Egg Tempera

I draw and paint from nature using nature’s poetry to produce my expression. The magic of our past and future will always flicker and be seen by those who open their eyes and spirit to life’s force.
— Gary Milek

About the Medium

Golden Fields #10 Egg Tempera and Gold Leaf 44" x 46"

 Egg tempera is an ancient technique. The Egyptians used an egg binder with pigments on sarcophagi. Pliny refers to egg tempera media employed by Greek painters. Ceninni in his 15th century manual on the techniques of painting, The Craftsman’s Handbook, discussed egg tempera at length.

This art form is difficult to master. In order to paint well, any artist who has something significant and valuable to say must become a craftsman and master of his technical skills.

About the Process

Gary paints on masonite, beginning with cherry wood or oak cribbing for the back of the panel to keep it rigid and protect it from warping.  He believes that the preparation of this surface is of greatest importance, and has spent decades developing the method he finds best. In all, Milek applies eight coats of hot gesso, a thick mixture he concocts from whiting and titanium added to hot rabbit skin glue. When the final coat is sufficiently dry, he sands the panel to an ivory smooth finish. The panel must cure for a few days before it is ready to apply the egg tempera.

Farm Road through Golden Pastures Egg Tempera with Gold Leaf, 39” x 56”

To prepare egg tempera, Milek gets a fresh egg, separates yolk and white, and takes the yolk in his hand until the white is almost completely dried. He then punctures the yolk and removes the membrane to prevent it from getting into the paint. A natural emulsion, he adds water to the egg yolk to bring it to a paintable consistency, and then mixes in the powdered pigments he needs for a particular painting.

But first Milek goes to his subject for inspiration, and sketches a vocabulary of images, as he does not use a camera. Working from his preliminary drawings, he draws in the outline with a graphite pencil and then proceeds to paint.

Egg tempera paint is applied in very thin, often translucent layers of pure color that dry very rapidly. Many layers are required to build up an image, working up into the highlights and down into the shadows, allowing the painter to create optical effects that can not be achieved with any other medium. The ultimate effect is rich and luminous.