An article on egg tempera paint, with how-to recipe crafts
Imagine if every time you wanted to make a painting, you had to make the paint yourself! Before factories began making paint using chemicals (in 1704), people had to make paint from things they found around them in nature.
If you needed black, you could use dust from lumps of natural coal. Yellow could be made from boiling onion skins. Beets were excellent for a vibrant purple.
The oldest source for paint colors, however, is something anyone can find: Dirt. That’s right! Plain old dirt. Otherwise known as soil, or “colored earth”. But not the soft, brown kind used for planting. The best kind of dirt for making paint is the kind you find along riverbanks, along roadsides, or anywhere naturally occurring earth has been exposed.
The colored earth around us can come in shades of yellow, green, gray, and black. One reason for the different colors is that earth contains lots of tiny bits of iron. When iron is exposed to air and moisture, it “oxidizes”, or rusts, just like your bicycle! Rich, reddish brown earth has lot’s of iron, while lighter, yellow colored earth has less.
But how do you paint with earth? Wouldn’t it just fall off the paper? Not
First you would have to collect samples of earth in different colors, and then let it dry overnight. Next you would need to grind the earth until it is like a powder. You can use two rocks, or a “Mortar and Pestle” (a stone bowl and rod).
The colored powder, or “pigment”, needs to be mixed with something else to make it work like paint. Pigments can be mixed with water (making water paint), oil (making oil paint), or wax (making crayons). Long ago, people even used tree sap as a “binder” for paint. One very popular binder for paint, which is still used today, is egg.
When a pigment is mixed with beaten egg yolk (the egg white isn’t important), it is called “Egg Tempera” paint. Sometimes a few drops of vinegar and oil are added to help preserve the paint. Egg is an excellent binder for paint because when it dries, it becomes waterproof, hard, and the colors last a long, long, time. Egg tempera also has a kind of sheen to it. It looks different than all other kinds of paint.
But why take my word for it? Why not make your own egg tempera paint!
How to make Egg Tempera Paint
What you need:
Paint brush, painting surface: bristol board, flat rocks, wood, etc.
Dry, “colored earth”
Small containers (one for each color paint)
Vinegar (a few drops)
Cooking oil (any kind will do)
Mortar and pestle (or two rocks)
Something to mix with, like a whisk or fork.
A teaspoon (or any small spoon)
1. Use the mortar and pestle to grind the colored earth you have collected.
2. When it is dry and powdery (no lumps), put each color, or pigment, in a different container (small yogurt containers are good, because they have lids). A few tablespoons of each will do.
3. Over a bowl, crack each egg so that the egg stays in one half of the shell. With one half in each hand, pour the egg from one half to the other. The egg white will separate, leaving just the yolk in the shell. Put the yolks in a bowl. The whites can be saved for another use, but they are not needed to make paint.
4. Mix the egg yolks until they are blended well. Just a few whisks will do.
5. In the same bowl, add a few drops of vinegar (half a capful) and a capful of cooking oil. Stir well.
6. To each container of powdered earth (pigment), add a small amount of the egg mixture. Just a teaspoon at a time. Stir after each teaspoon is added. When the mixture can be spread easily with a paint brush, but not too runny, the paint is ready!
Note: If you live in a city or can’t find earth with interesting colors, use a couple tablespoons of cornstarch instead of colored earth in each container. When the egg mixture is added, use food coloring to create the color you want. To mix “natural” looking colors, try these combinations of food coloring:
Olive Green = 12 drops Yellow + 1 drop Red + 4 drops Green
Medium Brown= 9 drops Red + 12 drops Green + 5 drops Blue
Rusty Orange = 12 drops Yellow + 2 drops Red
Or try your own combination of colors!
Now start painting. You might want to paint on a flat rock instead of paper. Try making patterns, stripes, or zigzags. The rocks can be used as decorations in your room, or paper weights, etceteras. The only limit is your imagination!
Throw out leftover paint after three days, or it will start to spoil.
Have fun painting with the earth!