Egg Tempera Palette

May 9, 2009

My collection of dry pigments in the studio

My collection of dry pigments in the studio

The list of pigments available for use in egg tempera is essentially the same as that of oil with the exception of the lead based pigments of naples yellow and flake (lead) white. They are highly poisonous and so should be avoided in powdered form. Additionally, the lead based pigments discolour upon exposure to sulphur fumes. While this discolouration can be avoided by varnishing the final picture why bother when so many other safer pigments are available today?

Powdered pigments can be quite exciting to see and to use – especially for the first time. In egg tempera, you must always work with powders that you grind up into paint for the daily session. I use a glass muller and a piece of frosted glass for this purpose. It is also possible to pre-grind a number of common colors in distilled water and keep this paste in a small airtight jar (with a moistened sponge inserted in the lid) ready for use. This saves working time and energy. This larger work of grinding up pigment pastes then needs doing only once a month or so (depending on your climate and usage). The muller and glass plate need to be thoroughly cleaned after each grinding session.

For daily painting, I usually temper (with egg) only a few pigment pastes for each session. This does not take alot of extra time or effort. A bean of pigment paste mixed up with an equal amount of egg suffices for the paint of the day. A quick test consists of stroke on a piece of smooth glass. When it dries and can be lifted by a one sided razor blade it shows itself to be an internally cohesive ribbon of colour. If it does not form a ribbon and instead dissolves into powder you have not added enough egg yolk.

My palette:

  • ultramarine blue (a cool blue)
  • thalo blue ( a warm blue. Exceedingly difficult to grind so it requires much patience but since it is such a beautiful colour it’s well worth it)
  • cadmium yellow medium (a warm yellow)
  • Permanent Lemon Yellow (a cool yellow)
  • Cadmium red medium (a warm red)
  • Alizarine crimson (a cool red. Another pigment that is difficult to grind but also is well worth it.)
  • venetian red (red iron oxide)
  • viridian green
  • raw umber (fantastic for shadows)
  • burnt siena (great for achieving quick grounded warmth)
  • yellow ochre
  • carbon black
  • zinc white (good for achieving light tints that you wish to also contain some body. As my proficiency increases I tend to use this less and less. The original white of the gesso panel is all the light I ever really need – or want.)

I tend to honor spectral purity of each pigment so I usually don’t mix up colors on the palette but instead superimpose thin layers of hues to achieve a given colour.

One Response to “Egg Tempera Palette”


  1. […] a series of panels executed in encaustic. The palette I used for this work consisted mainly of the same dry pigments that I keep on hand for egg tempera.  (See illustration to the left.) I said “mainly”, because I also began to supplement […]


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