Tempera is the oldest known type of paint and was found on the sarcophagi of ancient Egypt and on Byzantine, Medieval and Renaissance works. Today, tempera paint is popular as a “school paint” and is used by children in classrooms all over the world.
The modern term “tempera” refers to poster paint, which is a form of gouache. Gouache is a type of opaque watercolor.
Modern tempera can be purchased in liquid form. It is also found in powdered form and in dry cakes that are mixed with water and used in the same manner as watercolor cakes. The higher the pigment content of the tempera paint, the more color-stable it will be.
Generally, tempera paints are washable and can be cleaned from most surfaces with warm soap and water; however, paints with high pigment content may stain clothing. Wear a smock or protective apron when using tempera paints.
To make cleanup easier, a mild soap, such as liquid dish detergent, can be mixed with tempera paint. Use approximately one part soap to three or four parts paint. Tempera mixed in this manner will adhere to glass and can be used in decorative window painting.
Tempera dries very quickly. Thus, it is applied with small, quick brushstrokes to ultrasmooth surfaces.
The advantage of using tempera as a painting medium is that clear, intense colors are produced. These colors are not subject to oxidation and as a result do not lose their integrity over time.