Sheila Simpson Studio

About Egg Tempera

Egg tempera can be traced back to ancient Egypt, and was a primary painting medium until the development of oils in the the mid-1400s. The old Russian and Byzantine religious icons were painted in Egg Tempera.

·     The development of Egg Tempera was stunted by the advent and ensuing popularity of oil paints., Many of the painting techniques that became popular in the 19th and 20th centuries (impressionism, symbolism, collage, color-field painting) were never attempted in Egg Tempera because by then oil was the dominant medium. Yet, Egg Tempera handles those techniques perfectly well as long as one doesn't paint in impasto (thick applications of paint).


·     Old painting manuals, i.e. pre-19th century, insist that Egg Tempera be painted on a hard, very smooth surface. Granted, if you want to paint in small hatch marks (as was common before oils were developed), a smooth surface is helpful. However, using contemporary painting techniques Egg Tempera can readily be painted on heavily-textured surfaces.


·     One of the factors that motivates me to use Egg Tempera is a concern for the environment. As human beings we all pollute, and yet I believe we can be conscious of how much we each contribute to the sum total of human pollution. There were so many hazardous waste products with oil paints that I searched for a medium that would let me build up layers of both transparent and opaque colors. Watercolors didn't let me build up the layers I wanted and I didn't care for the plastic surface sheen of acrylics. I also questioned the environmental impact of acrylics, which are water based but the plastic binder is still going into the water system. Egg, as a binder, solves the problem for me by being biodegradable and Egg Tempera yields an archivally-sound surface for my work.


     Historical Artists who painted with Egg Tempera


     Byzantine Icon painters

     Botticelli

     Andrew Wyeth

     Ben Shahn

     Isabel Bishop

     Jacob Lawrence

     Margaret Tomkins


Painting to the right: 'Egg Expressions': Egg Tempera on collaged and textured ground, 19"x25".

Egg Tempera Materials

The photos below depict some of my surfaces, and materials that I use for my Egg Tempera paintings.