Earlier this fall, I was fairly worn out after struggling with technical problems with two icons I was anxious to complete. Meanwhile I picked up and reread Koo Schadler’s book on “Egg Tempera Painting”. There, at the end of a discussion on tips and techniques, she mentioned casually that (I will paraphrase) one could use egg tempera on paper if the support underneath was stiff enough to prevent the paint from cracking. It did not take me long to decide, for a change of pace, to try painting a non-icon subject on paper using what I learned from Koo Schadler’s excellent book. The topic came easily: a little chihuahua named “Timmy” who belonged to a family member. The inspiration was the sad story that the little thing had lost two legs to cancer. I wanted to restore his little legs, at least in a painting, for the owner. Among my emails I found a photo of him where he appeared larger than life! He had all four legs, of course. The owners live in beautiful Colorado. Thus began the collage-like assemblage of elements for my fantasy : the highly domesticated little Timmy in the Colorado wilderness, disposed with dignity that one expects from a larger, confident dog.
For stiffness under the paper, I selected a 1/2″ birch wood plywood and covered it with a couple of thin layers of shellac. This should isolate the damaging lignin from oozing out onto the paper in time. Then I used rabbit skin glue to attach a piece of acid-free Strathmore bristol board to the plywood and applied another board with a weight to keep the paper really flat till it dried overnight. Next, using some gesso I had left over from icon painting, I applied two thin layers of gesso to the paper and let it dry for a couple of hours. Then the fun began: Assembling the pieces of the painting of Timmy in the wilderness. I wanted the little dog to be shown in all his native dignity. The pieces fell into place as I arranged Timmy on a stone pedestal, lording it up in the landscape among a bull moose, a butterfly, a lizard and a patch of Blue Columbine, Colorado’s state flower.
It surprised me how friendly the surface was for egg tempera painting. In some ways, this surface was more forgiving than true gesso surfaces. Koo Schadler teaches that egg tempera is more a drawing medium than a painting medium. By this I understood that the brush needs to be fairly dry when painting. Well, the gessoed paper responded well to a dry brush as well as a fairly wet brush. One had to be careful not to brush too long in one place, of course, to prevent the paint underneath from floating off. All-in-all this non-icon egg-tempera project was very enjoyable. And very relaxing. I will do it again sometime. Bravo! Little dog Timmy! Not having known you in person, in my imagination …..you are quite a guy!