Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Notes on Egg Tempera and Tempera Grassa Painting

I have a predisposed fascination for useless pieces of information. Obscure facts and conjectures which I collect and carefully shelve, only to occasionally pick back up and re-examine, with no hard intention of implementing action. Sometimes to know is enough.

To that end, here are some scraps of trivia in regards to egg tempera and tempera grassa painting, with respect to the Italo-Russo-Byzantine traditions.

There are many varying recipes, but consensus for a working egg tempera formula averages out to a mixture of separated egg yolk (farm fresh is always better), vinegar (white, others more or less acceptable), and de-ionized/distilled water (don't fuss if you don't have it, whatever you have is probably fine).

A higher vinegar content makes for a "drier" paint, less makes for an oilier and shinier paint.

A Russian icon painter years ago on the WetCanvas forums recommended an alcohol substitution for the vinegar, namely dry white wine, vermouth, or vodka.

Dry Vermouth – The Martini Whisperer
A pox on those who say you shouldn't drink your painting supplies - try the Lillet Blanc with turpentine for a homely nightcap or as a slimming meal replacement drink.

The use of a vinegar or alcohol agent acidifies the solution, stabilizing and prolonging the yolk.

There are further amendments to convert you egg tempera into tempera grassa, the controversial, hybridized bastard child of egg tempera and oil painting.

Should you choose to do so, add a drying oil incrementally until a satisfactory medium is achieved. The standard is linseed, safflower will yield a clearer but slower drying medium, and clove dries even faster but is more like an accelerant than an extender. Damar resin can also be incorporated to adjust sheen and surface.

Drops of lead napthanate can also accelerate drying, but it is falling out of fashion, perhaps cobalt siccatives would similarly suffice. A more contemporary drying medium can be found in alkyd resins as well, though it is less extensively tested.

Painting with egg tempera
Elena Vladimir Baranoff, “Our Lady of Vladimir,” 11 x 14 inches, egg tempera, n.d. Eastern Orthodox icon painting carries a whole host of procedural rites, and in older paintings the individual layers and directions can represent spiritual aspects.

Egg painting is still currently practiced, obviously much more nichely now. The endurance of it speaks to an art form that demands exacting precision and material knowledge. A significant portion of modern egg tempera practitioners work in spiritual art, and in a way this paint requires a certain degree of faith. Belief in its visual effect, and adherence to its processes. 

For the rest of us heathens, there used to be an excellent article by Daniel Smith floating around out there, to make your own facsimile you can start with watercolor paint and added egg yolk.

Further reading: 


Thursday, August 5, 2021


Very recently I transitioned to remote work. It was in of itself a big change for me, not just because it meant a radical change in my career, but also I have never had a remote job be my main thing that I do with my day.

I tidied my desk, did my best to purge the accrued pile of notes and post-it's, and more or less got to work. And for a couple weeks it felt okay actually, I was establishing some modicum of rhythm, making myself "dress" for work, creating a careful illusion of separation between "work" and "home."

And then, only two weeks into this foray, an unexpected, urgent family visit was scheduled, and something that was only supposed to be a week-long assignment became a whole month.

At the initial onset, I shrugged and said "Well, I am already working remotely, I will take my computer and the essentials and continue to work amidst all this." This sort of meta-remote work I presumed would be no trouble. I was quite incorrect. I made a temporary office on the second floor of my parents' home, in a room previously used as a personal office. The window had no blinds and faced east, the sun blasted that room for the better half of a day. The swivel chair was always slowly sinking. I would work downstairs in the kitchen, or avoid work in the mornings altogether to be out of the office during its more uninhabitable hours.

I also found that I had trouble blocking out "work" time. It's difficult to turn people away when you have been living far away and are an infrequent visitor and all they want to do is spend time together. And visits to this house are more often than not Bacchanalian. A blend of vague American and mixed European heritage predispose that household to a constant stock of flowing wines and beers, plates heaped with bread and red meat. It induces one to a stupor, but it is a communal, warm thing. Most of these foods evolved to be shared by families looking to survive long winters and economic strains.

Coupled with the stressors induced by the nature of our visit, I gloomily got very little work done. But towards the end I learned some things.

1. Remote does not always mean flexible.

2. It is important to carry objects that have, if no other purpose, the ability to make one feel at home and grounded upon their deployment and arrangement.

3. Lighting and airflow can make or break a workspace.

4. You really do have to just keep showing up.

5. The three dusty bottles of brandy I found in the kitchen pantry behind the sacks of flour are for cooking, not drinking, apparently.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Likka and Yatate

 One day I will possess the faculties and resources to write the scientific research paper this topic is deserving of.

In the interim however, please enjoy rambling, near-baseless conjecture. Much of the information I have to work with is wikipedic in nature, things I recall from art history studies in college, there is no secret knowledge here.

Writing, upon its invention, cemented itself rapidly as a pillar of a strong and versatile civilization. And as vast amounts of information became more portable, it was necessary that the means to transcribe information become portable as well. Ink became a choice material for mark making, it is easy to produce large quantities from relatively simple materials, it has good adhesion qualities, and provides a more finished permanence to work. But, adversely, it can ruin unsealed surfaces in the blink of an eye. 

To this end, there are two interestingly similar developments in this technology, the likka of the (Arabic?) world and the yatate in Japan.

Likka, in and of itself is a fairly simple contraption. Mulberry silk fibers soaked in liquid ink, sitting in one's inkwell.

raw likka
likka with ink in well

The objective here is to saturate the silk with enough ink that it can readily load up a brush or dip pen, but not so much that if the well is tipped you risk spillage.

The Japanese yatate is an extrapolation of the likka, in fact making use of the same mechanism for ink retention. Yatate actually refers to a portable writing system that is a kit rather than one item. It includes the ink-soaked silk or cotton fibers (alternatively ink-paste, sometimes called moxa, but I digress), a brush, and a case to carry it all.

a simple yatate, very often cast in bronze

lid on the inkwell open, and brush tucked into the hollow stem

like with modern writing devices, they can be made into intricate displays of taste and wealth

One the most widely seen styles of yatate is the aptly-termed "smoking pipe," but there are variations where the inkwell and brush-stem are connected by cord or chain, rather than welded together.

Now, not that there is a contest at stake here, but who developed what first? These two developments share such particular and specific similarity that one wonders if one culture passed it off to another, or were they both developed synchronously?

There are other mutual material uses between the Arabic and Japanese worlds: mulberry silk and bamboo pens.

It is difficult to date the advent of likka, we can presume it happened shortly after someone spilled ink on a pile of silk, which is... a large window of history. However, we can approximately date the yatate. The original yatate really just refers to the habit samurai had of storing ink-stones (for grinding ink-sticks) in their arrow quivers. but it was during the reign of the Kamakura Shogunate (about 1185-1333a.d.) that someone or some folks started implemented ink-soaked fibers into their writing kits.

Imagine carrying a bottle of ink in your arrow quivers. Just accidents waiting to happen.

But back to the Kamakura Shogunate. Things get interesting here.

The Kamakuras, amongst other things, were quite good at keeping the Mongol Hordes (then under the command of Kublai Khan) at bay and from conquering Japan (they also had the help of some very belligerent weather).

The Mongols serve as a convenient bridge between the Arabic and Japanese writing worlds, though it does not settle who decided to soak fibers in ink first. There is another explanation as well, that in all possible likelihood it was all invented by the Chinese, who in the region very often spearheaded many material technology innovations, and then dispersed it to their neighbors.

You can still buy likka from contemporary calligraphy suppliers, and yatate (of dubious validity if prices are to be believed) too. You can even make your own. They're unique period pieces and still quite fun to use, even if they have been rendered irrelevant ever since an impatient Romanian man saw fit to invent fountain pens (thank you Mr. Poenaru).

- NW

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Process: "floating3: passage"

 It's been awhile, thought we'd ease back into this thing with a process post on one of my most recently completed paintings.

This is the third iteration in the floating series, which really wasn't intended to be a series at all to begin with.

It started with this:


This was just a little exercise, a small little study. I'd been thinking a lot about water imagery and symbolism, as one does.

And then I gave the floating guy a little more space:


And then I just started working in the open empty space. I put in a couple of robots, inspired by Boston Dynamics' "Spot," and other similar sorts of robots. I played with dappling and reflecting light on the water, and that became floating2: found, and a loose story starting taking shape.

I was really pleased with how this piece turned out, so I started vaguely planning out something sequential. I had some helpful input from others too, and I started scribbling ideas on scrap paper, nothing that was concrete or descriptive enough to mean anything to anyone other than me. My shorthand is quite illegible at times.

But then the project fell to the back burner, and then even worse, fell off the back burner, down to the dim recesses of my hard drive and collected dust.

I often struggle with creative block, and I've been trying something new recently, is to revisit old, unfinished works. It's nice, you can go back to something that's already been somewhat started, which removes the hazard of Blank Canvas Syndrome, and if you're really lucky there's something salvageable, perhaps the composition, or at least a concept.

I still had an underdrawing that was enough to go on. So after months of neglect, I picked it back up.

the initial sketch, done with just a mental image


blocking in toned values

more values, light and shadow, introducing more color. it's always going into things already having a pre-established color palette. you can add and grow, but there's something to fall back on

 The first floating pieces were done in Clip Studio Paint, saved as CSP files. For this next one I proceeded initially in Photoshop PSD, I think at the time it was because I had just come off a Photoshop-intensive project, so all of the reflexes and shortcuts were fresh in my mind. For the duration of this project I worked between the two programs. Clip can open and operate PSD's, the only issue in my experience is that if you are using complex assets or procedures that are a little too particular to one program or the other, in transference they can become flattened or deleted. I don't really use any fancy custom brushes for the most part in doing illustrations like these. A hard round, toggling pressure for width and opacity here and there, or the odd rectangular brush, gets most things done.

at this point i drew lines into the composition, both to adjust and reaffirm details, as well as enhance the graphic quality

new lines superimposed

 next comes a new layer of paint, refining shapes and lighting.

cleaning up the scribbles

At this point I realize I've struck too far out of balance, it's too flat in some areas for my liking, I've deleted some of the painterly touches that I found attractive in the first place. This requires correction. One of the most valuable skills in art (presumably applicable elsewhere) is to know how to see what is wrong, why is wrong, and how to make right - or less wrong.

adding little texture touches, working back and forth with brush and eraser

added a background gradient for depth and ambiance

airbrush the glow of the robots' light fixtures

and finally, some gaussian noise at 3.5% for just an extra touch of texture

and i made a gif because they're fun

And way she goes boys. It was nice picking it back up, and I've renewed my interest in this series again for now. Hope you find the breakdown interesting. Ta.

- NW

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Contractual Obligations

Something that I find naturally evolves alongside my artistic development, is my contract writing. It's an integral part of freelance practice, and something I think is easy to overlook in creative training. When I was still in school, contracts were discussed and examples shown, but only very briefly, a lot of what I know now is the result of independent research, trial and error.

Why use contracts? You can definitely just use verbal or text message agreements, and I've done projects like that. But these sorts of arrangements are really only feasible for small projects among people you are close with. For big projects, and especially projects with strangers and corporate entities, a contract is an indispensable piece of insurance to protect your creative rights and paycheck. Projects with larger companies will often see a contract delivered unto you, so that's another reason to have a thorough understanding of what you might want in a contract.

So, in your best interest, brush up on contracts. Or make friends with people who break kneecaps.

It's actually very easy to write contracts. There are plenty of templates and examples out there online, free and paid. You can simply grab one of those, copy and paste in whatever names, entities, and outcomes are relevant to your project, and voilĂ , send it off to the client.

But! It's good to know how to draft up your own contracts, or to extensively modify a template to suit the particular needs of a project. Unless you're very consistently delivering the same sort of product to the same client, the details of projects will vary wildly, and you need to adjust accordingly.

What should be in a good contract? In general, most of my contracts contain, at minimum, the following items:

1. Establish the involved parties, when the became involved, and what's being worked on.

2. Deliverables: What are you going to produce, how many, what format shall they take?

3. Fees: breakdown the cost, have an addendum that revisions (later) can incur additional costs.

4.Confidentiality. Who knows what dark secrets will come to light during the project. For seriously confidential projects, expect to sign a Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA for short). For now, this just establishes you basically won't leak any business information to competitors.

5. Client Approval: Obviously, you have to make them happy. This lets them know they have discretion in this project, but also reaffirms that additional work costs can be negotiated at your discretion.

6. Termination: Sometimes it doesn't work out, someone will ask something the other can't give. It happens, but need to cover your bases. If you've already invested a lot of time, effort, and materials, you should be appropriately compensated.

7. Parties sign and date, to finalize the pact between artist and patron. If you want to spice things up, consider the addition of wax seals.

A Note on Negotiation:

Remember when writing a contract, or being given one, that traffic goes both ways on this street. A client has the right to ask for revisions on a contract. They may want to amend budget, format of deliverables, or who has final rights to the work. And conversely, you have every right to propose amendments as well. Don't accept things you don't like, see what can be compromised on.


Okay, but how enforceable are these contracts? Luckily, creative copyrights default to you. Now, if a client breaks contract, fails to pay, or some other transgression... well, then you're going to have to hound them. Essentially, if they don't give into you reminding them of their signed obligation, then you may have to take them to small claims court. This is easier if you are also a lawyer or a lawyer nearby owes you a life debt. This is a good juncture to highlight that I am, in fact, NEITHER a lawyer or accredited source of legal advice, I'm just passing on what I think I know. Recall a comment about kneecapping.

Anyhow, I hope this is helpful, and as an example I've attached a template of my usual contract. It started life as a free template I found online, and over the past year has been modified and tweaked as I do and learn new things. It's not wholly original, but it's flexible and functional.

- NW

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Decentralized Sketchbook

I have a collection of sketchbooks. I have a fair few journals. I actually just ordered another sketchbook. A large portion of my sketchbooks are not full, some not even halfway so. I often struggled with the idea that I must fill a sketchbook before I can move on to the next one.

But that of course isn't true. A sketchbook is like a suit or a dress, we have one for every occasion. 

However, despite the multitude and variety of sketchbooks in my possession, I find it noteworthy that a fair amount of preliminary, formative work is done outside of the sketchbook.

Scraps of paper, margins, sticky notes, the backs of receipts and envelopes. Loose drawings and notes that build a conceptual shorthand. A lot of these are whipped up during idle time in between tasks, lulls in work.

There is something incredibly versatile in working with small pieces, and the medium offers a unique immediacy that the sketchbook cannot.

The scraps start out with a low base value. Easily obtainable and disposed of, they don't intimidate with their blankness the way more refined and expensive paper or canvas. They accrue value when layers of marks, useful marks, are deposited. Having ideas made into physical, malleable pieces, allows a tactile means of organizing, comparing, and recompiling data.

I can stack and shuffle things. I can put them up on the wall. They are fluid.

There does arise a problem, though. The scraps build up. Rapidly. And once inscribed, their perceived value rises, and they can become overly precious, lingering too long. It's important to stay on top, these scraps are intermediaries that require refinement and transposing, after which they may be disposed of.

This method of working is not mine alone. But recognizing and validating it as a part of the larger creative process helps remind us that mindless scribbles are just as important as "traditional" sketchbook work. It's not a waste of time, and it does not delegitimize us as artists to work outside of perceived typical spaces.

- NW

P.S. I'm aware that the mobile display for this blog is still having issues, this has my attention and will be corrected at some point.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Real Witch

One of the other intents with this blog was to populate it with previously unreleased short fiction. The following was initially written around two years ago.

- NW


“My eyes have seen the glory of the draining of the ditch
I only come to Baton Rouge I gotta find myself a witch
I'm gonna snatch me up a couple of em every time it rains”
- Tom Waits, “Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard, 1978

“So, Mr. Stills, what brings you to Baton-Rouge?”

“Ah, nothin’ Charlie. Nothin’. Just looking for a witch.”


The ad was put up online. It read: Need a real witch. I’ll be at the bar at Charlie’s. I wear a red
shirt. Ask Charlie. Within the week, hopeful candidates filtered in.


“You got imitation voodoo from a shopping mall and your face says ‘I believe in crystals.’ No

“Hah, wiccanism ain’t witchcraft sugar. Move along.”

“Sorry, this ain’t a love potion thing.”


“Sheezus, you don’t get real witches too much anymore. Charlie, you remember old Missus

“Sure do, Mr. Stills.”

“She was a witch, man. Real voodoo hoodoo. She even had a crystal ball someone gave her,
but it had an inch of dust on it ‘cause she never did have need for it.”

“I remember the crystal ball.”

“I should just look her up. She still above dirt, or the devil finally come callin’?”

“She died winter of two years ago.”

“Really? Damn, I should’ve been there for the funeral. Just damn. She was a wonderful lady, in
a mean way.”


“Hey mister, I saw your ad, an’ I’m a witch.”

“You a witch, little girlie? Naw you ain’t. Get lost.”

“Am so! It’s the truth even though you don’t believe me!”

“No, you ain’t. You kids just get caught up in the look of it, you want talking cats and colored
potions, but you don’t know nothin’ about actual witching. I’ve met a real witch, Old Anna Benoit,
and she wasn’t some goddamn Halloween costume!”

“Yes I am! I’m a witch and my gramma was Anna Benoit an’ she taught me things an’ though
momma was a christian and did try to keep me away from witchcraft all the know-how I got from
gramma still stuck an’ I’m a witch!”

“Whoa, okay, slow down girlie. You say your gramma was the Anna Benoit?”


“That’s a bold claim, and I’m afraid you’ll have to prove it. Not many folks used Anna Benoit’s
name in vain.”

“I ain’t bein’ vain.”

“Maybe so. Tell you what, Missus Benoit used to do readings by looking in the glass a man had
been drinkin’ from. So look into the bottom of my glass and tell me somethin’ about myself.”

“I can do that.”

“Ah-ah girlie, one more thing. If you got Anna Benoit’s blood in you then liquor’s like water to
you. Read my past outta an empty glass.”

She drained the glass in a fluid, sure motion. And then she told him something he had only ever
said aloud to himself, seven years ago.


“Well oh shit.”