Let There Be Light
Art show at Enigma Restaurant, 4397 W 10th Ave, Vancouver, from December 5 to January 7, 2014.
Known from antiquity, egg tempera was the primary painting medium in the Middle Ages. It was the medium for religious and inspired art in the Byzantine world and Europe until it was replaced by oil paint in Italy in the 16th century. Yet, it remained the required medium for Orthodox icons in Greece and Russia.
Why egg tempera
Egg tempera paint is made of pure pigments (dry coloring powders) mixed in egg emulsion (egg yolk and water mixed in the 1:1 ratio, with a few drops of vinegar to preserve the mixture). Egg emulsion dries quickly and adheres firmly. Egg tempera paintings are long-lasting; icons painted in the 12th to 14th centuries survive to this day.
Egg tempera is painted on wooden panels prepared with a gesso base that promotes adhesion and creates a smooth luminous surface. Mostly, egg tempera is applied in small brush strokes on top of another thoroughly dried coat of paint. Thus, the two layers of paint are mixed optically by not physically. This creates a unique transparency that is not possible by mixing paints directly. This glazing produces clear, pure colours - egg tempera’s greatest advantage over oil painting.
The finished product can appear matte like pastel but brightens dramatically under oil-based varnish.
How traditional Orthodox icons are created – a brief summary
Traditional icons require time and effort. A medium size painting (11x14 in) can take 50-80 hours to complete. The method described below is only a brief outline of the major steps.
I. Traditional egg tempera is painted on gesso ground on a wooden panel. II. The image is transferred to the prepared panel. III. Gold leaf is glued directly to the gesso in areas such as haloes and sky. IV. Basic colours are applied using the puddle technique, which produces a mostly opaque monochromatic background. At this stage, it is said that an icon is "open." V. When the first layer of paint is completely dry, lighter colours are painted on top of the darker background to create volume. Then lighter highlights are added. VI. Details, highlights, fine lines, and lettering complete the painting. VII. In addition, gold leaf can be applied to emphasize light on garments and wings and to decorate the border. VIII. When the image is finished, it is covered with an oil-based varnish to preserve the painting.
Note: Similar techniques can be successfully used to create various non-religious images. All the pictures on this website are painted using traditional iconographic methods.