boutique genuine glue-chalk grounds, I would you should test some of the better. I would test some of the clayboards as opposed to the panels covered with acrylic “gesso”. I know that some of the suppliers suggest that these acrylic gessoboards are suitable as an egg tempera substrate but this has not been my experience when used with traditional, historical egg tempera techniques. As above, however, you should test to see if any of these fare better with the tubed egg-oil tubed paints.

    Brian Baade
    2017-03-08 12:44:12
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    ​Thank you for your very prompt and informative answer.

    It is what I feared!

    I have only located two companies in the UK who make panels with real gesso, one of whom does not list prices on the website.

    My irritation with this is compounded by the paucity of technical information on the Sennelier website. Golden and Winsor-Newton are so much better in this respect - but don't do egg tempera.

    Thanks again for your helpl


    2017-03-09 08:10:15
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    Hello Jeremy,


    As an egg tempera enthusiast I find much to address in your post, so please be patient with my long reply.  I agree with everything Brian says, but have a few more thoughts to add.


    I've experimented with 6 different alternative grounds advertised as substitutes for traditional gesso; five come in a jar (ready to apply), one a coated panel (Clayboard).  All contain a polymer base, with the exception of one that is casein & oil based, plus added solids for more absorbency.  Many are advertised as "ideal" for egg tempera.  In my extensive experiments (applying paint using a variety of working methods atop each ground) not one performed as well as true gesso for egg tempera.  All, to varying degrees, were difficult to sand; made accumulation of paint layers (one of the charms of egg tempera) difficult, in some cases nearly impossible; were prone to paint lifting, digging holes; made it hard to apply "petite lacs" (floated puddles of paint). On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of how well a ground allows a painter to make the most of egg tempera's possibilities, I score true gesso a "10" and these 6 alternative grounds anywhere from "2" to "8".  


    The biggest drawback to polymer-based gessoes is that they cannot match the absorbency of traditional gesso, and absorbency is critical for controlling the water content in tempera paint.  Keep in mind that the alternative polymer grounds I tested are designed specifically for egg tempera, so regular acrylic gesso has even less absorbency, and thus is even more problematic for ET, in my experience. 


    As for tubed egg tempera paint, it's important to understand (as I think you do) that they are essentially a different medium than pure, homemade egg tempera.  As Brian notes, tubed tempera paints are egg and oil emulsions (also known as tempera grassa). Tempera grassa shares some similarities to pure ET but also has some very different working properties.  So while the tubed temperas are perfectly fine paints to work with, and address the challenge of making paint from scratch, it should be understood that in using them you have sort of left the world of true egg tempera and are working with a different medium.


    One of the characteristics of the tubed temperas is that they are a bit "greasier" than pure ET (because of the oil, as well as other additives).  So if you start with a slicker, greasier version of ET, and then try to paint it upon a much less absorbent ground, acrylic gesso – well, you've created very challenging working conditions.  The paint tends not to dry as quickly, slip, slide, lift, holes appear.  In no way does tubed egg tempera on acrylic gesso approximate the experience of pure ET paint on a wonderfully receptive true gesso ground.


    All of the above refers only to working properties; I haven't even addressed longevity.  The paint manufacturers and conservators I've spoken with are mixed regarding the durability of ET atop acrylic gesso, it's a complicated subject too long to address in this post, but most feel ET adheres better to true gesso in the long term and my experiences confirms this.  Regardless of the ground, as Brian notes, egg yolk is a binder that grows brittle with age, so ideally you should always work on a rigid support if you are painting either in pure ET or an egg oil emulsion (egg oil emulsions have a predominance of yolk as a binder; versus oil egg emulsions, which have a predominance of oil and are a bit more flexible).


    I don't mean to be unsympathetic to the challenges of making panels and paint from scratch.  I totally understand those practices are not for everyone.  I only mean to be clear that, in my 20+ years experience as a full time tempera painter and instructor, there is a big difference between pure ET on true gesso vs. tubed egg oil emulsion paint on acrylic gesso.


    So, there are several options.   You can continue working as you have, accept the challenges/limitations of tubed ET on acrylic gesso, and develop a working method that minimizes challenges, i.e. do a very minimal accumulation of layers.  If this is genuinely your style, than go for it – but if it's merely an accommodation to get the paint and ground to behave, I'm not sure it's worth it.


    Or, you could work with one of the alternative grounds advertised as suitable for ET.  The working properties aren't nearly as good as true gesso but are at least better than regular acrylic gesso.


    Or, you could buy ready-made, true gesso panels.  The commercial options are very few and expensive, I know, but perhaps worth it in the long run versus the frustration of a misbehaving or limited painting experience.


    You could also learn to make true gesso panels.  I'm not trying to twist anyone's arm, but just to be clear an experienced gesso maker can produce 16' square feet of panels in 3 to 4 days.  I know, it takes time to become experienced and not everyone has the interest – but it's not really as laborious as it is sometimes made out to be (unless, of course, you really don't want to do it!).


    Good luck – egg tempera is a wonderful medium and I hope you find a way to work with it.


    Koo Schadler


    2017-03-09 13:45:35
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    ​Koo, as always. Thanks for the informative post.

    Brian Baade
    2017-03-09 16:17:49
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    ​Dear Koo

    I am only taking my first steps in egg tempera (of any sort) but it is difficult to do even that without coming across your name! Thank you for your help.

    I'm a working, scientifically trained doctor - so I don't have time to spend 4 days making panels. On the other hand I certainly appreciate all the technical information which you and Brian have taken time to share. I enjoy the technical aspects of painting and sites like this are a real help.

    I am aware of two different manufacturers of what they both call egg tempera. Daler-Rowney claim their formulation is from 1906, with due reference to ancient Egyptians. Sennelier claim theirs is a "centuries old egg emulsion recipe". Neither mention the addition of oil. I had assumed that there was some sort of preservative involved.

    Oil paint is commonly applied to acrylic primed canvases, at least by amateurs like me. I would have thought an egg-oil mix would therefore work better on acryic gesso than pure egg tempera. It's going to depend on the percentage of oil etc. It seems surprising that Sennelier recommend canvas at all.

    I have ordered a few small claybords to experiment with. If I like the medium, perhaps I shall try some home made boards and paint - retirement is not so far off!

    Thank you both for your helpl.


    2017-03-09 19:12:36
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    Hi Jeremy,

    It's frustrating to me that Sennelier and the other tubed tempera manufacturers aren't more specifc about the ingredients in their paints, and what they actually are (not genuine egg tempera).   It's misleading to people who want to dip their toes into the waters of ET, only to find the paint doesn't behave, or layer, or do other things we ET enthuisasts claim ET is so good at doing.  You need to bring a slightly different set of goals and expectations to tempera grassa than you would to pure ET.  

    ​One more idea.  Another shortcut to egg tempera is to work with tubed watercolors.  Squeeze out a bit, add slightly less than the equivalent amount of egg yolk, combine, and you have a pretty fast and easy egg tempera paint.  The gum arabic in the watercolor will make the paint feel a wee bit greasier than pure ET (which is why you don't need to add that much yolk); but it will be less rich and greasy than the tubed temperas, with their oil content.  

    Good luck.  Koo

    2017-03-11 12:01:29
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    ​Thanks again Koo.

    I do want to point out that egg tempera made from watercolor and egg yolk will be ever so slightly more water sensitive than pure egg tempera. This is unlikely to be a major issue, though.

    Brian Baade
    2017-03-11 13:50:30
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    ​Hi Brian,

    Egg yolk polymerizes to become insoluble in water, whereas gum arabic remains water soluble indefinitely, I believe - yes?  If so, does the percentage of gum arabic in a watercolor + yolk paint film mean it's more water sensitive just in the short term, or does it remain more water sensitive in the long term?  

    On a slightly different tho' related note, how flexible a binder is gum arabic relative to other binders, including yolk; and does it's flexibitiy change over time (just as polyermized egg yolk becomes increasingly brittle)?



    2017-03-11 14:26:14
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer


    I really only mentioned the solubility issue for completeness. The amount of gum Arabic is likely very small in proportion to the egg in actual practice. Yes, egg yolk is an emulsion containing proteins and oils (as well as many other components including lecithin as an emulsifier). The egg yolk film becomes water resistant rather quickly and more so overtime. Gum Arabic is more brittle than egg at least initially. I am less sure about the precise aspects of the long-term aging of gum Arabic but I doubt that it becomes drastically more brittle overtime. Again, the small percentage of the gum that would be in the final egg tempera paint would probably not greatly change the relative brittleness. Again, this is all just mentioned for full disclosure.

    Brian Baade
    2017-03-11 17:35:59
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    ​Thanks for those clarifications, I'm always happy to learn a little more about other mediums.  Koo

    2017-03-11 19:30:24
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer


    In retrospect, I think that my answer was far less than satisfactory. I will correspond with some individuals more familiar with the chemistry of gum Arabic and give you a more precise answer.

    Brian Baade
    2017-03-12 03:38:30
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    ​Is it possible to get an email notification of new posts in this forum system?

    I am following your responses with great interest!


    2017-03-15 19:49:29
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    ​Hi Jeremy...I have forwarded your request along to our IT point person. In short we would love to have this type of feature associated with our forum and perhaps there is a way to do it. So stay tuned.

    Kristin deGhetaldi
    2017-03-15 21:04:10

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