January 24, 2011

A New Painting: "Yellow Folds"

Yellow Folds, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 4 7/8 x 6 1/2 inches.

While working on this painting I learned something new, which is quite a pleasure after painting with egg tempera for over 16 years. There are always bits of new knowledge acquired with each work, but here I felt I got something that will help a lot in future, and it was in that tiny bit of empty blackness at the center of the painting.

I had laid out in my palette these colors: titanium white, cadmium yellow medium and light, cadmium red medium, ultramarine blue, and chrome oxide green. When it came to painting that dark space, I began glazing a mixture of cadmium red and chrome oxide green, which was quite dark, with layers of ultramarine blue. I also mixed blue and red and glazed that. Thin layers of these colors, laid down one on top of another, eventually yielded a deep rich dark without a touch of black. It seems to me that the color is more interesting than a simple layering of black. And this is something I haven't done before! One wonderful quality of egg tempera is its translucence, which allows for colors in lower layers to affect ones in upper layers, yielding remarkably vibrant color with a sense of depth. You can see something of this in the detail above, in the shadowed areas. I kept adding more color, lighter and darker, warmer and cooler, until I was satisfied. As I work, I feel the painting get more solid under my brush, as though I was making a relief sculpture.

My regret with this painting is that I didn't make it a little bigger, so the form would be more dramatic. Below you can see it with other recent paintings. I think it looks good next to the red diptych, but the scale seems a little small in relation to the others.


  1. I had a watercolor instructor once tell me never to use black on a painting. Mix the colors I am using to get a black. It is difficult sometimes but it sure does look good. It is nice to see this idea reinforced by someone that I admire their paintings. Your paintings always amaze me. They seem so alive. I always want to touch them. I am a novice artist and have had to look up what was egg tempera.

  2. beautiful group shot - next to the diptych it looks like a siamese twin. the unexpected, wonky shadow configurations are wonderful and lively - and that small mystery black hole in the center is SO meaningful to the whole.

  3. Lisa, I don't believe in hard and fast rules in painting, and sometimes black is just what's needed, so I'll never eliminate it from my palette. You might want to take a look at my book, The Luminous Brush, an instructional manual available for free online, link at upper right on this page.
    and rappel, I thought it would be good to see a group; they're in the house curing since the studio is too cold for that now. I'm glad you like the painting, with its black hole.