The Method and Formulas of the Mische Technique
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|| The Gesso Panel:
The first step is to prepare a gesso panel. This can be of wood, canvas, or
pressed wood masonite. The surface is sandpapered (in the case of wood or
masonite) and covered with several layers of gesso, sandpapering each layer
with very fine sandpaper. Next a drawing is prepared, either on a sheet of
paper of corresponding size, which is then traced onto the panel, or directly
onto the panel itself.
||The drawing is inked in with waterproof
ink - Indian Ink is suitable - using a very fine brush
||When this is thoroughly dry, the 'ground'
or imprimatura is painted on. The ground should be a warm color - bright red,
such as Cadmium red, is most common, or a rust red, such as Venetian red.
There are various methods of putting on the ground, but the simplest is to
paint it on with oil paints, using as painting medium half linseed oil and half
damar varnish. When this is thoroughly dry, proceed to the next step.
|The Egg Tempera:
The egg tempera is made in the following manner:
First, the egg medium must be made. Into a clean jar, crack a fresh egg. Add an
equal amount of painting medium (half linseed oil, half damar varnish) then add
water to the amount of both of these combined. Store in the refrigerator. It
will keep for a year. Always shake well before using.
Next, the egg tempera must be ground. To do this you need a frosted glass
muller and a frosted glass plate. You must buy some Titanium White powder (this
is obtainable in most large specialist art stores). Pour a heaped teaspoonful
of powder on to the frosted glass plate, and add enough egg medium until the
mixture is the consistency of yogurt. Next, grind the mixture with the glass
muller until all the 'crumbs' have been smoothed out. The mixture should be
smooth and even.
Now, with a palette knife, scrape the mixture onto a small and shallow piece of
sponge or foam rubber, which should be previously prepared, cut to fit in the
bottom of a small, airtight jar, and wet and wrung out so that it is damp, but
Wash your glass muller and plate immediately, or they will be ruined. The egg
tempera is now ready to use. When not in use, it should be kept in the
refrigerator, and will last for a week.
||To the left you see the
first stage of the egg tempera. It must be noted that the egg tempera, to be
successful, must not be used as an outline, or a mere blocking in. The tempera
must be used to sculpt the subject, using the red of the board as the darkest
dark, and the full strength of the white as the highest highlight. The end
product should look a little like a photograph taken of the subject, but
reproduced in red and white.
When the first coat of egg tempera is thoroughly dry, lightly scrape a razor
over the surface to take out any roughness.
|A yellow glaze is put over the whole
A glaze is a transparent or semi-transparent layer of oil paint put over the
painting in the same manner as a wash of colour in a watercolor. Just as the
wash gets its lightness from the light reflecting back from the white paper, so
the light reflects back from the egg tempera. The glaze is like a veil rather
than a transparent piece of cellophane. The veil effect is achieved by adding a
very small amount of white to the yellow colour.
Putting on the glaze calls for great care. The most important thing is that the
egg tempera should be fully dry before the glaze is put on. The drying time can
vary depending on the dampness in the air, and the coldness of temperature. It
usually takes at least 2 days.
||When you are sure the tempera is dry,
take yellow paint - This can be Cadmium yellow or Lemon yellow, depending on
the effect you need. Add a small amount of white - just enough to give the
effect of a chiffon veil when spread thinly over the surface. Do not add too
much white paint, or the colour will lose its effect and the whole picture will
Add the painting medium, but only a few drops at a time. Just use enough to
make the mixture spread easily. Most people use too much at first. The glaze
should be well mixed together before it is applied by hand using the fatty
cushion on the side of the palm in a series of thumps, aimed at laying on the
paint as smoothly and evenly as possible.
|If you are successful, the picture should look very
exciting at this stage. The reds will have become orange, and the whites
yellow. It enables the artist to take a fresh look at the work, and I often
find additional inspiration at this stage.
The glaze must now be left to dry for at least 2 days. For those artists who,
like me, are of an impatient nature, I advise having several pictures on the go
at different stages. Otherwise, one is tempted to work on a painting before it
|| A second coat of egg tempera is now
applied. If one is careful, one can add this when the glaze is tacky rather
than bone dry. This layer of egg tempera must not be seen as a mere repetition
of the earlier layer. The whole point of the technique is that it gives the
artist a chance to perfect his or her work.
So this layer should be a refining and redefining process, not a slavish
repetition. One can find a greater subtlety in the tones and add greater
expression. One of the beauties of this technique is the contrast between the
crispness of the tempera and the oily smoothness of the glazes.
When this layer is bone dry, it should be scraped very lightly with a razor
again. It is now ready for the next stage - the blue glaze.
|| Again, the artist can choose any
blue. Cerulean gives a deliciously sweet effect - skies that look like spring
mornings. Ultramarine is more cold, and can have the effect of moonlight.
Cobalt is somewhere between the two. Don't forget to add a small amount of
white. Blues usually need slightly more white that yellows. It will take
several goes to really understand colour effects, and some people may like to
experiment with the colors first. A colour chart showing the effect of
different glazes on each other would be a very valuable tool and would save a
lot of heartache, too.
| If you are too impatient to make a
chart, do try a little of your blue glaze on a corner on a corner of your
painting before you bung it over the whole thing. Too dark a blue will look
dirty and too light a blue looks washed out. If you have made your glaze too
thick, you can thin it by using your hand as a blotter and then wiping your
hand clean; keep wiping and blotting until it looks thin enough so that your
underpainting shows through.
To the left you see the blue glaze going on using the side of the hand.
|| After the blue glaze is dry, you
must put on the final over-all coat of egg tempera, remembering what has been
said earlier about using the tempera as a refining process. The picture should
be an inspiration to work on now, because the blue is a magical filter through
which the colors shimmer in a mist. The egg tempera now going on should be as
close to perfection as you can make it.
To the left you see the completed egg tempera over the blue. This shows the
famous 'optical greys' spoken of by the Masters of the Renaissance. Three
primary colours have been used in turn - red, yellow, and blue separated by
layers of 'light' in the form of white egg tempera. This creates a mysterious
chemical effect in which one can see all kinds of colour combinations
shimmering through the layers, like the colours of an opal.
||This can be very helpful to the artist in
picturing the colours wanted for the final stage. Mostly, the shadows do not
need much overpainting. They have appeared by being left out, by 'unpainting',
and have a quality not obtainable by direct painting.
Making sure your egg tempera is dry, scrape it lightly with a razor, and then
decide what colour everything is going to be. Now you put the colour on, adding
a little white as you did for the glazes. It is better to use a brush for this,
as a hand would be too big to get the details. It's a good idea to keep a
second, dry brush on hand to lift off any excess glaze. In this way, you can
also work on different sections of the painting at the same time. This is
always an agony for the artist. You have to sacrifice the beauty of the blue
glaze in order to get the colours. With luck and hard work, you will get it all
back in the end, and more.
|| While this stage of applying the
dark colours comes very close to ordinary oil painting, great care must be
taken not to paint too thickly or cover up too much. If the painting gets too
covered over, a light blotting with the side of the hand will remove excess
paint and keep the translucent look. Remember to check that the hand is clean.
Details should be put on with a very fine brush.
|| When the layer of local colours is
dry, it is important to go back to the egg tempera again to pull out the
details that need heightening and strengthening. It can also restore any
details that may have been obscured by overpainting.
|| The final painting is shown at
left. If it is compared to the previous stage, one can see the use of final
glazes to establish the right emphasis. The background and the t-shirt have
been knocked back by blue glazes. The roses, face, and ribbon have been brought
forward. A creamy pink glaze has pulled the face together, and on top of this
the features have been carefully brought out. The underpainting shows through
on the face and creates shadows that would have been much harsher if they had
been overpainted instead.
One warning: never leave any white egg tempera exposed. If you wish to leave
the egg tempera unglazed by a color, then cover it with a clear glaze of
A year after the painting has been completed, it should be given a final coat