Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Constructing with the Brush

Here's a little sketchbook study I did yesterday at the CM Ranch in Wyoming. It's about 5x8 inches, painted in casein.

This detail is about the size of a credit card. I knew when I started that the horses would be moving around. None of them were going to pose for me. Groups of them came and went from the corrals as the cowboys did their daily rounds.

Given those dynamics, and given the many layers of detail in the middle ground, I constructed the entire scene with the brush, without a detailed preliminary drawing. I worked from background to foreground, overlapping detail. Below is how the painting looked partway along.

At this stage there are no horses or fences yet.

Because of its opacity and quick drying qualities, casein is very well suited to this sort of approach, but it wouldn't work so well in watercolor or oil. Watercolor demands more careful preliminary drawing, and oil can get messy if you try overlapping too many wet areas.

I fully documented the process for my upcoming video "Casein in the Wild," which I'll start editing in a month or two. So please ask me any questions you might have about this way of painting, and I'll be sure to address them when I record the voiceover.
I'm at the  SKB Foundation Workshop in Dubois, Wyoming.
Previous video Watercolor in the Wild
CM Family Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming


John Fleck said...

Curious what major differences you find between working with casein and gouache. When or why would you choose one over the other?

Glenn Tait said...

Great painting, especially given the wandering models. I worked on a ranch when I was younger, you have really captured the atmoshphere of the paddock; takes me back to those days. Looking forward to seeing the video.

One question: casein and gouache seem to offer similarities in terms of being able to lay colour over colour. What determines your choice of one over the other in a given situation?

Tom Hart said...

This is a really remarkable painting. I frequently paint over passages in oil, but not in one-sitting situations, which would surely result in the messiness you mention. (In other words, my lower layers are dry - or dry enough.) But I often wonder about the issue of unwanted pentimenti in time to come, even if that's years down the line. Do you have any thoughts on that in relation to this overpaint technique in casein? Do you take any precautions (such as choosing certain colors) to avoid that?

Krystal said...

In fact, I had one question that I didn't dare to ask you. And as you opened the door, I was about to do so, and now I see that other people have already asked ! :

What's the difference between casein and gouache ?

You mentionned sometimes that casein is opaque and dry fast. But gouache does so.

By the way, do you know a retailer in europe for those casein paintings ?... I could not find any in France and oversea shipping is so expensive...

Tom Hart said...

The drybrush (?) technique on the mountain in the backtround is particularly effective in suggesting that distant vegetation. Can you say a little about that? Which came first, the brownish stroke or the blue one?

Juha Peuhkuri said...

Even though we don't seem to have casein paint retailers in Europe I decided to order a few tubes from Amazon after hearing about the medium here on GJ. Having done a few outdoor paintings now I've got to say I'm in love with the stuff!

I haven't done too many gouache paintings so I'm no expert, but for some reason casein feels easier to handle for someone used to oil paint. Working wet into wet and wet over dry is possible on a single sitting and this allows for all sorts of trickery.

And thanks Mr. Gurney for letting me know about this versatile medium!

Karen Eade said...

I would like to hear your thought process as you constructed this painting. I understand back to front (distance to foreground) but that leaves out that whole middle ground.
Frankly, I would take one look at that and panic.
How did you plan your order of work, what to leave in, what to leave out especially as some parts of the painting are removing themselves along the way. How, in short, do you stay nice and calm and not freak out?
Also, what brush do you advise for the horses please, did you use a big or little one?

For people asking about casein suppliers in Europe, there are none at least in the UK that I could find. I sent for mine from Dick Blick. They cost precisely double what they would cost someone in the US, the rest being shipping, but came next day by UPS and I feel it was worth it.

eD said...

Short questions... what do you think about acrylics in general? What are the pros and cons of casein?

Thanks for showing us your exciting painting life.
You are a great inspiration and teacher.

Judy P. said...

Because you have extolled the virtues of casein, I ordered some in a good range of colors, and bought the Shiva medium too. Do you use the medium much? I am used to oils, so I'm pretty clumsy with the casein- I'm not used to the quick drying. I'm not used to the very matte look too, do you use a final varnish, and if you do, would you gloss it up? If you just consider paint quality, do you use very thick, then thin passages? I imagine a very thick brushstroke in casein could have a very beautiful plaster quality about it.

Unknown said...

Add another voice to the casein vs. gouache question! Also because it's a little difficult to lay hands on over here. (Maybe if we made enough noise, W&N or D-R would produce a token set?)

An additional question. I've read your mentions of casein's useful plein air and sketching properties, specifically quick drying and overpainting. I've also had a look at Richeson's FAQ, which perhaps already answers this question, but I'll ask anyway: How is cleanup, especially 'in the wild'? Between quick drying, ability to overpaint without scrubbing the underlayer away, and Richeson's warning that it can be hard on brushes, I'd guess it's something like acrylic and that a water pot and perhaps a rag are especially important to keep in mind. Although the Richeson FAQ also mentions it 'eventually' becomes water resistant. So the question turns into something like: In terms of paint drying and cleanup, is casein more like gouache or acrylic, or somewhere in between?

James Gurney said...

Warren, good question. Casein is different than gouache when it comes to brush cleanup. Working in the field, it's important to have a bucket of water to put brushes in before they're thoroughly washed out. And I don't use really good brushes for casein. Synthetics work fine.

Linda Navroth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diane from Canada said...

I am searching all the info I can get on casein. I'm an oil painter and I find it very cumbersome to set up and take down my oil paints and tools for plein air painting, not to mention it gets heavy to drag around after a while. For that reason, I bought a collapsible garden wagon but then I'm limited to where I can go. I have tried water colours for plein air but I find them too challenging. Would casein be the ideal medium for plein air studies? I'll be using a sketching journal and will use it later for studio oil painting. Am I on the right track? Should I look at gouache instead? I love all your work and I have purchased a couple of your gouache videos. You are very inspiring! Thanks in advance! :-) Diane.

James Gurney said...

Diane, as an oil painter myself, I love casein and gouache for the reasons you say. There are a lot of blog posts dealing with the questions or issues you brought up. Just use the subject keyword list on the left of the blog to find those posts, or search with a keyword in the search box.