21, December 2009 § Leave a comment
Near the close of the semester I took the opportunity to demonstrate two traditional techniques to the students of the painting class. Oil paints are just one in a long line of materials that artists have used to create paintings. Tempera paint which uses egg yolk as a binder rather than linseed oil has been around since at least the time of the ancient Greeks. Pigments from earth sources as well as organic material are used for the colouring matter and the yolk binds them and adheres them to a surface. The other technique we looked into is using marble dust to extend oil paints and to make them more transparent.
Tempera colors were used extensively before the mid 1400’s when linseed oil began to supplant the use of egg as a binder. Most of the early Renaissance work we know is in this medium including the large pieces of Botticelli, “Birth of Venus” and the “Primavera” now in the Uffizzi. Tempera has the advantage of reading very well in the high end of the tonal range and having fast drying times. It works up almost more like a pencil rendering with a linear approach and little surface build up. It can be pushed to transparent, opaque or opalescent with ease.
Introducing marble dust into oil paint extends the paint and lightens it without turning it cool and chalky as white would do. It makes the paint more transparent and more pasty, reducing drying time and creating impasto effects. It is almost like adding light without unduly changing the tone or temperature of the color. If you add some drops of Liquin to moisten the mixture the resulting putty can dry overnight even in thick areas. Painters such as Velasquez and Rembrandt are known to have added some sort of marble dust or chalk to their pigments.
These and other techniques are interesting to extend our handling options and help us to understand why art of the past has certain characteristics. Techniques may suit some temperaments and some subjects better than another.