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Betsy Porter
Art and Iconography
STUDIO TIPS FOR THE ICONOGRAPHER
                        STUDIO TIPS FOR EGG TEMPERA ICONOGRAPHY

  • While working on your icon, set it flat on a hand towel to protect both the icon and the table.  When packing
    it up, wrap it in the towel.  Then put the bundle in a plastic bag inside a tote bag.  If leaving an icon in place
    overnight, cover it with another towel.

  • You will be working with very small quantities of pigment.  Take it from the container using a small flat
    pointed tool, such as the smallest size palette knife from the art supply store.

  • When mixing colors, you will need to handle small amounts of liquid egg tempera base and distilled water.  
    Use an eye dropper for each container of liquid.

  • All paint must contain binder, which for egg tempera is the egg yolk.  Combined with pigment, it will gradually
    cure and harden into a durable paint film.  Do not mix paint with pigment and water alone!

  • After mixing paint, test it on lined white paper, to see how well it covers the lines.  Use the same brush stroke
    that you will use on the icon - usually small wet circles.  (This is especially important with floats, which should
    be very dilute.)  When you are satisfied, check it again on an inconspicuous part of the icon.

  • Avoid spills!  Pigments, egg tempera base, oilfa, liquid bole, and even water can make nasty messes that
    are time-consuming to clean.  Get in the habit of replacing lids promptly, and check them before packing up.

  • Made a mistake?  Remove fresh paint promptly using a Q-tip dipped in water and then blotted on your
    towel.  For larger areas, use a damp cotton ball.  Rub gently; do not scrub!  If the paint has cured, then
    paint over it.

  • Small quantities of paint may evaporate more quickly than you can use them.  Reconstitute thick paint using
    egg tempera base, not water. If leaving your paint for an hour or two, add a drop of egg tempera base, and
    cover your palette with plastic wrap or with another palette.

  • Store egg tempera paint overnight in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap.  Do not store over 2 days.

  • Egg tempera has to cure or set up, so it is best to allow curing time between layers.  Let your highlights cure
    overnight, and preferably longer, before you "float" over them with dilute color.

  • If conditions permit, work on two or more icons during the same session.  Then the egg tempera will have
    more cure time between applications.

  • When cleaning up, wipe your palette well with paper towels before washing, to minimize the pigments and
    bole going down the drain and potentially clogging it.  Mineral pigments and bole are not biodegradable.

  • Take good care of your beautiful natural-fiber watercolor brushes!  Don't leave them nose down in the
    water.  Swish in water to rinse well, then remove remaining paint by wiping with a tissue or towel.  Let them
    dry flat on your towel between uses.  Tilt nose down slightly so water will drain out of the metal ferrule.
Betsy Porter at work in her home studio area
THE RULING PEN AND ITS USES - A ruling pen is a drafting instrument, intended to quickly make precise
ink or paint lines of even width.  Many years ago in architectural school, we students were expected to make
presentation drawings of our building designs, using the ruling pen to draw with indelible black India ink on white
boards.  Mistakes were not easy to erase!

The ruling pen tip consists of two flat parallel prongs, held in place by a screw which can be tightened or loosened
to adjust the width of the line.   Don't let that little screw get lost!  Some compasses come with a ruling pen tip as
well as a pencil tip.

To fill the ruling pen with liquid paint, fill a No. 2 brush and touch it to the space between the prongs,
working from the side of the pen.  The pen will hold about two brush-fulls of paint.   No more please -
because an over-full pen may suddenly drop a mess of paint on the surface of your board.

Practice on paper, to get the paint flowing and to make sure you like the line width.

The ruling pen starts and flows most easily if held at an diagonal to the surface - not straight up and down.  If you
have difficulty getting it started, touch the tip with a damp Q-tip or your slightly wet finger.  Once the pen flows, you
can just drag it rapidly along in its path until it runs out of paint and has to be re-filled.

Work quickly!  Don't let the paint dry up in the pen.  Wash the pen promptly after you finish using it.

Use your ruling pen with a regular handle to make straight lines, with the help of a ruler or straight-edge.  To avoid
smears from the pen, the edge of the ruler should be slightly raised above the surface of paper or board.

Use your ruling pen compass to make circles, such as the red circle around the halo.  Before loading the pen to
make the circle, establish the center and radius of the halo.  Make a small indentation for the compass point, and
set the compass to the desired radius.  Fill the pen and quickly make the circle, tilting the compass as shown.

Paint flows quite thickly from the pen, and may take up to 30 minutes to dry.  While the paint is drying, avoid other
work near the line, so you won't smear the paint.

Keep a box of tissue and a slightly dampened Q-tip nearby, to clean up quickly in case of mishap.