Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Yoshida Tōshi's Cherry Blossoms

How many birds do you see in this picture?

Cherry Blossoms by Yoshida Tōshi, 1951 Courtesy Masterpieces of Japan

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Casein Questions on Open Time and Varnishing

Rollo Q asks: "I have a couple of questions about the casein. Roughly how long do you find the paint is wet (moveable rather than liftable) on the surface. Obviously I realise this must depend on climate and surface and paint thickness etc, but I've seen people call it fast drying and its hard to tell what that means (I paint in flashe vinyl which is notably slower than acrylics but faster by far than oils. Open time is 30 - 60 mins for flashe I'd guess). Also do you use an acrylic varnish? Or a resin?"

James Gurney answers: You're right, time it takes for a freshly painted area to dry to the touch depends on the temperature, humidity, wind, paint thickness and wetness, absorbency of the ground, and even the type of pigment. Cadmiums are slower drying than umbers, for example, and titanium white dries relatively fast. This pigment variable is especially noticeable on the paint blobs squeezed out on the palette. 

So how long does it take for a passage to dry? On a nice day an average paint stroke starts to set up in anywhere from a few minutes to ten minutes or so. While it's still wet you can blend all you want, but once it's dry to the touch, a stroke can go down over it without much fear of previous layers lifting or reactivating, unless the new stroke is really wet or there's a lot of scrubbing. 

Paint that is newly dry presents a relatively closed surface, meaning that, unlike gouache, it resists reactivation. The strength of the paint's glue-like binder is not as strong as acrylic, which has a powerful bond which sticks hard to your palette and wreaks havoc on your brushes. Because of that weaker binder, casein techniques involving thick, textural impasto should only be painted on a rigid surface such as a panel or illustration board. 

With casein, paint that feels dry from evaporation isn't fully cured yet. The milk protein molecules keep bonding, which can take anywhere from overnight to a couple weeks. Curing time can be accelerated by putting the painting in a sunny, dry, and warm (but not too hot) location. 

After it's dried and cured you can decide whether or not you want to varnish it. Like gouache, casein is meant to dry matte, and that can look good in a light, high-key painting. I almost never varnish sketchbook paintings. Paintings with a matte surface certainly photograph well, and the digital version of a painting can be adjusted in Photoshop to give it the full range of values. The manufacturers suggest buffing the surface of a dry painting using an old T-shirt to add some semi-gloss luster to the surface.

The main reason I varnish some of my casein paintings is to deepen the darks in an overall dark painting or to protect a painting that I want to frame without glass. Dark-keyed paintings look better varnished, and sometimes varnish is needed to unify the surface sheen of the painting. You can varnish casein just as you would varnish an oil painting. The advantage of casein compared with oil for plein-air painters is that you can varnish it the same day, rather than waiting weeks or months for the paint to dry. 

I've tried various brush-on varnishes, but I've been using a non-yellowing spray gloss varnish, which works well, but acrylic gloss varnish should work well, too. 

For the varnish to work with one or two coats, the substrate beneath the paint needs to be relatively non absorbent, such as a hardwood panel or gesso-primed canvas mounted to board. I've been painting on acrylic primed canvas panels, which respond well to varnish. If the painting consists of thin casein washes on soft watercolor paper, the surface will absorb the varnish, and it will take a lot of coats before you start to get a glossy surface. After it's varnished, a casein painting can be framed without glass just like an oil.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Poppies in Casein

 Poppies, painted in casein, will be one of six paintings I’ll have in a botanical art show and sale.

It’s one of six paintings I'll have at Stonecrop Gardens in Cold Spring, NY at a botanical art show opening Monday through October 30, 2023.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Painting the Stonecrop Conservatory in Casein

In this new video on YouTube I use casein paint for a plein-air study of the conservatory at Stonecrop Gardens. 

As I demonstrate my drawing and painting process, I explain the advantages of casein compared to oils, gouache, and acrylic. 
For information about availability of original art, contact Karen Stein at this email address: 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Skybax Toy Prototypes

Would giant pterosaurs with saddles make cool toys? I did these marker sketches to explore some of the possibilities.

This one-of-a-kind toy prototype was made by Hasbro in 1997, part of a proposal for a line of Dinotopia toys. The skybax is fully posable, with flapping wings, gripping foot claws, and a removable saddle for the Will Denison action figure.

Here's a larger prototype with some plush, soft, and fuzzy elements.

As it often happens with toy ideas, this one never got off the ground. The toy line was tied to a movie at Columbia Pictures that went far into development but never got green-lit.

There was a Jurassic Park toy with a remarkable similarity. It's possible that the JP toy came first and that they modded it out for the Dinotopia presentation.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Painting Fantasy on Location

What struck me about the exterior of the Jules Verne Museum was the way the historic building sits on the brow of a steep cliff, with a statue of St. Anne atop a long flight of stairs.

So I painted this 7 x 9-inch sketch on location, trying to imagine it separated from gravity on its own journey to another world.

I worked on a separate piece of hot press watercolor paper, using fairly traditional watercolor. After laying in the broad masses of the sky, rock, and architecture, I further defined the details and textures using water-soluble colored pencils. This is a fairly fast way to sketch; the whole painting was finished on location in two and a half hours, but it would have taken me far longer to do the same thing in the studio.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Artistic License

I was practicing art without a license—until I got this.

This Artistic License was made by Rick Allen of Duluth, a master wood engraver and hand printer. Each license has a unique number and makes three passes through the press, one for each color.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Spinosaurus Restorations, Step by Step

In this YouTube video, I demonstrate step-by-step process of painting two restorations of the dinosaur Spinosaurus under the direction of Dr. Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago.

Dr. Sereno's scientific paper, called "Spinosaurus is Not an Aquatic Dinosaur," set out to refute claims by other researchers that Spinosaurus was a fast attack hunter underwater. Sereno's team developed a CT-based skeletal restoration of Spinosaurus and examined its hydrodynamic properties. They found that the digital model of Spinosaurus performed very poorly in water, supporting the alternative "semi-aquatic hypothesis." In an interview, Sereno said, "I don't think it was a good swimmer nor capable of full submergence behavior."

Coauthors include Donald M. Henderson, Daniel Vidal, Frank E. Fish, Stephanie L. Baumgart, Tyler M. Keillor, Kiersten K. Formoso, Nathan Myrhvold, and Lauren L. Conroy. 


Friday, September 8, 2023

Weeds or Wildflowers?

Studying the exquisite geometry of wildflowers (mullein, milkweed, and goldenrod) brings to mind the 1911 poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.


A weed is but an unloved flower!
Go dig, and prune, and guide, and wait,
Until it learns its high estate,
And glorifies some bower.
A weed is but an unloved flower!

All sin is virtue unevolved,
Release the angel from the clod--
Go love thy brother up to God.
Behold each problem solved.
All sin is virtue unevolved.