Saturday, July 9, 2016

Comparing Opaque and Transparent Painting

Yesterday I painted two vintage bisque porcelains in Mel Birnkrant's collection, a leering match holder and an exuberant baby waving a flag. 

Schafer and Vater porcelains, casein (left), and watercolor (right)
The study on the left is painted with casein (an opaque water-based medium a lot like gouache), and the one on the right is painted in transparent watercolor. Opaque and transparent painting require a rather different mindset and approach.

To paint this head in casein, I had to mix each of the values separately, keeping in mind the slight value shift as the paint dries.  The advantage of casein or gouache is that it's possible to achieve absolutely flat, smooth passages and control their relationship. The challenge is to blend edges and to achieve softness and variety of tone. The pitfall is the tendency to lose sparkle and lightness.

I painted the baby in transparent watercolor. The advantage of watercolor is that it's fast and direct. Gradations and soft edges (such as the round forehead) are achievable, but they take deliberate and rapid action. The challenge is 1) to achieve accuracy and smoothness of value, and 2) to paint around the light accents. The pitfall is the tendency to get everything too light. The first washes on the forehead looked incredibly dark when I first put them down.

About the collection:
Vintage porcelains in Mel Birnkrant's collection
Previous posts about Mel:
The Weenies
Mel Birnkrant's Cartoon Toy Collection
Paper Burlesque Dancers
Painting the Outer Space Men
Casein sets from Amazon:
Casein 6 Pack with Brush Set


bernicky said...

Can you use the same brushes for opaque (gouache and casein) and watercolour or do you have to equip yourself with different sets for each medium?

With the opaque media do you still leave open paper for bright white values or do you always use white paint?

James Gurney said...

You should use only synthetics for casein, but otherwise for gouache and watercolor you can use the same brushes. You certainly can leave the white paper open for opaques instead of using white highlights. I think a mix of techniques, and indeed a mix of opaque and transparent is often the best bet.

Glenn Tait said...

I find with watercolour I tend to start too dark and things move to an overall middle value, which has to then be adjusted.

James, have you used the flat tip Niji water brush? It also coverts to a mop by means of a removable ferrule. I have had one in my kit for a while now but reach for it more and more over the large round these days.

Flat Niji

widdly said...

The over the top facial expressions are great. I can't decide if the baby looks cute or like homicidal maniac!

widdly said...

The over the top facial expressions are great. I can't decide if the baby looks cute or like homicidal maniac!

Suzy Pal Powell said...

Do you have a reason for choosing gouache over casein and vice versa? I bought some casein and it looks like gouache to me so I can't figure how to know which to use when? Is it just a personal to switch back and forth? I love gouache and have used it for a long time. I love all your paintings. And the match holder is a little scary.

Linda Navroth said...

When will "Casein in the Wild" be coming out?