Archive for June, 2014

Developing a Consistent Body of Work

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

Experimentation is all well and good…to a point. But when it interferes with consistency, the time has come to stop. I’ve found experimentation valuable to satisfy my curiosity about alternative media, such as casein, the topic of the past three blogs. Not because it’s given me more to work with but because either I can lay it aside without regret and focus on media that conform better to my style, tastes, and working methods, or I have been able to determine how it might fit into my work.

This past month I had the opportunity to help teach a large painting class. The materials the sponsor provided for the class were called “watercolor” but the medium looked and behaved much more consistently with the characteristics of casein. Having just familiarized myself with casein, I was able to use the paints successfully to teach basic artistic principles. But both of us teaching felt that passing off one medium as another was a disservice to the clients because the opaque, matte medium we had to work with prevented our demonstrating the beautiful transparent characteristics that typifies watercolor at its best. I have determined that casein has no place in either my studio or my inventory.

130726w River Point

I love the flow, transparency, and challenge of watercolor, as illustrated in “River Point” (#130726, above). With care, these characteristics can carry over into acrylics, which serve as a transition medium for me. Acrylic work led me into an appreciation of the denser texture, more easily controlled color, and essentially more tactile experience of working with oil. Yet by comparing the watercolor above with the oil painting, “Among the Reeds” (#130727) below, it’s easy to see that the styles I’ve developed in oil and water don’t mix particularly well.

130727o Among the Reeds

Although both mediums provide beautiful results, the difference between approaches that those two mediums require creates too great a shift in my painting style. Although the color palettes I tend to favor in the two mediums are similar and subject matter overlaps, the appearance of my finished works in oil and in watercolor is too disparate for them to be shown together as a consistent, “representative” body of work.

120507a San Marco Gondoli

Unless I can find a consistent way to align these two styles more closely (as I managed to do in the acrylic “San Marco Gondoli,” #120507), I’ll have to make a choice: to concentrate solely on a transparent watercolor/acrylic approach, focus instead on a more heavily textured acrylic/oil approach, or develop two entirely separate inventories to represent these disparate styles.

I would welcome your comments and feedback.

Studio Experimentation—A Casein Point, Studio Trial #3 of 3

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

For the past two blogs, I’ve written about my experimentations with casein paints, questioning whether they might provide a viable alternative to watercolor, acrylics, and oils. My goals in this third and final trial, were two-fold. I wanted to see how the paint behaved on a canvas panel, as opposed to the papers I had used in the first two trials. And I wanted to try incorporating some additional casein emulsion as a medium to thin the paint and increase the flow, in lieu of using just water, which dried too quickly in low humidity.

Trial #3: Because I had already been warned that casein would crack and chip off flexible canvas, even on stretchers, I chose a small (6”x8”) rigid pre-gessoed canvas-covered panel for my support. I began by mixing some of the emulsion into a pile of yellow as a primer for the sunset composition I had planned.

Using the emulsion, my initial wash was very easy to spread and applied smoothly in a gratifyingly even coat. Subsequent applications also applied more easily on top of the first when I included some extra emulsion in the paint mixture. I found I really enjoyed the feel of working on the canvas surface.

As in previous trials, if too much water remained on my brush after rinsing it, subsequent brush strokes sometimes lifted off underlying layers of even previously dried paint. So I learned to dab excess water off the rinsed brush onto an absorbent surface before picking up fresh paint from the palette. When I was careful to do this, glazing one layer over another posed little problem. I used this technique in the clouds.

140306c Casein Sunset

In the water area of the painting, however, I found it difficult both to control the saturation of the paints and to create a smooth transition between hues. In another situation, it might have been easier to create a graded transition by mixing glazes of the more transparent pigments in a higher proportion of emulsion. But with my limited color options, and to solve the problems of both saturation and transition, I turned to optical color mixing, applying one color next to another, which proved more effective than layering one color on top of another.

One benefit of the emulsion was that it served to slow the drying time, so the paint remained workable for a longer period. I hadn’t mixed it into all my color piles, which proved to be a mistake, because some of my paint puddles dried on the palette before I had finished the painting session. The additional water that was needed to remoisten them resulted in some color being lifted off the canvas when the rewetted paint was applied.

Even after allowing the painting to rest and dry for several hours, when I returned to it, intending to give it a buff, I found that wherever I had used the emulsion more heavily, the surface was not yet thoroughly dry. That in itself was a valuable lesson in how well the emulsion works to slow the drying rate, and how important it is to blend it in evenly when mixing it with the paint.

Eventually, buffing the canvas painting lifted a little of the color as before—in this case primarily yellow—which emphasized the weave texture of the canvas. Only the raised portions of the fabric polished up to a satiny gloss, of course, while the parts of the weave left untouched by the buffing cloth remained matte. This effect had not been so evident in the first trial on canvas-textured paper, probably because the texture of the paper was considerably shallower so the buffing cloth was able to treat the entire surface.

If you have ever worked with casein paints, I would like to hear about your experiences with it and about any techniques that you found helpful.