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All Things Ampersand

Working in Egg Tempera with Mark Meunier

Most egg tempera work is done in a cross hatching style, as the paint dries so quickly.  The paint lends itself to drawing lines, rather than the soft buttery laying down that oil allows.  But, Mark Meunier works his technique almost like oils, choosing a primary palette, glazing with the medium and working realistically.  Mark has taken the difficulty and tension out of egg tempera and created a technique that anyone can use.

Choosing a primary palette of eight colors, white, yellow ochre, yellow, orange, red, prussian blue, burnt sienna, and ultramarine blue, Mark created a simple palette with small cups of pigment laying around the borders.  On the corner, a cup of egg yolk and a bit of water mixed waits for dipping.  He doesn’t grind down each color first as is the tradition of egg tempera, but instead, mixes his colors on the palette.

There isn’t a formula, he says, for the exact amount of egg and water to mix, but getting all of the egg white off the yolk is vital.  Roll the yolk around on a paper towel before using and add water, no need to worry about distilled water or organic fresh farm eggs, either.  Just use what you have, and create an emulsion that works.  

Working on an absorbent surface, like Claybord™ is best, as the egg needs something to soak into to adhere correctly.  Traditional gesso was the original substrate that Mark used, but he found that Claybord works very well and he doesn’t have the laborious process of making his own gesso.  

Lastly, varnishing isn’t necessary, but egg tempera is soft and sensitive, so it is up to the artist.  Do note, however, that varnishing will change the piece as it will pop the colors.  Egg tempera has soft darks, more muted hues, and varnishing will alter the piece. 

Claybord is on sale now at many retailers across the country for up to 40% off.  Find a retailer near you:  www.ampersandart.com/retailers2

All things Ampersand, 
Karyn Meyer-Berthel 
Artist & Social Media Specialist 
Ampersand Art Supply 

Click here to explore the full selection of Ampersand panels and tools.

Featured Artist: Mark Meunier

“I work in egg tempera, a medium that can strike fear in too many artists who love the effects but after doing a little research have come away mind boggled with too many ‘do’s and don’ts’ .  Over the years I’ve simplified the whole egg-tempera thing and love to pass on this demystified technique. Interestingly some people out there say you have to make your own boards, or buy ‘true gesso’ panels, [but] Claybord works very well, much better than any board I use to make.” ~Mark Meunier

There are only a handful of professional artists working in egg tempera, and even fewer that have worked in the medium as long as Massachusetts artist Mark Meunier.  Even more astounding is that Mark taught himself the medium back in 1978 when oil painting wasn’t giving him the effects he wanted.  He was aiming for more realism and wanted something quicker than oils.  With the almost instant drying time of egg tempera and the beauty that Andrew Wyeth captured with them, it seemed the ideal choice.

At the time, he knew of Andrew Wyeth and Robert Vickery painting in egg tempera, so he ordered Vickery’s book, New Techniques in Egg Tempera, and began his own journey.  At first, Mark created his own traditional gesso with rabbit skin glue, whiting, and titanium dioxide pigment, working on masonite. He would grind each pigment down into an egg emulsion.  With traditional egg tempera, each change in color within an object is actually a different hue rather than a tint or shade, quite a laborious process to grind each.  He found that the paints dried quickly, too, on their own, and the panel making was tedious.  

However, since egg tempera needs a highly absorbent surface, there are few options to choose from for substrates.  Claybord™ solved the problem.  Mark explains that he did have to make a small adjustment to painting on Claybord as the surface is slightly different than rabbit skin glue gesso, but Claybord is highly absorbent, affordable and easy to work with.  As he evolved to using the Claybord, Mark also altered how he went about using egg tempera.  Instead of grinding each pigment down into the egg emulsion, he now wets his brush with the emulsion and dips the wetted out tip into a bit of pigment, mixing on his palette small puddles of paint at a time.  This way, his working paints stay moist.  Instead of mixing different hues for each object, Mark sticks with a palette of eight colors and works mixing those pigments to attain his colors, much like his oil painting background. 

With the translucent layers of egg tempera, objects form out of the two dimensional space, a concept that Mark hones constantly.  He continues his evolution as a painter by reaching his loyal audience through new subjects and ever bettering what he already knows well, taking realism a step further.  

Mark Meunier’s work is in several galleries with new shows opening this year.  You can find his work at the Collins Galleries in Orleans, MA, at the R. Michelson Gallery in North Hampton, MA and at Tilting at Windmills Gallery in Manchester Center, Vermont with a show opening this coming May.

Mark has made egg tempera an accessible medium for anyone to use.  To start learning more about using Claybord with Egg Tempera, you can refer to these blog posts:  Painting in Egg Tempera on Claybord & Using Egg Tempera on Claybord.

Claybord is now on sale at select retailers across the country, along with Encausticbord, Hardbord, Gessobord and Artist Panel.  

All things Ampersand,
Karyn Meyer-Berthel
Artist & Social Media Specialist
Ampersand Art Supply

Click here to explore the full selection of Ampersand panels and tools.