Painting With the Colors of Earth

My theory is that a great artist can make art out of the burnt end of a stick. Instead of getting lost in colors, I prefer to work in earth tones, the true colors of nature. Autumn and winter are my favorite seasons: I like the ochres and umbers, and I like that trees aren’t covered by leaves. In winter you can see the bones of the trees, their skeletal forms.

I work in watercolor and egg tempera on an easel. My style, in general, is meticulous and tight, but my watercolors tend to be slightly looser because they’re often sketches. I use egg tempera when I want to pursue an idea or a feeling that is going to stick with me for awhile. An egg tempera can take me two months to complete. Egg tempera suits me because it’s a slow and deliberate process. I spend a lot of time walking around and visiting derelict buildings. On these trips I often make a series of sketches in pencil and watercolor.

Egg tempera is a mixture of powdered pigment, water and egg yolk If you’ve ever dallied and let breakfast dishes sit, you know that egg, as it dries, becomes hard and resistant. To paint in egg tempera the artist builds the surface in thin layers. The paint itself dries fast and its translucence becomes more beautiful as it becomes more layered. If you paint in thick globs, the tempera will flake off over time. The paint will also crack if you paint on canvas or paper; hence, you have to use boards that will provide a rigid support. Rather than paint on untreated board, you coat the Masonite or other hard surface with gesso—not acrylic gesso but old fashioned gesso—a mixture of chalky white pigment (marble dust, for instance), glue and water. Once the gesso has dried (in at least 24hours), I usually let the panels sit around for about two weeks, so they get acclimated to the weather conditions.

Portrait and figure artist Butch Krieger teaches art at Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Washington.

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