Two Sketches From the Weekend

October 16, 2017

Here are a couple recent sketches I picked out from over the weekend. One of my friend, Pierre, enjoying a bottle of wine. The other is a quick sketch I made at the library. That one I didn’t have time to finish, but at least the library will still be there to go back to.


Appreciating Artist Jon Whitcomb

October 9, 2017

Recently I’ve been browsing through online archives of illustration art, and particularly spending time on one of the greats, Jon Whitcomb. Here are a few gems of his that I’ve picked out. Most of the paintings he made in his career were done with the gouache medium, and he was a master.


Testing Gesso Made from Cellulose Gel

October 1, 2017

A few days ago I was scanning the internet looking for raw art supply materials, and I came across a site that sold a gesso mix using methyl cellulose. This was “Eco Gesso” sold by Natural Earth Paint. I was surprised, but intrigued. I’ve used methyl cellulose (MC) and Carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) as art mediums before, but not in this manner. (Here’s a link to a previous post using MC mixed with oils.) I’ve made gesso before using rabbit skin glue (RSG) or casein for many years. My first reaction to one of this type was that MC or CMC would be too weak by comparison to serve as an effective foundation for painting; however, being naturally curious, I decided to try to make some of my own, and test it out. A $30 kit from Natural Earth sounded like too much to pay for experimenting.

I’ve read that CMC has a stronger bond than MC, so I took a teaspoon of CMC powder, and converted it into a gel by adding eight teaspoons of distilled water.

Next I added water to thin this out, and solids to make the gesso. That’s the gesso in the metal bowl.

I took a scrap panel I had, 8 x 10 inches, patched it up a bit, and applied the first thin coat.

Here’s the finished panel with 8 coats.

I had to make 3 different attempts at this. The first batch of gesso I made, using the same ratios of CMC gel that I use with either RSG or casein was too thick, and the end result on the dry panel was dusting off too much, leading me to believe the glue was too weak to hold that much gypsum. This panel is the second attempt, which had 25% less solids, but the same glue strength. It went down very smoothly, and although it didn’t powder off as badly as the first one, it still was rather weak. I could wipe the surface and get a powdery residue. I made a third attempt by using less water in the glue, and it didn’t brush on as smoothly, but still dusted off.

In summary, this gesso is much weaker than those made using RSG or casein, just as I first suspected. However, it’s not completely unusable. It’s like painting a fresco. Wet paint will turn pastel from mixing with the surface powder, but still hold. You can see the difference of this burnt umber paint on the CMC gesso panel compared to the same paint on a scrap piece of watercolor paper. If one doesn’t mind that desaturation of color, then it can work acceptably with either water based or oil based paints. The CMC powder can be found online very easily. I bought mine at a local ceramic supply store. It doesn’t have to be heated or refrigerated like the other glues, but can grow mold. A drop of preservative, like thymol, will prevent that. Personally, I’ll stick to the other glues. They make a stronger surface and are more versatile, but it’s good to know there’s an alternative.


Casein Glue Made from Instant Milk Powder

September 23, 2017

I was at a friend’s house recently, and as we were talking about my experiments with making casein, she complained that she had some dry “instant” milk powder she had bought for her young son, but he didn’t like the taste. She let me take it home to experiment with, since I had never tried making casein from a dry powdered milk before.

This particular brand from Saco Foods is like other commercial milk powders I’ve seen at grocery stores “fortified” with vitamin A & D (and sometimes E) so I’ve always avoided using them, but there are other brands on the market that don’t have anything else added. It could be convenient and more economical to make casein from this if it works out well. It did. Here’s how I made it:

I followed the instructions to re-hydrate the powder by adding 3 3/4 cup of water (distilled) to one package, 3.2 ounces, of powder. This made about 4 cups of milk. I used a blender to mix it well, and set it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. The next morning, I poured the milk into a pot, and heated it on the stove to @150 degrees, turned off the heat, and added 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar. Stirring for a couple minutes it congealed into a ball of casein. So far so good. I removed the ball of casein and filtered the liquid through cheesecloth to catch as much extra casein as possible, and then tore up all the casein into small pieces so it would dissolve more easily. In the picture below is a bowl of about 2.5 ounces of casein from the 4 cups of instant milk.

I rinsed the casein in clean water a couple times to remove as much of the vinegar as possible. Next I placed it in a 12 ounce jar, and I diluted 2 teaspoons of borax in 1/2 cup of distilled water that I heated in the microwave for about 20 seconds, and then added to the casein. This will turn the casein into a glue gel.

After about 6 hours or so the casein had started to transform into a gel, but was still a little lumpy. At this point I stirred in a drop of thymol to act as a preservative, and let it sit for awhile longer. After about 12 hours it had transformed into a very thick and stiff gel, about 1/2 cup.

Comparing this to other casein glue I’ve made I would say the gel from raw milk is more opaque, and gel made from dry casein powder is has a slightly darker amber tone. It does feel slightly sticky, so I would guess it will work just fine for my needs in making paint, gesso, or fixative. Very encouraging.

I’ll check out a few local grocery stores to see if I can find some instant milk powder that is unfortified. If not there are plenty of brands on the internet I could order. Here is one from Bob’s Red Mill, for example. The label says it has 0% vitamin A, so no Palm oil is added, and no vitamins D or E. The vitamin C is a natural milk component. From that 22 ounce packet I should get about 4 cups (32 ounces) of casein gel. If I remember correctly, I can get about 16 ounces of gel from a gallon of fresh milk. In powder form, the milk can be stored up to 2 years.


Drawing Final: Lashonda Florescent

September 19, 2017

Here’s the finished drawing; although, I still need to clean up a few small spots. I’ll let it sit for awhile to see if I want to add anything else. I may scrape away a little of the edges near the florescent stripes to make them appear to glow more.

I sprayed this with a couple coats of fixative, and noticed a slight problem afterwards. I was going to make up a fresh batch of my homemade casein fixative, but decided to use a commercial brand (Grumbacher) that I had handy. I noticed when I brought the drawing in under a light that there was a dusting of small white particles on the surface that came from the spray can. Fortunately, I was able to brush them off without disturbing the fixed charcoal underneath. My casein fixative doesn’t do that, so I’ll use that next time.


Drawing Update 2: Lashonda Florescent

September 17, 2017

Here’s the latest state of the drawing. I’ve decided on a different approach for the background. The blending wasn’t working out to my satisfaction. The surface was too irregular to get it as smooth as it needed to be. So, decided to draw straight lines over it, and I think this will look better anyway.

I’m still drawing lines on the left side. Next I’ll add detail to her hair, and then it should be ready for fixative and clean-up.


Drawing Update: Lashonda Florescent

September 11, 2017

Here’s the latest state of the new drawing. Everything is still in process, but I think her face is coming long nicely. I’ve decided that the background was too blotchy, so I used a paper stump to smooth it out. I’m going to try for a contrasting effect to make the background more out of focus. We’ll see how that looks as I get further along.

I’m using a couple different charcoal pencils for the thinner lines of her face and chest. I have a Conte and Wolff brand, and the Wolff is slightly darker. An X-Acto razor blade is used to cleanup lines, and lighten and sharpen areas, such as the highlight on her lips. The blade isn’t digging into the plaster surface, but when held lightly it just pushes the charcoal aside, and can then be blown away. You could use a razor on paper too to some degree, but it doesn’t remove as much of the charcoal as it does on plaster. For blowing, I use a drinking straw, and cover areas I don’t want hit with the air with scrap paper. Sometimes just tapping the back of the board will knock off the dust.