Why Couldn’t Egg Tempera Be Applied Thickly To A Painting?

Egg tempera is a rewarding painting medium, but it requires strategic handling. An underlying reason why couldn’t egg tempera be applied thickly to a painting? relates to its swift drying time and inherent composition.

Applying it in a thick layer may lead to cracking and potential flaking, denying the art piece its due longevity and reducing its overall aesthetic appeal. Hence, it’s essential to explore why thick application of egg tempera is less advisable for sustainable and pleasing outcomes.

Why Couldn’t Egg Tempera Be Applied Thickly To A Painting?

Examining egg tempera paints, significant challenges surface when applying it thickly onto the canvas. We’ll explore four main concerns: cracking, color change, potential flaking, and the optimal method for use.

1. Prone to Crack

Egg tempera is unique among paints. Thick applications often lead to issues, one primary concern is cracking. This problem all comes down to the drying speed of this medium. Drying fast, egg tempera doesn’t provide enough curing time when applied too thickly. Rapid drying results in surface tension. It ultimately leads to cracking, giving the painting an unintended, aged appearance.

Preserving the quality of your artwork is critical. Cracks can drastically reduce the durability and lifespan of your piece. Careful application and attention to layers can keep this issue at bay. Always remember, egg tempera prefers slow and steady, not quick and heavy.

2. Changes Color

Another distinctive trait of egg tempera paint is the color shift when applied thickly. When using heavy layers of this medium, it tends to yellow over time. This color change may prove detrimental to your painting. The mental image you’ve planned for your artwork can become drastically different from the actual outcome.

Consider how yellow tones will alter existing shades, which in turn will affect the overall scene. Therefore, mindful layering serves to maintain the integrity of the intended palette.

3. Potential Flaking

The inherent nature of egg tempera brings with it another challenge: flaking. When you put thick layers of this brittle medium onto a flexible surface, it’s like building a house on a shaky foundation. Over time, movements and shifts can cause the rigid paint to dislodge, flaking away from the canvas.

In scenarios where the canvas is likely to be repositioned or moved frequently, the possibility of paint flaking off dramatically increases. Keeping egg tempera applications thin ensures the artwork remains intact, safeguarding against potential loss of materials.

4. For Optimal Results

To achieve optimal results with Egg Tempera, there is a beneficial approach to adopt. Rather than taking the risk of working with thick layers, the suggested method involves utilizing thin washes mixed with water. This technique allows the artist to have better control over the paint’s behavior.

The advantage of a thin application is multifold. It not only prevents cracking and yellowing but also increases the paint’s adhesion to the canvas. The ‘less is more’ adage rings true in this context; parsimony in paint application maintains the painting’s integrity and visual appeal.

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Egg Tempera Painting Technique

Egg tempera is a classical painting technique known for its luminous effects and rich textures. Working with egg tempera involves mastering a series of steps and methods for unparalleled results.

1. Preparation of Egg Tempera

The journey into egg tempera painting begins with the preparation of the paint itself. Eggs, water, and pigment are the three core elements. The egg yolk, which acts as the binder, is separated and mixed with equal parts of water.

Then pigments are added until one achieves a creamy paint consistency. Familiarizing oneself with this preparation process is an essential first step.

2. Ground Application

A specially prepared surface or ground is crucial for egg tempera painting. Usually, a fine texture of traditional gesso provides the best substrate.

The gesso ensures adhesion, absorbs the watery egg tempera, and results in a luminous, glowing effect when painted upon.

3. Underdrawing

Underdrawing is another significant technique. Due to egg tempera’s semi-translucent nature, artists often make detailed drawings on the gessoed panel before they start painting. This step sets the stage for the placement of fine details in the painting.

4. Layering and Glazing

Egg tempera is often applied in thin, semi-opaque, or transparent layers. From there, it’s about building up these layers to create depth and richness. Glazes with egg tempera can make colors glow from within, enhancing highlights and shadows.

5. Rendering technique

There are two common methods of rendering, hatching and stippling. Hatching is a technique where egg tempera can truly shine, creating fine, intersecting lines to build up tone and detail.

Stippling, on the other hand, involves applying paint in small dots, varying in size and color. Both techniques can provide unique textural results when it comes to egg tempera.

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Egg Tempera Vs Oil Paint

When comparing egg tempera and oil paint, it’s essential to acknowledge their distinct properties, techniques, and effects. Here are the key differences and how they influence these two popular mediums.

1. Drying Time

One significant difference between egg tempera and oil paint is their respective drying times. Egg tempera dries rapidly, often within minutes, whereas oil paint can take days or even weeks to fully dry. This impacts the techniques and layering processes used in each medium.

2. Layering Approach

Egg tempera is typically applied in thin, semi-transparent layers, whereas oil paint allows for thicker, more malleable layers. The flexible nature of oil paint encourages experimentation, while the delicate egg tempera requires a more methodical approach to layering.

3. Paint Consistency

Egg tempera is water-based and has a more fluid consistency compared to oil paint’s thicker, oil-based texture. Consequently, artists can achieve a smooth, high color saturation with egg tempera, while oil paints allow for heavier brush strokes and more impasto effects.

4. Painting Technique

Working with egg tempera involves the use of fine brushes and detail-oriented techniques like hatching and stippling. Oil paint, however, is often applied liberally, making it well-suited for broader brush strokes, blending, and gestural movements.

5. Luminosity and Effects

Egg tempera is revered for its luminous, glowing effects resulting from layering on the gessoed surface. In contrast, oil paint is often used to create deep, rich colors and dynamic effects through blending, glazing, and applying varying layer thicknesses.


So, why couldn’t egg tempera be applied thickly to a painting?

It’s essential to remember that the unique nature of egg tempera doesn’t allow for a thick application. Instead, embracing its swift drying time and inherent composition by applying it in thin, refined layers can yield beautiful results.

This approach minimizes cracking and flaking, preserving the artwork’s aesthetic appeal and longevity. Mastering this aspect of egg tempera proves crucial in unlocking its full artistic potential. Therefore, understanding why egg tempera can’t be applied thickly is a significant step in any artist’s journey with this unique medium.

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