Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Plein-air painting and a very friendly cat

Last Sunday before the tree went down, Jeanette and I painted a street scene in Rhinecliff, New York.

(Video link) I'm using casein, an opaque milk-based paint popular with 1950s illustrators. Maybe it's the milk smell that attracts a friendly neighborhood cat, who hangs out with us during the 45 minutes of the painting session. 

In addition to attracting animals, casein has an advantage over oil for speed-painting architecture because the drying time allows you to accelerate all the steps. I call it "oil on adrenaline." Note that at 1:15, I spot in the windows with the brush and then glaze the shadow values transparently over them before coming in with opaques.
At 1:50, I state the two side windows and their shutters with one big stroke and then subdivide the smaller window details with opaque light strokes, all with the same half-inch flat brush. The flat brush handles just about everything from thin lines to big areas.

With the limited palette (raw sienna, Venetian red, cobalt blue, and titanium white), there's no way to mix strong greens. I restrict the gamut to a smaller blue-orange complementary scheme in order to emphasize warms against cools. No one will miss the greens.

Good news on the video front: I just updated my "James Gurney" YouTube page, so please check it out and subscribe so that you can get notified about new videos before anyone else. Also, I have finished the final edit on my first hour long instructional DVD / download. It's called "How I Paint Dinosaurs." It should be out in a month or so. It will be followed soon after by a second one called "Watercolor Workshop." I'll probably do a third hour-long video on casein after those two. All of my longer form videos go deep into process and materials, and show methods in real time with lots of info. 

By the way, here's what I'm using on this painting:
Jack Richeson / Shiva casein colors (raw sienna, Venetian red, cobalt blue, and titanium white)
Richeson's FAQ about casein
Moleskine watercolor notebook
Flat watercolor brush (1/2 inch)

And here's what I'm using to make the the video:
IKEA Kitchen Timer (for the slow rotation of the time lapse)

My book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painterhas more information about limited palettes 


Christoffer Gertz Bech said...

Great news about the DVDs! I've only recently discovered the joy and inspiration of instructional DVDs. Yeah, I am a very old-fashioned, low-tech kind of guy - so far, I haven't looked further than this ingenious invention called books, but a few weeks ago I ordered Donato Giancola's Joan of Arc-DVD, and I enjoy it very much. Just the other day, I watched your little "How I paint dinosaurs"-clip on YouTube and thought "Gee, I wish there would be a full length DVD like that (including commentary by Mr. Kooks)!"

nuum said...

Master Gurney,

You are my hero !

Thanks from Brazil


Rob Kulas said...

Thanks for I sharing your videos James. I love your tripod setup to hold your Moleskine and palette. Could you share any info how on you created it. It looks perfect.

James Gurney said...

RK, I built this little pochade set-up for casein. It uses furniture friction hinges and a re-used take out food container lid for the palette surface. After I refine it a bit more, I'll do a post showing how I made it.

CGB, I'm a mix of retro and new tech, too, like we all are, I suppose.

Thanks, nuum! I'll bet Brazil is a great place to paint.

mj said...

James, how would you contrast casein with gouache? I run into people warning that gouache can crack...does casein share this property?

James Gurney said...

MJ, if you're going to use really thick impastos, it would be good to work on a panel. On a support of flexible canvas or watercolor-paper sketchbook pages, I haven't had any issues with low impastos. Thin paint is fine. The emulsion is more durable than gouache, but it isn't as tough as acrylic or oil.

Monika Baum said...

Thanks for letting us peek over your shoulder again!!! I always feel like this is my one and only chance to learn something as art school on a part time basis is fairly out of the question around where I live currently. I am always amazed at what I see you do with a limited palette of just three or four colors.
I will now ponder gamuts and limited palettes for the rest of my evening and will eventually come to the conclusion again that I won't ever be able to do that kind of thing... *sigh*

Bill Marshall said...

Hello James,
I am curious to know how casein compares to acrylic for outdoor painting, especially in terms of drying time, workability, and clean-up.
Thank you,


James Gurney said...

Hey, Bill,
Casein is in general more opaque. It dries with enough of an emulsion that subsequent layers won't pick up earlier ones, as they would in gouache. Compared to acrylic, the dried surface is more velvety, more like an eggshell.
Have a look at the FAQ from the manufacturer Richeson / Shiva:

Wi Waffles said...

Another great post from you! Thanks so much for all the wonderful content.
I am curious if you are using a flat or a bright, and what your preference is for these types of paintings? I'm about to buy some new brushes and really have no idea which to get, or if there's any significant difference between the two.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, WW. Flats and brights both have squared ends, but flats tend to be longer. This is a half inch watercolor flat that I got in China, about the same as a half inch Winsor & Newton Series 985. Flats are great for architecture because one brush can create lines, parallelograms, or rectangular shapes. I generally use a few different brushes, but this painting was almost all done in a half inch flat.

Donald Pittenger said...

Back around 1960 when I was a commercial art student, I used casein paints for all my projects. Unfortunately, the University of Washington School of Art failed to teach us technical matters, so I blundered my way through my assignments.

One thing I remember was that when painting large areas of flat color, the casein didn't dry evenly, leaving a slightly blotchy appearance. Perhaps if I had been properly instructed on its use, my casein work would have looked nicer. Or maybe not. Do you get a similar result?

Daroo said...

Great Vid and painting -- thanks.

Yes, please post about your pochade design -- friction hinges!

I had been searching for resistance hinges and then positionable hinges -- couldn't find anyplace that I could just buy a couple instead of mass quanities. Where did you find them?

James Gurney said...

Daroo, I think I got the hinges at Lowe's building supply in the kitchen cabinet department. You may be right: they may have been called resistance hinges...they have a plastic piece held in spring pressure against the other hinge part to make it hold a position --sort of. Probably would be tighter if I roughed up the metal parts. I found them at Lowe's available in sets of two for about three or four bucks each pair.

James Gurney said...

Daroo, Steve G. told me about a link for those hinges, which you can adjust with a screw:

Daroo said...

Thanks for the link -- I'll try ' em.

Have you considered a small sized butcher tray for your palette? You could industrial velcro it to the hinged base and then the magnets in your water cup would hold the cup in place?

Unknown said...

James I'm sorry for the late comment OK if you don'get it.Is that Booker T. and the MG's!!?I can't wait to try some of those paints.

James Gurney said...

Daroo, thanks for getting me thinking about metal trays. They don't seem to make butcher trays that size (by the way, I think only artists use them, despite the name). But I used a metal box lid for colored pencils and spray enameled it white.

Lynnwood, the music is by Kevin MacLeod of, who must dig Booker T.