Egg tempera, gesso and guilding.

I have been lucky enough to have been a recipient of some European Opportunities Funding, which enabled me to make the trip to work with an artist in her studio in Sardinia. I have been exploring layers of gesso on paper, board and canvas for the last few months, and continuing to work figuratively, from observation, using egg tempera and any kind of pigment I have been able to get my hands on: ground up charcoal, chalk, spirulina or paprika. Just five days working with a professional established artist working in this medium, I have resolved so many of the practical mistakes I have been making for months, and moved forward so much in my understanding of these materials, their potential and their limitations.

I also set myself a set of ‘rules’, one of which was to avoid working from observation. That was a challenge! And yet, it seems, I am discovering more about the paint, the ground, the process – just by leaving the recognizable object behind, focusing less on the real objects in front of me, and more on the surface of the paintings, I am engaging far more with what I can do with the paint. I am learning what the egg tempera does when using it dry, or extra watery, exploring what happens when combining pigments such as ivory black and lead white, how one sits delicately onto the gesso more readily, whilst one sits above the surface, almost separated. I am playing: learning how long I can leave a layer of egg tempera before I can repaint, how long it needs before I can wipe off the top layer without disturbing the one underneath, how the tempera and pigments react to water, or thicker egg mixtures. The ritual of grinding pigment with a glass muller, breaking an egg carefully, separating its contents, adding in water, a splash of white wine and a few drops of clove oil, have all become a daily enjoyable ritual. Rather than squeezing my paint from a tube, I feel a greater connection with my materials. Maybe a greater connection between myself and the work I am making.