Friday, December 16, 2016

Casein investigations

It's only by experimenting with paint, or a new drawing material, or brushes or whatever that I begin to understand them. Casein paint is a particular example. There aren't many instructional resources out there, excepting James Gurney's useful instructional video "Casein in the Wild," available on Gumroad and his short free videos on YouTube and as various snippets in his blog and elsewhere. There definitely are no experts in casein providing instruction in Iowa. But I have a few tubes of Richeson's Shiva casein paint, so I'm doing studies and paintings with them as I learn. Here are some recent ones.

"Leonard" was a quick study done on an 8x10 panel. I used an online photo reference and limited my palette to ivory black mixed with a touch of phthalo blue plus white to make this monochrome study in casein.
"Leonard," casein 2016
Although casein ivory black tends to be very thick, almost gelled as it comes out of the tube, but casein stays wet and usable quite a while when squeezed out on a piece of wet paper towel. (This is a nice trick for gouache, too.) Despite its nearly gelled consistency it thins nicely with water and mixes well with white to make a full range of grays. I tried to make at least 5-6 values of gray in this one to show subtle differences in skin tones. Here I was practicing with the paint itself--trying to learn its physical properties.

"Erin," milk paint on panel
This small sketch was a quick grisaille study of a portrait subject, "Erin," whose portrait I posted some weeks ago. Although you might think this was a preparatory work for the oil portrait in fact this was done later, as a way to do more work with milk paint.

Sinopia milk paint comes in a considerably more liquid form than Shiva casein, although it dries equally fast. The thinner consistency took some getting used to when mixing, but the result was a satisfying range of grays. These colors are Sinopia's Charcoal Black and Milk White only.

This is 5x8, painted spontaneously over an old oil sketch I had laying around the studio. I used the same photo reference employed for the formal portrait because knowing the subject's face meant I could concentrate more on the paint itself. There is no blue in the darks in this limited-value sketch. The old failure underneath was in mostly warm tones (the blue on the side of her face is under painting). The idea here was to paint a limited range of values as well.
"Erin," casein on cold-press watercolor paper
Finally I did a full-color portrait in casein, my first in the medium. Again it's Erin, the foster child in my previous portrait. This work is 12x16 on heavy watercolor paper, but no doubt it would be better on a more rigid support like a plywood panel prepped with gesso. Furthermore, watercolor paper can be quite absorbent, which speeds the drying time even more, altering the handling rather significantly at first.

The casein delivered a full range of values and allowed good modelling of the volumes of the head, and the paint holds its chroma after drying. I have a hunch that it will look better when varnished. While I'm not sure that casein is ready for widespread use in portraits, it's certain to be useful in my practice in a number of ways. It's a fine medium for quick studies since it dries so quickly. And it may be useful as preliminary under painting for oils too. More investigations coming.

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