Notebook, 1993-


Thompson, Daniel V., Jr., Research and Technical Adviser, The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. The Practice of Tempera Painting. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1936. Fourth Printing, 1946. - Index

The Practice of
Tempera Painting - Appendix

Tempera Practice in the Yale Art School [ca.1936-1946] - Professor Lewis E. York

Composition Sketch in Three Values
This is really a drawing in the mode of color value, with an extended range of values for the sake of clarity. It is made on a middle-tone paper with black ink and tempera white. [p. 132]

                   Tempera White	  -  	Middle-tone Paper    -		Black Ink

Color Sketch
This is made in as many values as called for, and is a translation of the composition sketch into local colors. It corresponds with the first flat lay-in of the painting. To make this requires a decision on the final value range of the painting as well as a choice of the local colors.

PR Value range in painting
PA Value range represented by white in composition sketch
AB Value range represented by middle tone in composition sketch
BR Value range represented by black in composition sketch
[p. 132]

Form Drawing
A. This is made on middle-tone paper. The drawing is picked up with charcoal and when well found is partially dusted off. It is then completed in diluted ink and tempera white. The ink and white are manipulated with a brush.

B. By pure form drawing we mean the description of forms on a flat surface by describing their planes in perspective as revealed by a light.

In form drawing in its pure state there are not lines, only flat and [p. 133] graded tones. The main difference between the mode of drawing and the mode of complete visual appearance is the purposeful elimination of color.

C. In our drawing, the perspective used is really one of sentimental, not of mechanical accuracy.

D. The light and shade we employ is usually conceived as from a rather narrow source of light far enough removed from the object illuminated to figure the light rays as parallel. This light and shade system is not used with mechanical accuracy, especially in respect to cast shadows, which are included, limited, omitted, or falsified for purposes of design.

E. In our drawings we use abstract lines to manufacture tones, and also add lines of definition where desired. The lines used to establish tones, either flat of graded, are hatched or cross hatched more or less openly according to the desired variance from the middle tone. This forms an optical tone.

F. The direction of these lines may be governed by a wish for:
1. Form or volume description. Here the form is described by the direction of each line as well as by the light and shade.
2. Lack of form description. The two sketches on the next page show: a, linear form description; b, lack of linear form description.
3. Compositional effects.
Rule: Similarity of lines gives unity; dissimilarity give variety.
Similarities possible in lines:

Lines may be used to guide the eye of the spectator or to stop it.
Rule: The eye follows the length of a line, and across a gradation from the tone nearest the ground tone to that farthest removed in value. [pp. 132-134]

Preparation of Panel
The panels upon which we paint are made of pressed wood. The commercial name is " Masonite." They are prepared as follows.

A. Size coat. 5% gelatine size applied to both sides.

B. Dried for 24 hours.

C. Five to nine coats of gesso applied hot.

D. Final coat smoothed down by means of a smooth stone or smooth flat block of wood.

E. Final polish with very fine sandpaper. [p. 134]

Engraving Design on Panel
This is done with a stylus. The engraved lines are very light, and are made only around the areas which will show a color difference in the lay-in. [p. 135]

Over the areas to be gilded several coats of gilder's clay are laid, mixed very thin with 5% size, or weaker size for very thin leaf. When dry, this is burnished with an agate. The gold leaf is then laid by wetting down the clay and laying the gold leaf in place. If air bubbles form under the leaf they are pressed out with a small piece of cotton. When this has dried, the leaf is burnished with an agate, and turns very dark and shiny. [p. 135]

P a i n t i n g
Palette Normally Used
Permalba white		     Yellow ocher		  	  Cobalt blue
Ivory black		  	 Cadmium, middle		  Opaque oxide of chromium
Vermilion			  Raw umber			
Rose madder			Burnt umber
Venetian red
Indian red
[p. 135]

Medium Used
Yolk of egg with water. They should be thoroughly mixed. The amount of water to be added to a yolk varies, being decided by the thickness of the yolk. Under no circumstances is it wise to add water to more than twice the volume of the yolk. [p. 135]

Mixing of Color and Medium
Enough medium must be mixed with the color to bind it firmly to the gesso ground. The general rule for this is equal amounts of color and medium, though in some cases more medium is necessary. The safest way is to err on the side of too much medium. For purposes of easy manipulation it has been found best to make the [p. 135] first mixture of color and medium rather thick, and then dilute it with water as necessary. [pp. 135-136]

Lay-in or Underpainting
In the lay-in the entire ground is covered, each form to be rendered being laid in in its middle tone, high tone, or low tone, depending on the modeling system to be used. These tones may be the actual color wished at some point in each form, or may be an off color which will need to be painted over, completely as with a glaze, or partially, with an opaque tone, to create optically a tone wished. Sometimes when the form to be rendered requires a wide value range, we use a two-tone lay-in, the light tone being darker than the lights to be applied, and the dark tone being lighter than the dark tones to be applied. [p. 136]

a. Full, wet brush. This is very useful in laying in large flat tones, and in painting forms with a single brush stroke.

b. Lean, dry brush. This is used to advantage in drawing lines, in delicate hatching, and in any kind of subtle modeling or detailing.

c. Thick paint. This is useful in placing small lights, and fairly thick paint is useful in painting entire light areas.

d. Thin paint. Five or six times over an area with thin paint usually results more happily than once over with thick. Thin paint is extremely useful with a dry brush for delicate modeling. This is the secret of most of the subtlety in tempera painting. [p. 136]

In our pictures, the composition sketch, color sketch, and form drawing are rolled into one. The modeling is derived from the form drawing, which acts as a kind of map or chart for the placing of darks and lights. At this point a choice is made as to which sketch shall dominate. The choice is usually determined by the use to which the painting is to be put, or the position that it is to occupy, weighing visibility and taste. [p. 136]

M o d e l i n g    S y s t e m s
a. Light applied first, middle tone second, and dark last. This system is similar to drawing on white paper with a dark point, or using transparent water color on white paper.

b. Dark tone first, middle tone second, and light tone last. This system is the same as used in making a pastel drawing on black paper.

c. Middle tone first, darks and lights second. This is the best system, as it does not need to be retranslated from the form drawing on middle-tone paper. It also has the advantage of working toward the extremes or accents, rather than placing them first, so that the painter can watch his painting shape up, and thus have it under better control. This is a better system than the others, too, because the spectator in viewing a picture looks at the darks and lights, and if either of these be left as the ground instead of being considered and drawn in, they may be relatively poor in shape. [p. 137]

Color and Value Relations

     Light				Middle Tone			 Dark
A  Middle + white		Dark + White		 	  Color
B  Middle + white		Color				       Middle + black
C  Color			    Light + black	         	Middle + black
D  Color (1)			    Color (2)				 Color (3)	

A, B, and C, in the above table are what we call "controlled color systems." In each of them there is but one color choice per area to be modeled. The other two tones are automatically fixed by the system. Any one of them insures a harmonious placing of the strongest color notes in each modeled form. System A is generally productive of the most colorful results. B produces a grayer effect; and C is usually very dull, unless the light areas of the painting are unusually large. In system D, all three tones of the modeling are colors chosen by the painter. This being a free choice may result in anything from a hodge-podge to the utmost unity. However, it allows for a closer manipulation of the relation between warm lights and [p. 137] cool shadows or the reverse, which is very useful to those with a naturalistic bent. In systems A, B, or C, a light color may of course replace the white, or a dark color, the black, or both, with many interesting results. [pp. 137-138]

Opacity and Transparency in Modeling
a. Opaque and opaque.

b. Opaque and transparent.

c. Opaque and transparent and opaque.

In system a, Opaque and opaque, an opaque ground is laid and another opaque color is hatched over it, openly or thinly enough to retain some of the original ground. This may be done with either similar or widely separated values, and with similar or contrasting colors. It always produces a much livelier effect than a solid tone.

In system b, Opaque and transparent, an opaque ground tone is laid and a transparent color painted over it. Painting in a transparent color is called glazing. The effect produced is similar to that of looking through colored glass. The resulting color depends on the two tones used and on he thickness of the glaze.

In system c, Opaque and transparent and opaque, an opaque ground is laid. This is then glazed with a transparent color, after which another opaque tone is applied. The two top tones must be used sparingly enough to allow the opaque lay-in to do its work. This is a very valuable method for painting semi-transparent darks. [p. 138]

Scale of Brushing
With a fast-drying medium such as egg tempera, the brush strokes usually show. We try to make each stroke have a purpose, as explained under "Form drawing," and also to keep it in scale. The scale is usually dictated by the size of the panel and the distance from which it is to be seen. For best visibility, three times the greatest length of the panel is the spot for the spectator, unless the pattern-scale of the painting invites him closer, or for some reason he is prevented from coming so close. [p. 138]

[Thompson, Daniel V., Jr., Research and Technical Adviser, The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. The Practice of Tempera Painting. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1936. Fourth Printing, 1946.]



The contents of this site, including all images and text, are for personal, educational, non-commercial use only. The contents of this site may not be reproduced in any form without proper reference to Text, Author, Publisher, and Date of Publication [and page #s when suitable].