The Art of Egg Tempera Painting: Introduction

by | Apr 27, 2016

add egg yolk to paint to make egg temperaI taught myself the technique of painting in egg tempera about 30 years ago from a recipe written in the 15th century by the Italian artist Cennino Cennini.

While rummaging around an antiquated bookstore, I discovered a 1933 edition of The Craftsman’s Handbook. A translation by Yale professor Daniel Thompson. He taught a course in egg tempera painting, sparking an American revival of tempera painting among artists such as Andrew Wyeth, Robert Vickery, Peter Hurd and a few other notable artists.


I was astounded by the wealth of painting knowledge enclosed in this book. Before the internet it was difficult to find rich, yet obscure information, almost impossible if you weren’t even aware of its existence in a seaside Florida town.

Wanting to learn more, I headed for my pre-Google information portal—the local library. The librarian researched and found another book listed in a publishers catalog, The Practice of Tempera Painting, also by Daniel Thompson. I mailed in a check and for several weeks, eagerly awaited the book’s arrival in my mailbox.

Later, I supplemented my learning with books by Robert Vickery and George Tooker. Before the internet, scant information was available on egg tempera. For 2 years, working in solitude in my studio, on the banks of a sleepy Florida river, I gathered materials, researched and tested, before finally cracking an egg for my first complete egg tempera painting, Pelicans Flying Over Bulow.

I write little about the crafting aspect of my work. For me, the laborious steps of making the panels, gesso and paint is simply a necessary means to an end— paint and painting. However, it is this preparatory process that allows me to manifest my visions in paint.

For me, painting (and writing) are exploratory forms of authentic self-expression. A lifelong evolution of self-examination, learning, and discovery; trying to understand this miracle of life. Making sense of the sorrows and joys we all experience. I’m just stumbling through life, hopefully learning from my experiences, trying to be a more evolved person and painter.

I am more attuned to translating emotions and experience into art than talking shop here on my blog. With that aside, I’m writing a series of posts detailing my process of painting in egg tempera. I’ll publish them randomly, interspersing them with my usual musings. The series is titled The Art of Egg Tempera Painting.

Since I mostly share here more esoteric, reflective thoughts as part of my creative process, I’ll be curious to know if you find the hands on side of my work a teeny bit interesting, helpful or inspiring.


  1. Jane


    I always find your musings, reflective thoughts, your hands on side…most fascinating, entertaining and educational. You are a Master 🙂


  2. Mary

    Daniel, no one realizes the numerous tasks and details involved in egg tempera painting. As an oil painter, after numerous sketches and ideas, I pick up one of my linen canvases, squeeze out my favorite oil colors made by craftsmen, and start painting. You, on the other hand, begin the creative process making the tools you need, all the while mentally preparing yourself for the work. It is the perfect medium suited to your personality – introspective, questioning, contemplative, sensitive, searching for perfection. I honor you, my friend, and respect what you do. Your work has a timeless quality and a uniqueness all its own, and will stand the test of time.

  3. William Wofford, Jr.

    Looking forward to reading your posts on the process. I have always wanted to add tempera to my repertoire and have “studied it” via books for years, but my comfort level with watercolor, and possibly my inability to refocus my energy and develop the patience necessary, has kept me from the dedication it takes to pursue it properly. I revert back to what I know. Still, I feel there are certain subjects that would work best in an opaque medium and I want tempera to be that for me. I have great respect for you and others who have developed a mastery of it. This will inspire me to try again:) Please post details about your initial stages and also show steps along the way to building the final work. Looking forward to future posts. Thanks, Bill.

  4. Betty Turco

    Amazing work Daniel. Thank you
    I have my very own Ambrose treasure. It is a small painting you donated to the Museum Store at the Museum of Arts & Sciences, probably in the early 90’s when I was working there. Title is “Mystic Morning” and the subject is Egret. Acrylic. The size is approximately 8″ wide by 6″ high. I never stop looking at it and I always look forward to your posts.
    Best regards


  1. The Art of Egg Tempera Painting: Preparing Panels - The Art of Daniel Ambrose - […] Part 1 of a series titled The Art of Egg Tempera Painting summarizing the process that I use to…

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