Just by pure coincidence, I ended up making the same icon for 2 different people, one right after the other. One, I painted with the traditional egg tempera. For the other, I used acrylic. I find that I love both media. The egg is so smooth, so silky, and so lovely. The handmade gesso is such a perfect surface–worth the hours spent mixing, cooking, applying and sanding it.
The acrylic is so easy, so durable, so quick-drying. I can buy the acrylic gesso already made in a little jar and apply it with a brush, without having to sand later if I apply carefully. Both kinds of paint are permanent–one media after curing, the other, well, immediately. I am sure I will use both in my work, depending on the circumstances.
Here are both icons, for a side by side comparison.
It might not show up that well in the pictures, but the egg tempera paint has an intrinsically lovely, glowing look. It seems brighter. The acrylic looks nice enough, but there is always a plastic look and texture that is simply part of how it is made. There is a darkness or murkiness to it, but perhaps that is just because of my palette. I used paint right out of the tubes rather than mixing my own with dry pigments and medium.
I suppose the argument amongst iconographers as to which paint is best will continue. What matters most is the prayer journey as one creates the image, and the prayers inspired by the image once it is complete.
I also found it very interesting that the same drawing done by the same artist from the same model can look so very different in expression and appearance. I don’t know what that is about, but I don’t think I can blame my own inconsistency on the kind of paint that I used!