I am new to egg tempera and here is my question. To mix the pigment with the egg yolk do you have to use one of those glass grinders and heavy glass surface? In my effort to work without the grinder I bought some liquid pure pigment made by createx. It is a concentrated pigment dispersed in water. It handles well and the colors are great. I’m just wondering if I’m missing something. Is there any premixed pigment paste one could use? The only negative side in handling the pigments I have is that they are liquid and I can’t make them any thicker.
Egg tempera is very easy to work with. For most purposes, you don’t need one of those glass grinders, which are called mullers. I use my muller much more for making and mixing oil paint than tempera. In the old days, when pigments mostly came in the form of rocks, it took a lot of work to grind them down to a reasonably even particle size, and mulling was the last step in that grinding process. Nowadays, the pigment powders you can buy are almost always ground evenly and to the right size for making into paint. There is a school of thought that says that pigments need to be mulled in water in order to make sure that every particle is surrounded by water, without any microscopic clumps of particles stuck together. In theory, that makes sense. In practice, you just can’t tell the difference between tempera made using mulled commercial pigment and tempera made using the same pigment, but without all that work. Mulling pigment is kind of a pain.
Here’s what I do: wearing a dust mask, I transfer powdered pigment into a small glass jar (baby food jars work great if you first boil them to kill any residual bacteria). I then add some distilled water (which you can get cheaply from your local pharmacy). I take off the dust mask, put the cap on the jar, and shake hard for 30 seconds or so. The pigment and water are now mixed thoroughly. How much pigment and water to use? It’s not that important. Most pigments will eventually settle in the water to the bottom of the jar anyway, leaving clear water at the top, so they create their own pigment to water ratio. For those that stay in solution with water, any reasonable mixture will do. I shoot for a consistency between cream and ketchup. Every couple of weeks I need to check my jars and add water to those that are starting to dry out.
The pigment dispersions sold by some companies work just fine also. For some pigments they make particular sense. Ultramarine, for example, settles to the bottom of a jar of water and forms a hard mass that you have to dig out with a palette knife. An ultramarine dispersion is easier to work with. Titanium white gets kind of chunky in water and requires a lot of mixing. But most pigments work just fine as pigment pastes.
To make tempera, separate an egg yolk. I like to mix in a very small amount of distilled water to thin it down and then shake it hard in a small jar. I mix the yolk and the pigment paste in a ratio of about 50/50 (some pigments like a little more yolk, some a little less). That’s it; you have paint. You can test it by painting it thinly onto a sheet of glass. Let it dry and then scrape it off with a razor blade. Does it peel off cleanly? You have good paint. Does it flake off or break apart? You have too much pigment or too much yolk. With just a little practice, it’s pretty easy to make it right every time.