A few weeks ago, I attended a wonderful workshop on egg tempera painting given by the very gifted artist Fergus Ryan. I enjoyed the weekend immensely and tried to absorb as much as I could. During the workshop we copied from one of our favourite paintings. I chose Baron Arild Rosencrantz, which you can see above. It's a painting that resonates with me on many levels. We learned so much from Fergus about preparation for painting egg tempera and technique and I am so grateful for all of it.
I particularly love the alchemical nature of making egg tempera. Even preparing the surface (known as the ground) is an alchemical process. Tempera needs to be applied to a rigid surface such as wood, as on canvas or paper, it would simply crack. It dries very quickly and so different techniques are used to build up layers of colour. This gives the painting a translucent and ethereal quality...exactly what I am after in order to paint my dreams!
Egg Tempera can be found as far back as ancient Egypt and was also often used in the early Renaissance period and is known for its enduring nature and pearlescent quality of light given through layers and layers of thin paint. In order to begin this technique of egg tempera painting, it required that I get all the necessary tools and equipment together...wooden boards, rabbit glue and gypsum to size the boards (2 coats of glue, front, back and sides) which prevents the boards from warping. Then 8 coats of true gesso made from the glue and gypsum. A rotating sander to polish to a smooth finish. I am still working on the gesso coats!
In religious icon painting of the Orthodox tradition, and in alchemy, this gesso process is known as Leukosis/Albedo or whitening...and correlates to a cleansing and purification of the Soul in preparation for the painting. I am still whitening my boards...it’s physically tiring, but enjoyable and dreams have been strong. I have no idea what will be painted on these boards...whatever comes through me!
In the cooking, mixing and preparation of both the glue and the gesso, there are stages of solid to liquid to solid and back to liquid. I love this movement between states. When I was a child, I was always making potions and perfumes from flowers...and anything I could find! That enjoyment flooded back to me and it all felt very familiar. I truly believe that we arrive into this world knowing who we are until we are conditioned out of it...what did you used to absolutely love to do as a small child? Why not try a bit of that now?
To keep the glue and gesso at an even temperature when cooking, a Bain Marie or a double boiler is used. Like how you would melt chocolate in a bowl in a pot of water. The name comes from the Medieval Latin term balneum (or balineum) Mariae—literally, Mary's bath—from which the French bain de Marie, or bain-marie, is derived. The device's invention has been popularly attributed to Mary the Jewess, an ancient alchemist.
In the writings of Zozimus of Pallonis, Mary is described as "one of the sages". Her work sought to make the masculine and the feminine one. Alchemical union, hieros gamos. That is where the gold lies, the secret of transformation. This resonates so deeply with my work and seems to come through almost unconsciously at times.
So who knows what will be created on these boards...or if it will work? There is a huge element of trust and faith in transitioning from one method of painting to another...because of the exact nature of the egg tempera technique, it’s all or nothing! I might fail at this and have wasted a lot of time and money, or I might succeed and absolutely love this...I am in transition and I don't know where it might land. I feel the latter, once I get through the many learning curves, failures and bumps that will teach me how to do it better each time.
Is there a transition in your own physical, emotional or spiritual life that feels to be coming? What would happen if you went all in? What’s the worst that could happen...and what is the best that could happen?
I will share my journey as I go....and I'm really looking forward to sharing with you soon about the pigments...oh the pigments....they are simply beautiful and so so much history and meaning behind each and every one!
Mandala Artist and Healer based in Dublin, Ireland. www.healingcreations.ie