Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Your Casein Questions

When I try out a new kind of paint, I like to use a super-limited palette, as I did on this painting of a historic wooden boatbuilding shop. (Watch on YouTube)

Yesterday I invited you to ask questions about casein, and they were great ones. Here are some answers.

Elo Wobing: Can I ask why you choose this medium over other water soluble painting mediums? Specifically, why not use acrylic paint which is also water soluble with opaque and transparent qualities?
Elo, Yes, you're right, acrylic is very similar. The stronger emulsion strength of acrylic paint makes is preferable to casein if you want durable impastos. The kind of acrylic I do use from time to time is Holbein Acrya Gouache (which is really acrylic). The thing I like about casein is the weaker emulsion, which keeps the paint from being sticky or gummy as it's drying. Casein flows more readily off the brush than does acrylic.

J. Oates: I am curious too as to why you choose casein over gouache. It is not as readily available as gouache in the UK, and so not easy to try.
Good question. Casein and gouache are very similar, so the lessons in this video apply to both media. I reach for casein when I want a fuller bodied paint, and it's less expensive per cc so I can use it more freely. It also has a more closed surface when it dries, meaning the paint won't be reactivated by a later wet stroke. Gouache is better than casein for fine detail, and gouache offers more color choices, and generally heavier pigment concentration.

Matt Dicke: Do you have a preference of Gouache or Casein as an alternative to oil? There are many times when dealing with solvents is not possible and having a water based medium that has a similar feel and handling to oil is needed?
I would say that casein has more body than gouache, and in that sense, it feels more like oil. Maybe it's also that the paint tubes are the same size as oil, and I use plenty of paint when I'm using casein. Casein doesn't really have the impasto quality of oil, though, and neither does gouache. Also, neither gouache or casein has the transparent deep darks of oil. They both dry light in the darks, and that takes some getting used to.

Gary: Is it advisable to order an additional, larger tube of Titanium white with the casein sets? In some media (acrylic gouache) it is difficult to paint opaquely without it.
Yes, I think it's a good idea to have one of the larger tubes of white. I go through two or three times more white than any other color.

Keita Hopkinson: From your experience, how fast does casein dry... (whether a wash, or opaque passages)? Thanks much!
Since it's an aqueous medium, drying time depends on the heat and humidity, as with watercolor and gouache. It will dry to the touch anywhere from a few seconds to a minute or so. Casein is unusual in that the proteins in the milk emulsion continue to strengthen after the paint has dried to the touch, so after a few days or weeks, it will be tougher than paint that has just dried.

Matthieu Kiriyama: I wish I could put my hands on some casein paint, but it doesn't seem like they're available here in Japan (A set of 6 colors from Richeson sells for a hefty 100 to 180 dollars on Amazon). Is Richeson the only manufacturer you know of that I could look into? I understand that milk paint is a popular medium for painting furniture, but not every brand is suitable for fine arts? (I have the same problem of not being able to buy your new video with Paypal the way I did on Sellfy before.)
Richeson is the only manufacturer of tubed artist grade casein that I'm aware of. They bought the Shivá company, and make the same paint under the two different brands. If casein is not available in your area, no worries. I would substitute gouache or Acryla gouache. Here's a previous post about gouache materials. And sorry about the Paypal issue. I've been having difficulties uploading the files to Sellfy and Cubebrush, but I'll keep trying.

Color Palette
Koushik: 1) How do you pick a limited palette a priori? For instance, in the painting at Lowell's, you picked a very low chroma yellow palette (with black literally being the cool color). Do you decide up front which gamut you're going to use, pick suitable primaries, then interpret things within that range? As in, you could just as well do your fall Wyoming painting (Torrey creek) using say, a strong blue, a cool red and a muted yellow (like ochre)? I'm just asking because I'm trying to understand how you fix your color gamut without any pre-mixing by limiting your pigment choices.
Good question. I don't follow any set rule. I'm usually pretty intuitive about palette choice. But as I think about it, there are three common circumstances that determine my decision of a given limited palette.

1. One is simply what I have in my paint kit. I often bring a random choice of white plus a red, a yellow, and a blue, trying to choose a version of those colors I haven't tried in a while. That's how I recently fell in love with Perylene Maroon, and Prussian Blue in gouache.
2. Another circumstance is when I have a preconceived color (or lighting) idea and I don't care what the actual colors are in the scene in front of me. That was the case with the painting of the solar flare effect, which I wanted to look like my memory of a photographic lens flare.
3. The third circumstance is when I look at a given scene and I try to identify the main color notes that reappear in the scene or that are essential to it. I try to boil those down to about six or fewer colors and set those out as tubes on the palette. If I need a "spiker" color or "guest" color (as I call them sometimes) I can bring them in as an extra spice.

Varnish and Mediums

Garin Baker painting with me (in oil) at Lowell's Boat Shop
Koushik: 2) You mention varnish in the section on birch panels. You appear to be using some sort of brush-on varnish (made by Richeson I presume) for your finished pieces. In one of your earlier posts on GJ you've mentioned trying the Richeson varnish on paper and having it soak into the surface repeatedly. How would you varnish something that is painted on say, illustration board? Does the clear coat spray work better instead? Additionally, how long do you wait before varnishing (with either brush-on or spray)? I know the emulsion strengthens with time - even though the surface is dry to touch, Richeson says it might take several weeks before the paint film completely sets!

Yes, I was using the Richeson varnish, applied with a brush. But I have also tried Krylon Crystal Clear. Both tend to get soaked up into paintings done on absorbent paper or board, so for those substrates, it can take over four coats before you start seeing much gloss or darkening of the darks. Even if the varnish soaks in, it's important not too use too much with each application.

A surface sealed at the beginning with gesso or acrylic medium or a thick layer of casein that fills the paper's pores would allow the varnish to float on the surface more. It's probably a good idea to wait at least a week or two before varnishing. 

Margaret Berthold: I'm having trouble varnishing casein paintings on 140 pound Arches watercolor paper. When I spray on a gloss varnish, some areas remain matte and some are glossy. It's very patchy and it seems no matter how many coats I apply it won't acquire an even gloss. Would sealing the paper help? With what? Or is a different surface a better idea?
Yes, as mentioned above, if you want the glossy look of a finish, try to prep the surface at the beginning to make it less absorbent. Two things to add: don't use anything with oil on any layers below the casein, and consider leaving the casein unvarnished. The matte surface can be very attractive.

Jeff Allen: When painting the water, would the same layering technique apply as casein, paint the light 1st, then the dark?
I'm not completely sure I understand your question. Since it's an opaque medium, you could proceed in various ways—light first, then dark; or dark first, then light. Or area by area. My general approach is to wash in some light tones, work the big masses of tone and save the lightest, darkest, and finest accents for last.
John Berkey

Do you know of any great works of art done in casein? And on another note, do artists ever work large with gouache and casein? I'm not sure I've ever seen a gouache painting spanning several feet 
John Berkey comes to mind (above). Casein has been used a lot in theatrical set painting and Medieval portable altarpieces, and in some murals, so certainly it can be used large. Below is a casein painting by Samuel Colman.

"Solomon's Temple, Colorado"
20.5" x 26" casein on canvas
Samuel Colman Jr. - 1888
 Links and resources
"Casein Painting in the Wild"
HD Digital download on Gumroad (Credit cards)
HD Digital download on Sellfy (Paypal) Buy now
DVD at Kunaki (ships worldwide) or Amazon
Casein Explorers Pack (12) (A good introductory palette that gives you pretty wide gamut.)
Casein 6 Pack (The colors I used for this painting. On its own, it's a rather muted palette. It makes a good supplement to the 12 pack.)
Casein 6-pack with travel brush set (Same set as above with the short-handled set).


Matthieu Kiriyama said...

I just downloaded 'Casein in the Wild' from Sellfy. Thank you very much!

Jared Cullum said...

Hi Matthieu, I checked on eBay and found a bunch of sets and a few that ship internationally.
I also do a regular DickBlick.com order of watercolor and paper for my job. If you are totally out of luck you can shoot me some paypal for tubes and shipping and I can order and handle shipping some to you, brother.
My honest opinion, though, is that it's so similar to gouache you might want to stick to that if you have it. Anyhow- my contact is Jared.cullum@gmail if you want

Warren JB said...

That Samuel Colman painting is very good. Lots of good advice too, thanks!

James Gurney said...

Jared, thanks for helping out Matthieu with the international art supplies problem! You're the best!

Randall Floyd said...

First of all thanks for turning me onto casein, which could be a lengthy post all of its own. It basically has helped me to get "unstuck" on my artistic vision and is allowing me, at least temporarily, to part ways with my love/hate relationship with pastels. I won't go into that because this question is really about John Berkey and technique.

In your opinion, how do you think Berkey achieved those deep wonderful darks with such high contrasting lights in his imaginative space scenes? Do you think he laid in large areas of darks and then built lights directly on top (as some of us pastelists are known to do) or do you think he painted subtractively and strategically around lights and high mids the way a watercolorist would? His pure lights are so clean and brilliant that they don't look overly painted with the usual amount of layers it would take to cover up such darks (even with the opaqueness of casein), but they also pop off the darks and are so full of nuanced shades that they also don't look like the blahness one sometimes gets from painting light on white. Or maybe he didn't have a formula, maybe he just worked each area either backwards or forwards (or both) as required.

James Gurney said...

Randall, good question. I visited John in his studio, though I didn't actually watch him paint. I recall him saying that that he mixed his own casein, kept is paints in cups, and used paint that was very opaque.

Having studied his work and seen some of his unfinished paintings, I would speculate the following:
1. He did less preliminary drawing than you might think, except for a basic perspective plan—eye level, vanishing points, etc..
2. He built the big shapes and masses fairly loosely and refined the smaller and smaller shapes with a brush as he went along.
3. For linear detail I would guess he used a suspended ruler.
4. I don't think he painted around light areas so much as built up the shape light over dark and dark over light.
5. I presume that his blacks and darks had a little bit of gloss medium to make them darker.
I may be wrong on some of this so please correct me if someone knows more about Berkey's method.

Randall Floyd said...

James, thanks so much for your response and insights. I hadn't thought of adding a gloss medium to affect the value of casein, but that got me thinking about selectively using a thin transparent gloss/matte medium mix over existing areas that need a little punch vs. trying to mix it into the paint and then being stuck with the result.

By the way, I'm loving "Casein in the Wild"! I'm just so grateful to you and for your blog for helping me find my way to something I didn't even know existed (casein), not to mention all the other priceless wisdom and inspiration you pass on for free. Hoping to be able to "pay it forward" somehow in the future.

Daniele Guadagnolo said...

Hi James,
Thank you very much for letting us discover this unjustly overlooked medium, and sharing your experience with us.
I have played around with casein for about 6 months, mailny on my sketchbooks or on watercolour paper, but would like to paint on panels for bigger works.
Do you use acrylic gesso primed surfaces (either panels or canvas-panels)? I tried a gessoed panel and the first layer feels very slick, ad it also reactivates rather easily (compared to works on paper); does the canvas panel have the same behaviour?
Thank you in advance.

Daniele Guadagnolo said...

Hi James,
Thank you very much for letting us discover this unjustly overlooked medium, and sharing your experience with us.
I have played around with casein for about 6 months, mailny on my sketchbooks or on watercolour paper, but would like to paint on panels for bigger works.
Do you use acrylic gesso primed surfaces (either panels or canvas-panels)? I tried a gessoed panel and the first layer feels very slick, ad it also reactivates rather easily (compared to works on paper); does the canvas panel have the same behaviour?
Thank you in advance.

James Gurney said...

Daniele, No, I don't usually use gesso priming or prepared panels. I tried one smooth prepared panel once, and had a hard time with it for exactly the same reason you said: it sat on the surface and reactivated easily. I have painted over an acrylic matte medium layer, once or twice though, and that worked out a little better. If you have to work on a gessoed panel, just be sure to keep a light touch, don't scrub it too much, and let it dry thoroughly before overpainting.

Daniele Guadagnolo said...

I don't think I'll give acrylic gesso another chance in the near future; i tried watercolor paper sized with matte medium (1 to 4 layers) and I like this method as a way to adjust the absorbancy of the support.
I would like to give more of an 'oil feel' to some of my bigger casein works, avoiding watercolor effects, and i love the feel of painting with casein over a dried casein layer, so my next step would be painting on a possibly rigid support sized (matt medium or a sizing glue) then primed and toned with casein paint.
I will also try to use it as one would with egg tempera (on clayboard, RSG gesso etc), which seems to be a farily common practice.