Posts Tagged ‘casein paints’

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.

Studio Experimentation—A Casein Point, Studio Trial #2 of 3

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

As I wrote about last time, I had heard about casein paints and set out to investigate whether they would provide a good alternative medium for me to use. I learned a lot from my initial studio trial, but I also wanted to see if the paint could be used with watercolor techniques to achieve a freer, more flowing appearance.

Trial #2: My second trial was on 140# watercolor paper. My main interest was to see if the paint could be applied wet into wet, like watercolor. Using a still-life setup similar to the one I had used for the first trial, I blended the red with some burnt sienna on my palette so I wouldn’t be faced with the glazing problems I had incurred previously. I wet the watercolor paper and applied the paint. The wet-into-wet technique did provide a somewhat smoother spread of pigment. But after that initial application, the surface seemed to dry just as quickly as in the initial trial. I realized from this that watercolor techniques would be difficult to use with this kind of paint.

140305c White Pitcher

I had to continually remoisten the paints on my palette to keep them workable, though I found that the pile of titanium white left over from the previous day’s work didn’t absorb the water as easily or as evenly as I had expected. I finally gave up on trying to reuse it and squeezed out a fresh supply.

Having experimented with mixing the colors during the first trial, I felt more confident about finding appropriate blends for the second trial. Mixing on the palette proved more successful than attempting to glaze or blend colors directly on the paper. But I had to achieve soft edges and transitions by scumbling or optical mixing rather than by using wet-into-wet bleeds or by dragging one hue into another. And I found that the dark-to-light approach was more suitable for this medium than watercolor’s light-to-dark approach, which I generally prefer.

Buffing didn’t prove quite as successful on the paper surface as it had on the sealed surface of the canvas-textured paper in the first trial. This may have been because the absorbent paper had left a thinner coating of paint over most of the surface by the end of the second trial than there had been over the first painting. I was also more cautious about buffing areas into which the red pigment might encroach, so didn’t press as firmly, which may have kept it from reaching a higher gloss. Overall, though, I was more satisfied with the results of the second trial (see “White Pitcher,” above).

Next time I’ll try out the casein paints on a canvas panel. Check back to see what difference that surface makes.

Studio Experimentation—A Casein Point, Studio Trial #1 of 3

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Have you ever worked with casein paints? I hadn’t until recently. Casein paint is based not on gum Arabic, like watercolors, or on oil or acrylic, but on milk protein. It was a popular alternative to oil paints during the first half of the 20th Century, but lost popularity when acrylic paints were developed and popularized in the ‘50s. Now I was able to find only one manufacturer who still makes and distributes this medium in the US—Jack Richeson, under the Shiva brand.

In order to try them out to see if I’d even like using them, I placed an order for a basic set of 6 colors—rose red, ultramarine blue, Naples yellow, Shiva (phthalo) green, carbon black, and titanium white, and supplemented that preselected set with a burnt sienna. I figured that with that palette I could mix just about any color I would need to get a good feel for how the medium behaved. And oh what a surprise they provided!

Trial #1: My first test was to be on a 6” square of canvas-textured paper. Although casein is a water-soluble paint, it did not behave at all like watercolor. But perhaps I shouldn’t have expected it to. The paint beaded up on the non-absorbent canvas paper if I added too much water to it. And its opaque quality caused it to become streaky if I used it straight from the tube. Eventually, I managed to find a better working consistency on my palette. …But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Setting up a simple still life as my subject, I sketched the design onto the paper and squeezed out some of the rose red for the background. What I had supposed would be a slightly cool red (typical of a “primary red” paint for mixing) was a shocking cerise. I checked the other colors. Black and white were standards, so not a problem. The phthalo green and ultramarine blue were what I had expected—strong, rich, and highly saturated; and I was pleased to see that the “Naples” yellow had a considerably higher saturation than I had come to expect of the name. So all the colors were highly saturated. Which I figured was good, because it’s considerably easier to de-saturate a color than to brighten it up.


The logical solution for the searing cerise seemed to be to merely gray it down a little with a bit of green to more closely match my still-life setup. But mixing my only green into the rose-red paint created not a muted rose but a vibrant violet! Obviously, the usual rule of thumb that “red + green = gray” wasn’t working in this situation. I mentally reviewed basic color theory. Both the “primary” red and the “secondary” green had a cool bias. Which meant that, theoretically, I needed to add a warmer influence (such as yellow, the complement of violet) to de-saturate the purple. The yellow helped. A little.

The casein paint dried quickly on the canvas paper—about as quickly as watercolor or acrylics. Fortunately, unlike acrylic, the casein can be reactivated with water, both on the palette and on the paper.

When the initial study was almost done, I still wasn’t happy with the colors. The red was still too intensely cerise. So I tried applying a glaze of burnt sienna to warm the red even further, de-saturating it somewhat in the process. To avoid lifting the underlying paint from the paper, I needed to work quickly, using a single pass of the brush, to apply a glaze on top. That was easier said than done. As the paint dried quickly on the palette, it didn’t spread easily on the painting and created too opaque a coating for a true glaze.

On the other hand, if I added water to the palette, the mixture sometimes became too wet and either virtually disappeared as it was applied over the red or threatened to lift the underlying layer completely off the paper. By allowing separate applications to dry between repeated thin coats, my struggling attempts to get it right eventually at least came close (see “Cream Pitcher,” below).

140304c Cream Pitcher

I’d been told that the matte surface of a dried casein painting could be buffed to a satin gloss. So I tried that and was very pleased with the effect. The only drawback was that the red pigment lifted a bit and carried across the surface. This didn’t have much effect on most of the other colors, but it did pink-down the white highlights enough that they disappeared and had to be reapplied.

Check back next time for Trial #2.