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Art Terms in Action: Emulsion

Learn why Willem de Kooning added raw egg to his paint. To experiment on your own, take our online studio course Materials and Techniques of Postwar Abstract Painting Created by The Museum of Modern Art.

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  • leaf grey style avatar for user Michœl
    Wouldn't egg yolk make the painting stink after a little while?
    (33 votes)
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    • hopper cool style avatar for user ☣Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ☢ Ŧeaçheя  Simρsoɳ ☢Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ☣
      I asked this question in another video about early art techniques, https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-history/introduction-to-art-history/media/v/tempera-paint?qa_expand_key=ag5zfmtoYW4tYWNhZGVteXJvCxIIVXNlckRhdGEiTHVzZXJfaWRfa2V5X2h0dHA6Ly9ub3VzZXJpZC5raGFuYWNhZGVteS5vcmcvNDRjOWI4OGVhZTg5OTY0MTNjMGIwODdjNzFlOTNhNmYMCxIIRmVlZGJhY2sYgICAgIDyiAoM and was told by Meghan "It doesn't rot because it dries... same as beef jerky doesn't rot. Adding clove oil is (rarely) done to avoid mould, but that usually only happens when you frame tempera paintings with glass. I do tempera painting, and I use only yolk and pigment, never added anything else. No smell." Which sounds right. I was also told by Justin Raucheisen that "Yes it will, there are tricks to keep the smell down. One I know of is adding clove oil to the paint. It will slow down bacteria growth and act similar to Febreeze and cover up any odors." they may have had some type of preservatives to keep them from going bad, but apparently they do have a technique, but it seems the technique is to let it dry and it's a self solving issue, as once dried it apparently doesn't smell anymore and before that it does stink a little but the artists just tough it out. This is an updated answer, but If I get a better answer I'll be happy to share.
      (26 votes)
  • piceratops tree style avatar for user Robin Ekblad
    Why would an artist want to mix water and oil paint (besides to get a different texture)? Are there other benefits to emulsifying oil paint with egg and water?
    (13 votes)
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    • sneak peak yellow style avatar for user LateSparrow
      Probably the paint dries somewhat faster if it's mixed with water instead of oil. But it dries faster mixed with solvent too, but solvent is toxic. Plus water is cheaper? But these are guesses really. I'd love to know if there are other benefits of using an emulsion.
      (1 vote)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Dayvyd
    Is there any danger of food-borne pathogens using egg yolks in paint? Do artists account for this in some way?
    (6 votes)
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    • leaf grey style avatar for user Edward M. Van Court
      Food borne pathogens need to enter the body orally. If you don;t touch your face while you work, and wash your hands when you are done, there is nothing to worry about.

      And once the paint with the egg yolk has dried, risk is minimal, even when you handle it. Also, the risk from under-cooked eggs has been exaggerated in recent years. Hundreds of thousands of kids eat uncooked cookie dough, but very few get ill (much less seriously ill) from it.
      (14 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user BBRosser
    Is there another product that would do the same thing as an egg?
    (5 votes)
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    • leaf blue style avatar for user Peterson
      After looking up some commonly-used emulsifiers, it seems like egg yolks are really the very best substances to use. Other emulsifiers, though, include mustard, soy lecithin, and sodium stearoyl lactylate. Detergents are also used as emulsifiers, although they are in a different class and are used mainly for cleaning surfaces. For painting, though, egg yolk will produce the best, and most consistent, results.
      (4 votes)
  • male robot hal style avatar for user Bill
    What is the chemical properties of an egg that make it unique for this use in paints with water and oil?
    (4 votes)
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    • aqualine seedling style avatar for user Sophia Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ
      Knowing the solvent contributes information about the polarity of this painting medium; because water is a polar substance, egg yolk must also be polar in order for the two to be able to combine. While this is true, egg yolk is unusual in this regard, due to the fact that it is itself essentially an oily emulsion.
      Typically, one would expect such a substance to be nonpolar and to repel water, but the presence of lecithin means that there are special properties associated with egg yolks that result gain the formation of an emulsion with the egg yolk in the water (Church 87-88). So while an egg yolk is not necessarily soluble in water, in the case of egg tempera, it behaves as though it is. Other information can also be taken from the properties stated above. One important distinction is that the paint is formed through hydrogen bonding, as egg yolk is water-soluble, and that it dries primarily through a process of evaporation. Based on this fact, the solvent of water is what makes the paint workable, as it prevents the hydrogen...
      (2 votes)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Terry Tolleson
    At , what is the artist's name that is referenced? Also, what works of art is he known for that use this egg yolk infused emulsion, and how do the texture/finish of these paintings appear in comparison to standard oil paintings?
    (2 votes)
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  • winston baby style avatar for user Liotun Dahazrahazyeh
    so emulsion is mixing paint?
    (2 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Gabrielle Pantano
      No, it is not just mixing paint, it is mixing things that usually don't mix or combine well, this video is an example of emulsion because the artist is mixing oil and water. Oil and water don't usually mix, which is why he has to add the egg to combine them, and this is why it is called an emulsion; if he had not added the binder (in this case the egg) you would have oil paint and water in a bowl, which is a very uncompatible bowl of ingredients so when you mixed them together they would not blend together, you would have a very strange mess. If I mixed a yellow oil paint with a blue oil paint this would not be called an emulsion because these ingredients would certainly blend well without the blinder, they would easily mix together to make a green oil paint.
      (1 vote)
  • blobby green style avatar for user sammy saks
    who came up with the idea of using egg yolk for paint? Also, how did they figure out that the process of using the yolk would be the best for a finished product for the paint.
    (1 vote)
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  • leafers seed style avatar for user Harvir Singh
    can we say egg yolk is acting like a binder?
    (1 vote)
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  • piceratops tree style avatar for user Robin Ekblad
    Can you provide more information about the artist that is mentioned in this video so his method of painting can be studied further?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] An emulsion is a uniform mixture of oily substances and watery substances which usually don't mix. To take the most common example of salad dressing, you'll know that olive oil and vinegar don't mix, unless you add the egg to it. Then you can froth it up and make a uniform mixture of the two. Well in paint, emulsions work the same way. In fact, one of the same emulsifiers is used, and that is egg yolk. de Kooning, among others, would add egg to his oil paint, which is typically compatible with solvent, like turpentine, but after adding egg yolk, it was compatible with water as well. By adding water, he could then froth up the paint to get a very interesting texture, as well as a matte quality of that paint.