Mischtechnik: Egg Tempera and Egg Emulsions

What is Mischetechnik?   It is a mixed technique using ink, egg tempera and oil paints.   It is also referred to as Mische technique. That sounds simple right?   It is the technique that was used by many of the old masters, religious icon painters and also many current visionary artists  One of my favorite artists to paint using this technique was Andrew Wyeth.  It creates many semi-neutrals that glow and add depth.  I love using a  palette that contains semi-neutrals and therefore am attracted to this technique.

I have to admit I am also an art geek.  Not only do I love to paint, but I love to delve into the history of how paints were made, when various oils were used and why, and how we came to do things the way we do now.   Older is not always better, but I think we can learn from the past.  When you start delving into how do to Mischtechnik all clarity is lost.  First we need an egg.  Check.  Then you need….well oil to make the emulsion..but through history various thicknesses of oils with various varnishes have been used and every artist had his or her favorite.   Often simply as what was commonly and cheaply available at that time and in their area.

So instead of looking for a recipe to copy exactly, I decided to look at why each component is used, what is its place, and how does it function.  And then like the artists of old, what do I use regularly and have in my studio that fulfills that function.  I will share with you “my recipe” but I highly recommend a read of any section related to egg tempera in The Materials of the Artist and Their Use in Painting: With Notes on the Techniques of the Old Masters by Max Doerner.  I’ve also had some productive conversations with the owner of The Art Tree House, my source for non-toxic painting and cleaning supplies.

To paint, what do you need?  A support, pigment for color, a binder to mix with the pigment so it can be applied and a method to apply the painting.   The pigment can either be made to be opaque or transparent.  Commercial paint may also have fillers, stabilizers,  and other agents added to prevent paint degradation.  There are some tempera paints available in tubes, but from what I have read, they don’t give the same results as making your own.  I’m not saying they are good or bad, just not the same.

I prepared two different types of supports, one canvas and one a wood panel by coating with a thin layer of gesso, and allowed it to dry.  Then I made my drawing with waterproof ink and also allowed it to dry.  This gave me a fairly smooth surface with lights and darks, not just outlines, well defined.  Here is one on canvas.

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Next I used a transparent red.   Over one I used a permanent alizarin crimson and the other a transparent oxide red.  I’ll post on the detailed results and glazes with regard to warmth of color and so forth in a different post.   If you are looking through your tubes of paints, and come across a brand that doesn’t list transparency on the label, if the color is a “lake” insert color, it is probably transparent.  I made a mixture of part Damar crystals in lavendar oil to 1 part linseed oil for the glaze.  I tested my glaze simply by using a marker on my disposable palette and glazing over the black mark.  Of course you could make a series of test panels for yourself as well.  Here is the painting with the transparent oxide red over it.

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Next onto the egg emulsion.   To make this a more formal “tempera” simply use the egg yolk only. An egg emulsion should dry harder and shinier than the tempera.  A nice treatment of egg emulsion vs egg tempera can be found on the True Art website.

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In the following order shaking your container vigorously after each addition:

1 measure of whole egg (Egg white will make this dry more rapidly, egg yolk only will dry more slowly).

1 measure of linseed oil (lavender oil alone would not be enough of a binder)

1 measure of damar crystals in lavender oil:linseed oil 1:1 mixture (I found using too much (straight lavender oils can leave a sticky texture and take too long for a painting to dry to suit me.)

1 measure of water.  (Max Dorner says you can add 2 measures so it’s up to what you want.)

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Now you have your egg medium.  Mix with dry pigment. I used Titanium white.  Do some research as some pigments contain substances, often metals, that will chemically react with the yolk.  My sources say to use a glass pestle on a glass palette.  While I used a glass palette, I simply blended and blended and blended with a palette knife.  You can see the partially blended material on the left and the smoother fully blended material on the right.

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I put this in a clean jar with a damp sponge at the bottom and literature says in the refrigerator for about a week. I think mine might last a little longer as lavender oil has been shown to have antibacterial properties.   This does dry quickly so work fast.  I also diluted it a little as needed with my damar crystals in lavender oil: linseed oil mix to thin it out as needed.

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I used this to  paint in the highlights and areas of light.  One thing I came across in my reading of Max Dorner was not to add white into the shadows as it will make them look muddy.

Next you add a layer of transparent yellow, allow to dry, and then add whatever lights you want with your egg tempera/titanium white mixture.  Allow that to dry and add a transparent layer of blue.   Again whites where needed, and finally add local colors either directly or by adding another layer of your egg tempera and painting on that.  All these steps can be repeated over and over so there is no requirement to either a) do them all or b) stop at only 3 or 4 layers.

Yellow and egg tempera on the iron oxide red glaze.


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Here is the blue glaze over the above, allowed to dry to tackiness and then egg emulsion with titanium white painted for the highlights.    Wow..things are stating to happen.  Look at all those shades of green.  I used a Prussian blue glaze alone on the bulk of the picture with a bit of zinc white I added to the blue in the glaze on the sky.  The white egg emulsion was then used to highlight where I was planning to put local colors.  No green paint has been used.

 

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Here is the final with local colors painted in directly.  This is after drying overnight, the colors meld a bit then and more semi-neutrals magically appeared overnight.  I think I may have been a little heavy handed with painting in some of my local colors and am trying to be a little more careful with the other two paintings I am working on.  I’ll post them both when they are finished.

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Title:  Gerd Watching the Land Incubate the Harvest

 

Happy painting!  Let me know about your experiments into media and how they work as well.