Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Egg Tempera with Koo Schadler

Egg tempera workshop with Koo Schadler. Koo, in the front of the room, 
preparing a demonstration. Participants' paintings are in various stages 
of progress.

I am glad to have spent two weeks with Koo Schadler in her egg tempera workshop at her studio in New England. Koo is a fount of information and our days were filled with demonstrations, presentations and lots of time to paint. For information about Koo's work and classes, visit

I prepared several weeks ahead of time, and worked up a "sketch" by arranging elements into a composition using Adobe Photoshop. This included a trip to Calypso Farm in Illinois to photograph llamas, one of which was to be the subject of my painting. I sent my composition to Koo and she suggested several changes to strengthen the piece.

An early stage of my painting. Here, I've just begun to work up the
background pattern. I have also started working on the llama, blocking
in the larger areas of color first.

Still in progress, the background pattern is nearing completion, and
the llama has been worked up to an almost finished state.

Egg tempera paints are basically pure pigments, in powder form, mixed with an egg yolk-and-water solution. It involves some work because the paint must be kept wet; once it dries on the palette it should not be rehydrated and used again. So the paint must be made once or twice a day. I found my paints kept a little better using a small porcelain palette — I use small amounts of paint, and this kept them puddled and moist, as opposed to spread out and dry on a flat palette. An egg solution is made from pure yolk mixed with water - approximately 1 to 1. Then, this egg solution is added to the pigment paste (pigment and water), and mixed well (called tempering). Enough egg solution must be used to bind the pigment to the surface of the painting, but not so much as to cause cracking and peeling.

My palette for my painting includes earth colors (ochres, siennas and umbers), greens (chromium oxide green, sap green, viridian), blues (cobalt, ultramarine and Prussian), black and titanium white. 

I love working in Koo's workshops. Working alongside other people is a wonderful way to learn. I love looking at other participants' paintings – it enriches how I work to see others utilize techniques and what they can accomplish. Koo's workshop studio is a lovely place to work... it looks out over a farm, and the landscape is inspiration in and of itself. And there were fresh treats from the garden every day – carrots and sugar snap peas. 

A close-up showing the detail of the brush strokes used to
create the texture of the fur.

Koo covered a wide range of topics...including working with gold leaf, setting up and photographing still lifes and portraits for use as reference, preparation of a gesso panel (egg tempera is usually worked on a wood panel with rabbit skin glue), composition, color, and more. Especially helpful was being able to watch Koo work on a painting, laying down base colors and then building up to detail. Koo never missed a beat...she was quick answer all questions, made her way around the studio to check on everyone's progress...always quick to share her knowledge. 

I am continuing work on my llama portrait...once the background pattern is finished, it will be glazed to darken it, so it moves more to the background and doesn't fight with the llama for attention. I'm not sure yet if I'll add some subtle shadows. And lastly, I'll turn my attention to bringing out the highlights on the llama, and refining the edges of her fur. 

Thanks to Koo and her husband, Jeff, for a wonderful workshop and their hospitality. Thanks to all the wonderful workshop participants who broadened my horizons.

Images ©2016, Karen Ackoff.