Comparison of Grounds for Tempera Painting

The artist Koo Schadler made an extensive comparison of grounds for egg tempera. She compared seven different grounds using six criteria developed for egg tempera painting.

By Koo Schadler

Each ground was tested for its receptivity and reaction to (A) layered, cross-hatched brushstrokes, (B) sponged-on paint, (C) a petit lac (puddle of paint) applied over cross-hatching, (D) water drops left on a painted surface, (E) lines etched into ground, and (F) metalpoint drawing.

For each test, all grounds were subjected to the same drying times.

Koo Schadler Egg Tempera Grounds Test Panel

Koo Schadler Egg Tempera Grounds Test Panel


Grounds For Egg Tempera
Italicized quotes represent how the product is advertised
# of coats and how applied
Sandability 1
1 (poor) to 10 (excellent)
Overall Suitability 2
1 (poor) to 10 (excellent)
Traditional Gesso
(Chalk and animal glue)
Six coats with a brush 10
Best working properties
Rublev Colours Tempera Ground
(Natural Pigments)
Six coats with a brush goes on well 8
Very good, a bit hard
Not quite as good as Traditional Gesso, a bit more prone to lifting, but overall very good. Benefits: Not hygroscopic, convenient
Golden Absorbent Gesso (White)
“…is not intended as a gesso alternative.”
“…artists should fully test any procedure before using.”
Six relatively thick coats applied by trowel, smoother than brush application 1
Very poor, tore
Not sandable, paint muddles, and tends to lift.
Golden Hard Sandable Gesso (White)
“…test each application to ensure requirements are met.”
Six relatively thick coats
Did not trowel well.
Smoother with brush
Sandable, smooth surface achievable, but very hard to sand
Hard to sand, paint lifts.
Good ground for metal points.
Art Board Gesso
“…the perfect ground…for egg tempera”
Six relatively thick coats
applied by trowel, smoother than brush application
Very good, a bit hard
Paints muddy and lifts readily.
Good ground for metalpoint.
Sinopia Casein Gesso
“…the optimum surface for…egg tempera”
Eight thin coats
Both brush and trowel left paint significant marks on the surface.
Poor; tore
Hard to sand, etched lines tore; muddies and lifts readily.
Ampersand Clayboard
particularly receptive to….[egg tempera]”
Pre-made boards Not applicable; already smooth 3
Paint lifts readily.


1. Sandability is the capacity to make a ground perfectly smooth. Egg Tempera is a very thin and telegraphic medium; all underlying textures tend to telegraph through paint layers and, if apparent and disruptive, can distract from an image. Creating a perfectly smooth ground is essential to most ET painters.

2. All grounds responded well, with no lifting, to applying thick, sponged paint. Where lifting is noted, it occurred when multiple layers of watered-down paint were applied with a brush in relatively quick succession. The building of multiple layers of paint is essential to most working methods in egg tempera; doing so quickly helps the process. Grounds to which I gave a poor rating may work well for other working methods; individual testing is recommended, as artists have different goals and ways of working.

© 2017 Koo Schadler

About Koo Schadler

Koo Schadler’s egg tempera paintings and silverpoint drawings are in more than 400 private, corporate, and museum collections worldwide, including the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and the Philadelphia Athenaeum. She is a popular workshop instructor who has taught around the US and abroad for more than 20 years. Schadler is a master painter of the Copley Society and a contributing editor to The Artists’ Magazine. Her work is represented by the J. Cacciola Gallery in New York and Arden Gallery in Boston, MA. Her comprehensive book on egg tempera has been described as “one of the most concise and useful books on the art of egg tempera painting…should be on the bookshelf of every serious artist”.

Visit Koo Schader” s website for more techniques and information about egg tempera painting:

Egg Tempera PaintingEgg Tempera Painting by Koo Schadler

A comprehensive guide to painting egg tempera for the beginning and advanced egg tempera artist. Self-published by the author; black and white, spiral bound, 170 pages. The book includes the following:

  • A detailed description of how to make true gesso panels from scratch
  • A variety of ways in which to work in egg tempera—using brushes, sponges, glazing, scumbling, and more
  • A description of painting a portrait in egg tempera
  • An updated and expanded chapter on how to finish an egg tempera painting, including oil painting over tempera and varnishing
  • Many appendices, including six new ones added in 2015

Purchase the book. Please visit Koo Schadler’s page.

Koo Schadler Workshops

Old as the Egyptians and most famous during the Renaissance, egg tempera painting is becoming increasingly popular with artists today. Tempera has unsurpassed luminosity. Though dozens of glazes and scumbles can be applied in a day, the medium also allows for meticulous linear detailing. In Koo’s comprehensive workshops, students learn about all aspects of the medium: egg tempera’s rich history, traditional gesso panels and powdered pigments, traditional and contemporary working methods, oil glazing over tempera, and much more. All workshops are open to all levels of painters, from beginner to advanced.

Workshop Schedule

To see the latest schedule of workshops, visit


The above information is based on research and testing done by Natural Pigments and is provided as a basis for understanding the potential uses of the products mentioned. Due to the numerous variables in methods, materials, and conditions of producing art, Natural Pigments cannot be sure the product will be right for you. Therefore, we urge product users to test each application to ensure all individual project requirements are met. While we believe the above information is accurate, WE MAKE NO EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, and we shall in no event be liable for any damages (indirect, consequential, or otherwise) that may occur as a result of a product application.

Where To Buy Art Materials Described In This Article