The impression many people seem to have of egg tempera is that it is a fussy medium that can only be used in one specific style. I think that comes from early 20th century proponents of tempera painting such as Daniel V. Thompson. While his books are an excellent resource, his insistence that tempera should be used just as it was in 14th century Italy gives the impression that the medium is limited to very slow work using small brushes to make laborious hatching strokes.
That’s one way to paint in tempera, and one that every tempera painter should probably familiarize themselves with.
But there are really only three constraints on tempera painting:
- You need to paint on a rigid support, preferrably on traditional gesso.
- You need to get the right ratio of pigment to egg yolk binder when painting (you can then thin it as much as you want with water).
- You can’t paint with thick blobs of impasto.
That’s it. You can use thick bristle brushes if you want. You can use a well-loaded brush, drybrush, or even tilt the panel horizontal and paint with loose washes. Wet paint can be blended. You can apply layer after layer of glazing. You can scrape the paint back, apply it with sponges, paint with your fingers, or rub partially dry paint to create textural effects.
Tempera is not fussy.