Friday, December 02, 2016

Casein In the Wild

As I've written in earlier posts, casein paint has begun to interest me during the past few weeks. Casein has been on my radar for quite a while, because I read James Gurney's well-written blog, Gurney Journey.
The thing about James Gurney is that he actually posts every day (which is a considerable discipline) and he has vast experience in art and a curiosity seemingly as vast. Further, his posts are thoughtful, professional, humorous, and generally packed with information. He is the author of the Dinotopia series of books as well as Color and Light, a book for artists containing considerable wisdom, put together from posts on his blog. Besides his blog and books he has produced instructional videos too. Over the past several years his art videos have dealt with watercolor, gouache, and now casein, as well as portraiture and fantasy art.

A number of Mr. Gurney's blog posts have chronicled his use of less common materials, including gouache and casein. It was his blog in fact that reminded me about casein, a kind of paint that has almost died out, and then stumbling onto milk paint by Sinopia in turn propelled my interest and experimentation. There is little available about methods and techniques in casein, since very few people have used casein much since it was replaced by acrylics in the 1960s, so experimentation is essential. Hands-on use helps to learn the physical properties of the paint, from it's relatively thick body to lightning-fast drying and so on, but learning from an expert would be better. There are probably art teachers who can teach and demonstrate with casein, but they're likely to be few.

Casein In the Wild, this new video from Mr. Gurney, helps to fill the teaching bill. He shows the paint, his colors, how he lays his palette, his various field outfits for painting (used with all water-based media), and gives a series of demonstrations of methods and techniques in casein. His discussions of how to use the unique properties of casein in constructing a picture are very valuable.



As is the case in his shorter, free videos on YouTube (several of which are actual segments from the commercial video) Mr. Gurney shows how casein can be handled at all consistencies of the paint mixes, from thin to quite thick, how it differs from similar materials (gouache, acrylic), and displays his almost casual mastery of brushwork and composition. Always engaging, often humorous, and clearly kind, he provides encouragement to the viewer with his clear instructional style and also in the form of aphorisms. My favorite deals with beginning a painting in casein: "Start thin, start wet, start soft, start loose..." a phrase he used while laying in a juicy wet layer of much-thinned casein over his under drawing before subsequent thicker and more opaque applications. Mr. Gurney most often begins with a more or less detailed drawing in watercolor pencil although one demo begins with a graphite lay in. He follows his own advice to the letter, beginning these works with thin washes to reduce the white of the paper in his sketchbook. He adds after a bit, "worry about hard, small, crisp details later," then shows how casein can be used in thicker consistencies to provide detail and eye appeal. He also demonstrates a casein painting executed without reference to drawing, rather like a plein air oil.

Casein, like gouache, shifts to a lighter more matte color as it dries because of the change in reflectance of the paint. A matte finish is an advantage to an illustrator whose work is to be photographed. But for fine art, a deeper and richer look is usually more desirable. Mr. Gurney gives a brief and dazzling example of a casein painting of a flower spike which he overlays with varnish, immediately enriching the image by transforming the depth and color. It's clear that casein can be used for more than sketching "in the wild," and in fact may be a wonderful alternative for painters wanting the effects of oil paint without exposure to solvents, or as an alternative to acrylics. Mr. Gurney uses watercolor sketchbooks in this video, and mentions appropriately that in thin applications casein can be used on paper, but if thicker application is desired, a more rigid support like panel or illustration board is preferable.

The casein video can be downloaded at Gumroad as well as his videos of gouache, watercolor, portraiture (using those materials) and more. Highly recommended.

By coincidence, Gurney Journey posted a link to another blog entry about casein posted December 1 on Lines and Colors an informative and useful blog by Charley Parker. His post there discusses casein better and more fully than I have.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Another New Portrait

This the latest in my series of foster children, just completed a week or so ago. The young lady's name is Erin, and as you can see she's an adorable-looking little girl. Like the other foster child portrait I posted, Erin has been awaiting adoption. If she were posing in person I would have had an opportunity to get to know her, which is a big part of making any portrait seem more alive. But I did my best to imagine her as a vivacious and perky girl who smiles easily and loves people and fun. She simply looks innately happy and attractive to me and that's how I tried to paint her.

The reference I used for this was shot outdoors, meaning skin tones could be different, but here they are really quite warm. Doing a portrait from a photo reference without an opportunity to see the actual subject is not optimal of course, but in the case of these foster kids I've made an exception. If I was doing a commission, I would need the subject to sit in my studio, under controlled-temperature lighting, where I would do a preliminary color sketch and shoot perhaps 20 to 50 reference photos. I'd also try to have more than one sitting if possible to at least start the final portrait. That isn't always possible when you're painting someone whose time is limited, but the first reference sitting is a must. At about 7 inches the head in this 12x16 portrait is near life-size.

As soon as this dries sufficiently, I'll ship it to the Heart Gallery that will display it.

Friday, November 25, 2016

New Portrait

A few months ago, a fellow member of Oil Painters of America contacted me after seeing my website
to ask if I would be willing to paint a portrait or two as a charitable donation to one of two programs. One called Hearts Apart keeps military families closer during deployment by providing family portraits. While the website in the link features photography, there is also a group of painters who work with the organization. Laurie Anspach, my colleague in OPA, has worked to provide portraits to military families facing a deployment for several years.

Additionally, Laurie has been doing portraits of children in foster care who are up for adoption. She does those through another organization The Heart Galleries of America. The Heart Galleries began as a way to show protential adoptive parents more attractive images of older children in foster care. These are independent organizations, active in many states, that provide photographic or painted portraits of older foster children and siblings. The portraits are exhibited in various settings as an aid to placement with permanent parents. It appears that these portraits actually increase the chance of these older children to be placed, Laurie says.

Laurie asked if I would do a foster child portrait, and of course I agreed. Although I don't know the name or age of the young woman whose portrait I finished a month or so ago, in the reference that was supplied she looks about fourteen or fifteen. While painting her portrait I contemplated her expression and her life. Portraiture, after all, is one person's understanding of another and not a simple depiction. So I spent time wondering what it must be like to be a post-adolescent girl with no parents, living in foster care, hoping for a permanent home yet knowing how difficult it is to find people willing to accept an older child. It's no surprise she has a careful and slightly cynical expression.This particular painting is 12x16 on a linen panel.
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Laurie Anspach Painting for Good Causes

Friday, November 18, 2016

More on Milk Paint

After I wrote about Artisanal Milk Paint from Sinopia not long ago, I took some time to read more about casein paint and decided to try out some tubed casein. Casein paint, made purely from pigment and casein, isn't really what you get with either the milk paint from Sinopia or tube paints. The paint is really an emulsion of casein, oil, and various other ingredients. The Richeson tube paint (Shiva), doesn't list ingredients in the vehicle, only the pigment, nor does the Richeson website page that answers questions about the paint, although other information provided onsite is quite useful. Nonetheless,  The liquid milk paint that I used for the first couple of casein paintings is an emulsion, and this thicker tube paint is very likely to be as well. The milk paint was wonderful to handle--thick and rich ("meaty" according to a painter friend), rather the consistency of thick yogurt. The liquid paint covers well and dries quickly to a completely satisfactory matte finish. Moreover, you can use casein paint on nearly any support. Unfortunately though, the selection of colors wasn't necessarily all I wanted to needed. Hence the tube paint.
"Fall Visitor," 2016, casein
I bought a set six 37 ml tubes of Richeson Shiva line casein including yellow ochre, Venetian red, cobalt blue, raw umber, ivory black and titanium white. It's hard to get along without raw umber, and the other colors were fine, but I soon discovered that I needed a brighter yellow and a cool blue, so I ordered a tube of cad yellow and one of phthalo blue to complete my set. Interestingly, like Sinopia paint, Shiva paints vary in consistency out of the tube. Tubed ivory black comes out almost solid and although usable it must be broken up for mixing. Cobalt blue, in contrast, is actually slightly runny. Nonetheless, Shiva paint mixes well and produces a feel similar to the Sinopia version, if one is careful about using water sparingly and mixing thoroughly. Like the liquid paint too, tube paint dries quickly and matte. I tried it out on an 11x14 piece of illustration board in the landscape to the left.

This is a view from my studio, and the visitor is a real one--deer migrate through the woods along my creek this time of year, usually in pairs. These are city deer and are so tame you can stand nearby without sending them bounding for cover.

In the coming few days and weeks I'll do some more investigating of casein, but so far it seems preferable to acrylic if you're interested in fast drying, in part because it's a natural product rather than being produced from petroleum. Besides that, it dries matte rather than glossy but retains good chroma and value.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Favorite Art Books Part 6

One of my favorite painters, crossing all eras, is Diego Velazquez. His work has a deep humanity and incisive observation that most works just don't. Couple his insight with an undeniable mastery of his medium and few painters in history can match him. He lived in the time of Rubens, Rembrandt, Hals, and other masters and although he became well-known near the end of his career, he was less famous.  it's hard to find much written about his personal life, but since he lived in the relatively insulated court of Felipe IV of Spain many of those records have come down to us. He lived in the palace and painted the vast majority of his works for that king, which meant that the public didn't see most of his masterpieces until well after he and Felipe were long-dead.

Diego Velazquez, "Pope Innocent X," 1650
Still, some of his most impressive work did become known during his lifteime. His portrait of Pope Innocent X was painted during a stay in Rome (on behalf of his king) about 1650, ostensibly because he was hoping for commissions from the church and others. The portrait was so realistic, according to several sources, that the Pope ordered it taken away, saying it was too real. Another well-known portrait by Velazquez is an image of his slave, Juan de Pareja, painted at about the same time. Those who saw it in a special exhibition there said that this painting alone represented "truth," while all others were just paintings. Perhaps his crowning masterpiece is "Las Meninas," painted in 1659 only a few years before he died and now on continuous display in the Prado Museum in Madrid. In that single painting, Velazquez demonstrates his mastery of everything to do with painting--composition, mastery of materials, and the kind of penetrating vision too many artists seem to lack.
"Juan de Pareja," 1650

Because of my admiration for Velazquez and curiosity about how he achieved such dazzling results with his brushwork while using the limited palette of the time, I've read a few books about him and attempted copies of a handful of his works. These three books have proven most engaging and useful to me, particularly when looking into the thinking and methods of the master. Not surprisingly, two are by the same author.










"Velazquez: The Technique of Genius," by Jonathan Brown and Carmen Garrido was published at the end of the 20th century, and brought together an art historian and a conservation scientist who discuss his work from the standpoint of art history and use of materials. Together they delineate techniques of Velazquez in fascinating detail. Jonathan Brown had already written authoritatively on the painter; Carmen Garrido was and is Head of Technical Services at the Prado in Madrid. Between them they have enormous expertise. They examined thirty painting, using the findings to show how Velazquez' methods evolved over the span of his career. The book starts with a biographical chapter by Brown and a chapter following by Garrido delineating his materials and methods, including how his technique evolved over his career. These two chapters seem a bit skimpy to a practicing oil painter, but provide valuable information about Velazquez' materials and techniques, particularly topics such as the fabrics he employed as supports--linen and hemp--as well as sizing and priming methods plus a list of pigments, and so on.

The authors marshaled impressive methods in their analysis of these paintings, including radiography, infrared and ultraviolet analysis and so on. The wide array of methods allows the authors to infer a great deal about the techniques and ideas embodied in the paintings. Of course,without writings by the painter (which seem not to exist), and no matter the evidence, it's not really possible to know what went on the painter's mind. Still, the analyses here are valuable to anybody who is interested in the work of this titan of oil painting, and there are literally no others that provide this level of information coupled with wonderful color closeups of the works. In particular, the evolution of Velazquez' technique is instructive, particularly how he achieved some of his most brilliant effects. There are chapters devoted to a number of favorites, including not only Las Meninas but several other favorites, including "The Forge of Vulcan," "Los Borrachos," and "Aesop." For a working painter, the insights and information provided, plus the glorious closeups of masterful brushwork and compositional struggles make this my favorite book about Velazquez. Highly recommended, but perhaps not so interesting for a general reader.

"Velazquez: Painter and Courtier," also by Jonathan Brown, was published in 1986 and is easily available online and in used book stores. In this volume Brown, who has spent his entire career fascinated by the Spanish master, collects information from the Spanish court records and other sources and puts the reader right there, in the Spanish Court of the 17th century. The volume is intended for both casual readers and scholars, and so there are likely to be sections that someone only dipping a toe into the waters might be happy to skip. But in his readable style, Brown helps us see how the painter and his work changed and grew during his long tenure as painter to Felipe IV of Spain. As with other books by Professor Brown, this one is lavishly illustrated in black and white and in color. Highly recommended.

Finally, Taschen publishes "Velazquez: Complete Works," an enormous volume containing all known works. This book is the definitive volume on the master, comprising the catalog raisonne and images of all known paintings. It is a large format book and for the general reader it's quite expensive. Nonetheless it's a lush with color  and details. For a painter interested in the works and the techniques of Velazquez this book might be useful. For others, perhaps not so much, although it is an undeniably beautiful volume.
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Other posts in this series
Favorite Art Books Part 5
Favorite Art Books Part 4
Favorite Art Books Part 3
Favorite Art Books Part 2
Favorite Art Books Part 1

 

Friday, November 04, 2016

Copying

There are those who hesitate to copy artwork because they worry about copyright, or about making a forgery. But copying the work of other artists either for practice or as an aesthetic measure of one's own has always been common. Artists in training often copy work of their masters or masters of previous eras. Rubens copied da Vinci, Degas copied Holbein, and van Gogh copied Millet, to name only a handful, and so it goes into our own time. It's fine of course to copy the work of others provided that 1) you label it as a copy or "after so and so," rather than your own original work and 2)  you don't pretend it's a long-lost original by the master's own hand. The first is fraud, the second is forging. [Of course, real forgers make new works in the style of various predecessors and then try to pass those as newly discovered masterworks.]

Beyond the legal and ethical limits, though, copying the work of a master is a good way to become at least passingly familiar with their techniques and media. Certainly copying has been worthwhile in my own learning and growth, and I've used any number of previous artists as models. As a realist, it's obviously been more important to me to learn the craft of representational art, and it's those kinds of works that have attracted my interest. Early on, I copied Velasquez, and Goya (two favorites) before branching out to other "old masters" and then into other representational work. Although I have copied works by artists of the 20th century, most of my study has been of the great realist painters of the past. I've made copies of quite a few painters including a few of the early 20th century.
After Durer: "The Large Turf, 1503" watercolor, 2002

Here is a watercolor copy I did of a well-known painting, also in watercolor, by the great master Albrecht Durer. It was painted in 1503 in Durer's studio in Nuremberg. He was perhaps twenty-five and already a master of many media including engraving, watercolor, and oil painting. This watercolor seems to clearly be a study of grasses and weeds, perhaps intended by Durer as a way to improve the backgrounds and other vegetation in his larger and more ambitious works. For me this piece provided intense study of draftsmanship, color, and meticulousness. It also showed me that his control of values, particularly the darks, gave true depth to his work, which of course this copy sorely lacks.

Albrecht Durer, "Wild Hare," watercolor 1502
As is commonly the case with copies I've made, this work taught me a great deal about the medium but also about the work and temperament of the original artist. Durer must have been an exceptionally patient draftsman. Studying his"Wild Hare," a watercolor from 1502 shows just how astonishing is talent really was. Again he controls the range of values from light to quite dark with amazing facility.











After Frederic Remington: "The Hungry Moon," oil on panel, 2013










This oil painting is a copy of a work by the renowned illustrator Frederic Remington, which is in the collection of the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This particular nocturne dates to 1906. Remington was a highly successful and wealthy illustrator and writer around the turn of the 20th century whose main subject was the American West. But in his last few years he began a series of night paintings that he called "nocturnes" with an eye to the fine art market. The series was very successful, so much so that Remington wrote to a friend that he had "landed among the artists, and well-up, too." The series was exhibited a few years ago at the National Gallery and other museums, where I had an opportunity to see them. These are mostly dark, low-key paintings with somber Western subjects. In this particular painting, he depicted three Native American women skinning a downed buffalo in the snow, at night, while their braves keep watch. The title says it all--these are desperate, hungry people. It was interesting to recreate Remington's composition (note how the horse to the right keeps us looking at the women) and imitate his palette. He used a generally cool blue-green tone overall to provide a sense of moonlight in many of his nocturnes, as he did in this one.

Again copying this work provided clues into what Remington's entire process. That is, by drawing the composition, then transitioning to a copy in oil I had an opportunity to follow his thought process and what digital artists today call "work flow." This copy is hardly up to the standards of the original, but as a way of learning and advancing craft, it was a valuable experience. To give an example of Remington's uncanny and delightful expertise, here's his nocturne, "The Stampede," from 1908, the year before he died. The moving cattle, galloping horse, and bold of lightning simply stopped me in my tracks as a 13 year-old boy in his first visit to an art museum (The Gilcrease Museum, in Tulsa, Oklahoma). This painting is fairly large and engages the viewer more completely in person.
Frederic Remington, "The Stampede," 1908




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Bio of Frederic Remington

Friday, October 28, 2016

Facial Expression

Faces carry enormous human importance. We can recognize faces of people we know using very few visual cues, and we recognize their emotional state as easily. It doesn't take much to see that even a very slight change of expression can carry enormous meaning or implications. Think of that slight
smile on the face of da Vinci's "La Gioconda," or "Mona Lisa." A tiny change in facial muscle position can alter a person's entire appearance. In the portrait by da Vinci, the smile is almost nonexistent, yet we recognize it as such. It's the very slight upturn of the woman's mouth and the neutral, level gaze that make us see her smiling.

Rembrandt von Rijn, "Self Portrait"1659

In the same way, an expression conveying sorrow doesn't require much of a change in the face. Rembrandt painted himself with just such an expression in his "Self Portrait," 1659 (in the collection of the National Gallery in Washington). We see a man in late middle age with a subtle expression that conveys chronic sadness. At that time in his life Rembrandt was in serious straits, having been near bankruptcy in 1656. During the intervening several years before this portrait, he had sold all of his art and antiquities collection as well as his house and printing press. In short, he was nearly destitute, and it shows. In his expression I believe I  see sharp intelligence and determination.

So it has occurred to me more often than once that learning to draw and paint human expressions is needful, and in particular adds layers of meaning to images of our fellow humans. These past few weeks I've been working a bit on facial expressions, drawing them using various media, including graphite, digital, and charcoal. In many cases I snagged an image of sadness, or pain, or other emotions from the internet. I also own "The Artist's Complete Guide to Facial Expression," by an artist named Gary Faigin, in print over 25 years now, and widely available. Faigin's discussion of how our facial muscles work to give us expression is a classic that I highly recommend.
"Pain,"graphite, 5x7
 Here is a sketch in graphite of a man in acute pain--his eyes are clenched shut and his mouth is drawn into a kind of grimace that gives it the configuration of a capital letter D lying on its left side, and showing teeth.

"Fear," charcoal, 18x24
The drawing at left is a young boy, perhaps 7 or 8, showing extreme fear. His eyes seem to bulge because his upper lids are retracted, showing the upper border of the iris. Further, his mouth has a similar shape to that of the man in pain above. Pain and fear often look similar, or go together.
















"Sadness or anguish," graphite, 5x7

This sketch shows sadness or anguish. The eyes are clenched, the mouth is stretched tensely on a nearly horizontal line, and the chin is lifted and somewhat "puckered," showing tiny dimples and wrinkles.


Clearly, infusing emotion into portraits humanizes the sitter. Moreover, it provides layers of meaning that would otherwise be missed. In the final image below, Ilya Repin painted Ivan the Terrible holding his dying son after wounding and killing him in a fit of rage. Ivan looks terrified, completely undone by killing his own son. Without those eyes and the expression they contain Repin would have failed to convey just how horrible the act must have been. Further, Repin makes a comment on the dreadfulness of violence.
Ilya Repin, "Ivan the Terrible and His Son," 1885 (detail)