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  • Writer's pictureAlexandra Benson

Tempera Tantrum

Updated: Oct 19, 2022

Tempera paints are water based paints that are used frequently in schools. But did you know some famous artists used (egg based) tempera paint as well? Like Edvard Munch The Scream was made with tempera and pastels. Andrew Wyeth is another artist who used tempera on panels. Even Paul Cadmus used tempera in The Fleet's In!

For today's post, I thought I would tested out 3 different kinds of Tempera paint and see what we can do with them. I used the following paints:

I limited my colors for most of the testing to just primary colors. I tested each medium on 4 different papers (brown paper bag, White colored art paper, black drawing paper, parchment paper)

My first goal was to try a singular color from each kind of tempera medium on each type of paper, I chose red.

I found that when the tempera cake dried on the black art paper, the color resembled brown. The Tempera liquid was rather transparent which surprised me since tempera is usually a very viscous paint. The Kwik Stix paint sticks went on very smoothly however, they are so thick they are difficult to control for any small form or detail. After trying the singular color I got rid of the parchment paper, it wasn't working for any of the tempera mediums. I found that each dried very quickly, less than 5 minutes. Overall, the best color showed up on the white art paper, the brown paper bag would be my second choice.

My next test was to make color wheels from each tempera medium on the remaining 3 pieces of paper. I also made a few videos in my attempt to blend the colors.

I found the best blending with most accurate secondary colors was from the Kwik Stix paint sticks. The liquid tempera required blending very quickly while the paint remained wet. The cakes blended rather nice as well, but not as good at the sticks. I was not impressed with any color or blending on the black art paper. I tried painting over dried paint to see if I could make the colors more vibrant, the Prang cakes were best at this.

I painted leaves, then pressed them onto the paper, and found the best result was with the paint stick. The small widest leaf was painted with Prang liquid paint, the longer leaf next to it was created with Prang tempera cakes and the singular leaf was painted using the tempera paint sticks.

Mary Hafeli in Exploring Studio Materials (p 75-81) suggested blending colors, trying different brush strokes, using the end of a brush, and bringing in other materials. In the picture to the right, I experimented with fast brush strokes with differing effects.

Finally, I thought I had a rather good grasp on the different tempera mediums and I really wanted to paint something. On 5x7" handmade cotton paper I created a painting of macaroons. I found that sketching the subject matter in first with pencil was not ideal with tempera paint as it is still rather transparent and the pencil lines are visible (too visible for me.)

For my last project, I thought I'd do a quick rendition of "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" by Johannes Vermeer which I will be doing as my final project in my painting class later this semester. I used several Prang liquid paint colors thinking that blending would be easy on the pallet but the blending worked better directly on the paper. I was not impressed with the art paper, it warped terribly while my work was in process. Once it dried I was able to iron the back side of the paper to flatten it.

I could see using all tempera mediums in a classroom, each had benefits, all are non-toxic, water soluble and easy to clean up. There were no discernible smells with any of the paints and no bleeding through on the papers.

This post is based off of a few prompts from the book Exploring Studio Materials: Teaching Creative Art Making to Children by Mary Hafeli.

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