I was reading an article in Professional Artist, a magazine I subscribe to. I almost didn’t read it at all, because the subject was how to paint using egg tempera. The egg tempera technique was originally practiced by early Renaissance artists, lost for centuries, found again in the 1950’s and used by practically nobody nowadays. I had only a mild curiosity about it but I read it anyway, figuring I might as well fill in that niggling little gap in my familiarity with various artistic media.
The important point here is that painting in egg tempera requires many layers of both the egg tempera itself and oils. The oils are thin glazes, and the white tempera is opaque, but used in such a way as to heighten details in the painting. Way back when I returned seriously to painting (late 1980’s) I started painting in thin transparent layers because I discovered that I could control my results much easier that way without losing any luminosity. Occasionally something would be too dark, and I would put a layer of white on it, wait for that to dry, then start in again on the color layers. My mentor, Alex Vilumsons, saw me painting this way and commented that it was a very “advanced” technique.
Now, keep in mind that Alex was quite a character, and he seldom actually explained anything as a step-by-step process. He had a New Age attitude and preferred to let things sink in by osmosis. He talked a lot about rhythm and repetition, making sure your color values were right, and that your composition was good. But his way of telling you this was communicated mostly by a terse “appropriate” or “not appropriate”. His most common positive comment was something along the lines of, you’re heading in the right direction, keep going! So when he said “advanced technique” I just sort of shrugged and said to myself, “oh, okay”. Now, over 20 years later, I saw what he meant when I read the article about egg tempera. Although my way of painting is much more “bold brush” than that of the old Renaissance artists, the idea of overpainting and using the white where needed, then overpainting that, derives from the ancient technique. Nice to find myself in good company, finally!