Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Casein: Shades of Transparency

Whether they use them or not, most people are at least familiar with the three primary painting mediums: oil, acrylic, and watercolor. They may not be able to decipher the differences among them, and they probably do not know about the technical distinctions that apply to each painting process, but they know that these are the types of paints artists use. In actuality, these are just the three most well known forms of paint. Acrylic is actually quite recent. Before oil paint was used artists preferred encaustic (wax-based), tempera (egg yolk-based), and even fresco (painting on or in plaster). There are certainly other types of paint, too.

There are reasons why an artist chooses a particular painting medium. Sometimes this initially happens by accident. Perhaps this was the medium a teacher in high school or college preferred. It may be the medium he or she learned while taking a community art class. Eventually, an artist most likely uses a specific painting medium because it possesses certain qualities that are intrinsic to his or her painting process.

For me, the use of casein paint was a combination of things. I saw this water soluble paint, mixed with transparent watercolor, used in a demonstration during my freshman year of college. Some watercolor artists are purists and refuse to mix any opaque paints with their transparent ones. I liked the effect produced by this artist’s demonstration, so I purchased a tube of white casein and experimented.

I tended to stick with oil paint during most of my time as an undergraduate. However, I chose to use watercolor and casein for a pivotal work during my senior year. Taking Salvador Dali’s Corpus Hypercubus as a point of departure, I devised a crucifixion that portrayed a Christ not floating before cubes, but, himself, segmented into squares that floated off the gallery wall. This was really unlike anything else I was creating at the time. In many ways it was the impetus for the work I created during graduate school, and much of the work I have completed in the last decade.

What I discovered as I worked on that early piece was that there was a unique, visceral quality to the combined watercolor and white casein. I could achieve that subtle variation of bluish veins just beneath the surface of the skin in oil paint, but had not found a suitable equivalent with watercolor. The process allowed me to create "fleshier" works, but I was still only using it on occasion.

It was not until the end of the 1990s, when I began to paint on book pages, that the mix of watercolor and casein became a more common medium for me. My work with oil on book pages had revealed that a combination of transparency and opacity were essential when creating a substantial figure that still allowed the text to show through. The layering of transparent and more opaque colors was similar to my work in oil paint.

The main difference between the oil and watercolor work is that I am able to paint directly on the book pages when using watercolor. Works in oil sit on the surface of the paper. Pages must be coated with a clear acrylic medium so that the oil does not create a halo around the image and eventually deteriorate the fragile pages. In a way, when the watercolor stains the book pages the image and the page become one. The words and images are combined into a single unit so that they are closer to the incarnational concept that remains such an integral part of most of my work.


hello i am a person said...

I did this in high school for my gcse :D but i scrapped it because mine didn't work out too well. I'm about to try it again for my college course, would you mind if I used you as an artist reference?

Musings on Contemporary Art & Artists said...

I'm always happy to share my work with others for the purpose of education. Just be sure to give the proper attribution (list my name and website -