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.

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