Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Painting a live cicada in casein

The cicadas are here in huge numbers, filling the trees with their deafening songs. These swarms of large insects appear every 17 years here in the Hudson Valley.

Of course I didn't want to let this rare opportunity pass without painting a portrait from life in my sketchbook. As you can see in the video (Direct link to vid), I wasn't sure if he was likely to hold still.

Here's my DIY tripod-mounted painting rig that holds the sketchbook above the palette. I used the following colors of casein paint: Titanium white, golden ochre, cadmium red scarlet, cerulean blue, raw umber, halftone black, and just a little bit of cadmium green and cadmium yellow light.

I liked the way the paint handled for opacity and for the fine details of the wings. When I decided late in the game to add the larval case in the upper left, I used the white to put down a light base tone.

More info about my tools:
Richeson / Shiva casein
Richeson's FAQ about casein
Quiller water media brush, Series 7000 Round 6
Quiller flat brush Size 1/2 inch
Moleskine watercolor notebook
Waterman Phileas red fountain pen
For the pochade rig, I would probably use Southco Inc SC-773 Adjustable Hinge rather than the ones I'm using.


nuum said...

Wonderful, Master.


John Fleck said...

Nice work again, James.

As the dried finish looks similar to gouache, what would you say are the differences or advantages to working in casein over gouache?

James Gurney said...

John, I pretty much agree with what it says on Richeson's FAQ (linked at the end)

The general characteristic and appearance of acrylic paint is bright, bold color, stretching flatly across the canvas. Casein is often described as quiet and subtle, having a color depth similar to oils. While some acrylics can be used to produce a non gloss finish, it is still different from the matte finish of Casein. Also, Casein can be used in mixed media techniques where acrylics cannot: as an underpainting for oil or mixed with watercolor.

Gouache is similar to Casein in that is an opaque medium that can be thinned with water, but unlike Casein, it cannot be reworked once dry."

Rob Kulas said...

Fun and educational video. Love the painting. Thanks for sharing more info on your pochade box. I think I can use your video to make one for myself.

Tom Hart said...

Great video, great pochade invention, and excellent painting. Aside from the kudos, I wanted to put in a plug for subscribing to your Youtube channel. Even as a faithful follower who checks in to the blog several times a day, I find that subscribing to your channel is really worth it. Otherwise, I might not have had a chance to start my day, bright and early, with this wonderful video.

Question: Is casein fairly easy on brushes? (Maybe you haven't been using it long enough to come to a conclusion on that.)

Carol Scown-Raynal said...

Excellent, 17 years for a brilliant 3 minute video.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, everyone. Tom, I haven't seen any damage to brushes yet, but I keep reading casein is hard on brushes. I'm trying to be careful. Any brush that I'm not actively using I rest in water to keep it from drying out. I can't imagine how any paint could be harder on brushes than cel vinyl and acrylic, which I used a lot in the past.

John Kelley said...

In Alabama annual cicadas can been seen and heard during the dog days of every summer. A few years ago I was watching the Coen brother retelling of "True Grit" and noticed that during the winter river crossing scene Cicada's can be clearly heard in the background. I guess not even the magic of hollywood could make the sound go away.

Loved the video, thanks for posting!

Edward Lillywhite said...

Great rig! Fantastic portrait!

Just wondering where you bought the resistance hinges? Just the local hardware store, I've been looking for similar hinges for a while.

Mario said...

Wonderful painting, both free and accurate at the same time.
"Gouache is similar to Casein in that is an opaque medium that can be thinned with water, but unlike Casein, it cannot be reworked once dry".
If I understand well this sentence:
- casein can be reworked
- gouache can't be reworked
this sounds strange to me, because gouache can be reworked. Also, in a former post, you mentioned that "the milk- based binder seals each layer enough so that they won't pick up with later application", so I'm a bit puzzled.

James Gurney said...

Mario, yes, that sentence is confusing. What it means to say is that gouache is easily dissolved, so if you put a layer down and let it dry, water or a wet wash applied over it can disturb that layer. Or with gouache you could scrub out a previous passage with a wet rag. But as long as you lay down new strokes quickly and decisively, those first layers won't pick up.

Casein, by contrast, dries with a stronger emulsion, which continues to get more impervious over time. So, like oil or acrylic, if you lay down a passage, a later layer or glaze won't mess up what you did earlier.

Andy said...

My gouache question has been asked and answered :) so I'll just say... that plant appears to have a massive aphid infestation, or something!

Oh, and nice work too, of course.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the materials used for that homemade pochade box. I've been thinking about making one myself and that video gave me some great ideas. Great painting too! I've been experimenting with casein lately as well. I really enjoy it and looks like you do too

Peter Thompson said...

did you keep the skin ? looks like a cool object to have for future reference.

James Gurney said...

Peter, no, the ground is literally a couple inches deep in those things. They do look cool, though!

Rob Kulas said...

I made a version of your little pochade box using the friction hinges that you link to at Amazon. The hinges where delivered the next day and I assembled my box. Tomorrow I will take it for its first test run. Thanks again for all the inspiration you provide.

James Gurney said...

RK, if you'd like to shoot a video or a couple of photos and a description of your take on the pochade, maybe I can share it with the blog readers.

Rob Kulas said...

Sure James I will try to get some pics or video together on the pochade. I just have to give it a quick spray painting for cosmetics. Please let me know the email to send it to.

Roberto said...

Very nice sketch James! I am really enjoying your adventures w casein. As to Tom’s query as to brushes…in my experience, its much easier to keep smaller brushes clean just by keeping them rinsed. But the bigger the brush the harder it is to get the paint out of the ferrule, (and hardened casein is like cement in a brush). I make a habit of cleaning my H2O brushes with Murphy’s oil soap, making sure to scrub the ferrule w a wire brush (w the grain, not against). When I have rinsed the paint out thoroughly I dip each brush into the soap, fanning-out the bristles to make sure the hairs and the ferrule are coated w soap. I then can shape them and leave them to dry, well lubricated and protected from exposure to the air. Before their next use I rinse them in water and they are ready to go! This sounds like a lot of work, but it will really extend the life of your expensive brushes, and makes for a nice little meditative ritual at the end of a painting session. (Chopping wood, carrying water, and don’t forget to floss!)
Also… That ‘Halftone Black’ looks very interesting. I haven’t used that before.
Here is what your link to FAQ says about it:
[WHAT IS HALFTONE BLACK? Even though Casein colors like titanium white and ivory black are opaque, halftone black is finely dispersed, allowing your underpainting to show through. When applied over another color, the color changes with incredible results. For instance, when you put halftone black over burnt sienna, you'll get a beautiful purple. Halftone black is also great for shading over flat areas of color.]

I’ll have to get some of those little tubes and play around. All my best -RQ

Unknown said...

Hello sir James!

I spent the day painting with casien outside yesterday, and I had brilliant results. I found the actual act of painting was made much easier than watercolors or gouache, and I was able to think about 'what' I was doing more that merely 'how' I was doing it. Needless to say, I found it easier than those other mediums.
Since it seemed a little "easier" do you think that is kind of... a problem? Is it better to learn to use a more difficult medium, or is it ok to train with something easier for me, and continue later with something more difficult?
Thanks for your information. Love your sketches and consistent posts.

Rob Kulas said...

James here is my Flickr link to my version of your little pochade box. Thanks for the great idea.

James Gurney said...

RK, Sorry, there must be something wrong with my computer, because I can't access your Flickr image. Can you post it on a public page or email it to me? Look forward to seeing it. --JG

Rob Kulas said...

Sorry my fault James. I had my photos set to private. Here is the working (hopefully) link to my version of your pochade box.
This little box works great.

James Gurney said...

RK: Great. Thanks. Love the idea of attaching the palette pan with velcro. Mine is bolted on now, and it makes it hard to clean up. I'll try your way of doing it. Also, I got a set of those better hinges, and they're nice. They seem to be made of some sort of super hard plastic.

James Gurney said...

Abigail, that's great. No, I think if using a certain medium makes you think more about the "what" you're painting than the "how," it's the medium for you. I'm always happiest and my paintings are best when I can forget I'm using paint and just get lost in my subject.

Rob Kulas said...

James the hinges are working really well and are quite good at staying in the place I set them.
I've also been trying out casein paint because of your videos. I'm definitely going to have to work with them for a while to get some practice.
Looking forward to your video tutorials on casein on watercolors.

Richard said...

I want to thank you for showing your plein air rig, I did something a bit differently than yours, I found 5 Piece Garden Tool Kit Folding Seat (on clearance at Menards for $12.99 which has a nice bag underneath the seat to hold all my supplies, including your easel, tripod and cup. Though instead of using your plastic cup, I instead bought a Magnet and a Metal camping Cup so I don't have to deal with the cup magnet and washer. Thanks for showing your rig.