add egg yolk to paint to make egg temperaI taught myself the technique of painting in egg tempera about 30 years ago from a recipe written in the 15th century by the Italian artist Cennino Cennini.

While rummaging around an antiquated bookstore, I discovered a 1933 edition of The Craftsman’s Handbook. A translation by Yale professor Daniel Thompson. He taught a course in egg tempera painting, sparking an American revival of tempera painting among artists such as Andrew Wyeth, Robert Vickery, Peter Hurd and a few other notable artists.


I was astounded by the wealth of painting knowledge enclosed in this book. Before the internet it was difficult to find rich, yet obscure information, almost impossible if you weren’t even aware of its existence in a seaside Florida town.

Wanting to learn more, I headed for my pre-Google information portal—the local library. The librarian researched and found another book listed in a publishers catalog, The Practice of Tempera Painting, also by Daniel Thompson. I mailed in a check and for several weeks, eagerly awaited the book’s arrival in my mailbox.

Later, I supplemented my learning with books by Robert Vickery and George Tooker. Before the internet, scant information was available on egg tempera. For 2 years, working in solitude in my studio, on the banks of a sleepy Florida river, I gathered materials, researched and tested, before finally cracking an egg for my first complete egg tempera painting, Pelicans Flying Over Bulow.

I write little about the crafting aspect of my work. For me, the laborious steps of making the panels, gesso and paint is simply a necessary means to an end— paint and painting. However, it is this preparatory process that allows me to manifest my visions in paint.

For me, painting (and writing) are  exploratory forms of authentic self-expression. A lifelong evolution of self-examination, learning, and discovery; trying to understand this miracle of life. Making sense of the sorrows and joys we all experience. I’m just stumbling through life, hopefully learning from my experiences, trying to be a more evolved person and painter.

I am more attuned to translating emotions and experience into art than talking shop here on my blog. With that aside, I’m writing a series of posts detailing my process of painting in egg tempera. I’ll publish them randomly, interspersing them with my usual musings. The series is titled The Art of Egg Tempera Painting.

Since I mostly share here more esoteric, reflective thoughts as part of my creative process, I’ll be curious to know if you find the hands on side of my work a teeny bit interesting, helpful or inspiring.


Saturday Clouds

by Daniel Ambrose on April 23, 2016


Mountain Air-Saturday Clouds

I’ve been watching Saturday clouds wandering over the ocean. Absently drinking bitter-black coffee, when my mind rolled into the slipstream of memory.

A spring morning, on a Saturday, so long ago. Sitting, talking at the kitchen table, flowers on the windowsill. Let’s go live on the land. Ain’t no use in laying money in another man’s hand. I am true and I am blue and I’ll not shun you.

We lie in our truths and tell the truth in our lies. It’s black or it’s white, but it’s always gray. We dance around hearts as if they were trinkets of child’s play.

I stayed with these clouds over meadow and marsh, floating over footfalls and fairy tales, far up into the folding Carolina hills. On another Saturday afternoon, I pitched a tent and offered my wares, while the fiddler girls played a mountain ballad of love and loss with tender care.

Music in the azure light lifted my soul—I was standing on heavens stage. Angel actors appeared like clouds, assured me this is how its been and how it will always be. Love is a mountain, and mountains erode eventually, back into the sea.

I am not trying to impress you, or be more than I am. I’m fairly simple, an honest painter, a lover, a father and a friend. I am only trying to Be. I’m learning to trust my eyes more than what my brain misleads me to see. All there is, is what’s right now, and what you got within. I believe there is more than what I can see, the Divine Light is in you—certainly. I am still searching for it in me.

An old-timer appeared, moonshine in his eyes. Said, if God is everywhere, why can’t I find him?

Standing there, hand on my brush, amid my illusions and assumptions, facing the unfolding mountains,  I replied. I don’t know old feller… I’ve been watching clouds, wandering…


Intermission, egg tempera painting of a single bird and sand dollar by Daniel Ambrose.

Intermission, egg tempera painting by Daniel Ambrose.

Intermission is an elegant, understated, egg tempera painting honoring quietude. The genesis for a series of quiet bird paintings that began to form several years ago with Limbo. It and Intermission reflect a momentary state of pause—a space of tranquil stillness.

Lately, I’ve been painting day and night and feeling the pressure of time. Egg tempera painting requires quite a lot of time. Deadlines are looming, yet I am taking each painting in exquisite measure to a higher plane. Or perhaps they are taking me. I’m experimenting with new pigments and layering extremely delicate hues in breathtaking tones of paint.

My heightened sensitivity to time makes me conscious of the hours I spend interacting with technology, and how interlaced it is in each hour of my day. The first 25 years of my life I got along fine without these electronic devices. I think I have become dependent on them more from habit than true necessity. Enticing screens are a procrastinators portal into a Pandora-like box full of habit-forming distractions.

In the days before computers and smart phones—living on the river then—my daily habit after arising in the morning was to take a cup of coffee outside before daybreak, and sit on the back porch with my dog, Scout. Relishing my coffee while listening to the reassuring nocturnal sounds splashing and singing along the water, I’d watch the stars fade in velvet sunrise.

Computers and change came. I moved off the river and over morning coffee I got into the habit of scanning an electronic screen instead of an enlightening sky.

Until yesterday morning.

Yesterday morning I decided to slip out of bed and into caffeine meditation. I woke way before dawn, and stumbled downstairs, made coffee and sat on the sofa, letting my eyes adjust in the semi-dark stillness. My aging, ailing cat Puppy purred beside me.


Puppy, 2012

My eyes casually roamed the ghostly shapes in the room while my thoughts wove through the people in my life. I meditated on gratitude. I created a space of stillness inside my heart. Then, from the rectangular window high in my southern wall, a bright light caught the corner of my eye.

A waning gibbous moon in a platinum sky. Studying it closer I noticed a pinpoint of light to its right—Mars. Then Saturn to the left and below—a sparkling star—Antares. More than 800 times the size of the sun, this supergiant star is the red heart in the constellation Scorpius. Antares is an ancient star that is nearing the end of its lifespan and will eventually terminate in a humongous supernova explosion.

As the sky lightened and the primal elements began to fade, I made this small tonal sketch…Who knows, it may be the origin of another series of paintings someday.

A meditative, universal series that takes us outside of and paradoxically deeper into ourselves.

Perhaps egg tempera paintings—gifts—to lead your heart and mind into a secure place of peaceful stillness.

 Waning moon, with Antares, Mars and Saturn, Pencil on toned paper.

Waning moon, with Antares, Mars and Saturn. Pencil on toned paper.