The Art of Daniel Ambrose

Hauntingly Beautiful Paintings

Painting Processes

Egg Tempera

Draining egg yolk for egg tempera painting Egg tempera painting is an ancient medium; egg has been used by humans as pigment binder for thousands of years. Scientific research shows the Egyptians used it two thousand years ago in painting the faces of their Terracotta Army. Works by the 12th century Byzantine painters survive today, and was used extensively by the Old Masters until oil painting matured in the 15th century. It is more labor-intensive than other mediums, although tempera offers wonderful results which are not duplicated by any other process.

Much of what is known about the Old Master’s techniques in egg tempera is recorded in a book by Italian painter Cennino D’Andrea Cennini in the 15th century. It was eventually translated into English by Yale University professor, Daniel Thompson Jr. in 1933. This time-proven method is the one I use today.

Egg tempera is defines as: the process of painting in which an albuminious medium (as egg yolk) is employed as a vehicle instead of oil. In order for paint to adhere to a surface, a binding medium containing an emulsion is necessary. Very simply, an emulsion is a mixture of water and oil. The naturally occurring emulsion within the egg creates a stable medium. The egg is prepared by separating the yolk from the white. The yolk sac is punctured and drained into a glass bowl, then mixed with one part distilled water and strained through a cheese cloth.

Historical pigments with intriguing names, such as Bohemian Green Earth and Pompeii Red are mined from the native earth of France, Italy and Cyprus, mines that once supplied the Old Masters of the Renaissance Period. The pigments are ground into a fine paste in distilled water and mixed with the egg medium on the palette until the desired consistency is reached. Egg yolk forms the glutinous substance that binds pigments to the surface of the panel, and the yellowness of the egg disappears immediately as the water evaporates. I apply it to a specially prepared gesso panel in very thin translucent layers, each change of color carefully mixed and modulated in to the adjacent one. The paint dries instantly to the touch forming an elastic skin, completely curing in about a year. When fully dry, the surface of an egg tempera painting becomes extremely hard, capable of being polished to a satin finish.

Oil Painting

Oil Painting is a versatile medium invented in the 15th century. Oil is an enjoyable elastic medium. It can be applied thick or thin, all at once alla prima, or built up in glazes of transparent colors. Combinations of many techniques can be incorporated successfully with oil paint as long as one main rule is followed. Fat over lean. That is, fat oil modifiers such as linseed oil and “hot” driers like cobalt must be applied over “lean” mediums like turpentine. Doing so will ensure the longevity of your oil painting.

In my own work I use professional grade oil paints with a high permanence rating. High quality oil paint manufactures such as Rembrandt, Holbein, and Gamblin use more pigments and less fillers. I recommend students use these as they will achieve better results in their own work. Pigments have a light-fast or permanence rating usually coded on the side of the paint tube. The higher the rating the more light-fast or less fading in light the color is. I figure if I am going to invest my time and best ability in a painting than I want to use the best materials available to me.

Plein Aire

plein air painting by daniel ambrose

En plein air is a process not a medium. It is a French term meaning out of doors. I have always painted outdoors and called them field studies or oil sketches. My plein air paintings are part of my inspirational thought process in developing studio pieces. They are painted intensely in the moment under sometimes adverse conditions capturing colors and effects impossible to obtain in the studio. I keep most of them as invaluable resources for future painting ideas. I do release many of them as they are painted simply for the enjoyable act of painting outdoors. They are prized by collectors for their immediacy and vitality and affordability. And they are simply fun to do.

The Pencil

Pencil sketches of artist children

I love drawing. For me drawing is like breathing, something I do naturally. I carry a small hardbound sketchbook around with me and draw in it with a 9 millimeter mechanical pencil. I draw anything; sketch out ideas for paintings, notes, or construction projects. I draw to understand things I see, and encourage everyone to draw. The act of drawing helps you appreciate beauty in your own life, forcing you to really focus your attention on something or someone. You begin to see how beautiful the world is around you. Try it.

Journal Paintings

photo of pochade boxThe Journal Paintings are an important part of my working process. I paint many small oil painting studies, often on site en plein air, on Belgian linen panels, using a handcrafted walnut pochade box made by Open Box M. I use some of these oil paintings as inspirational studies for my larger egg tempera and oil paintings. I call them my journal paintings as they are a journal or diary of my working methods.

They originate for various reasons. Some are simply to note color or shapes catching my eye, a particular quality of light and air, or record a sense of place. The actual subject matter or motif is almost always secondary to the effect of light upon it. Many are made for no other reason than purely because the painting process pleases me. As an artist I enjoy every aspect of creating art and I encourage you explore this process with me. Please join my newsletter to follow along on my journey.