Here are a couple of sketches I made recently while watching people buy tickers at the train station. Charcoal pencil on 8.5 x 11″ paper.
Archive for October, 2016
I’ve been meaning to make fixative out of casein for some time now, but until recently I haven’t done much art in a medium that need it. Today, I was in a conversation with an online friend about types of fixatives, and this subject came up, so I thought it was a good time to make some and test it out. Conclusion: it works very well.
If you’re possibly new to the term “fixative” and its use, it’s a coating that is added on top of dry media (charcoal, pastels, graphite, etc.) to keep it from smearing. Most commercial fixatives come in aerosol cans that use an acrylic resin. There’s a commercial brand of casein fixative on the market called SpectraFix. I’ve tried it, and it works okay; although, I’m not too fond of their pump sprayer.
I first heard of using casein as a fixative in a book about Paul Gauguin and his pastels where he learned this technique from Camille Pissarro. I later found a recipe for it in the Reed Kay book “The Painter’s Guide to Studio Methods and Materials.”
1 part by volume casein solution
2 parts by volume grain alcohol
5 parts by volume (distilled) water
The casein solution I used is the same as I always make for a base medium to start from. I describe it here in my most recent batch I made back in April. It has a couple drops of Thymol preservative in an 8 ounce mixture. It’s very easy to make. This batch came from raw milk, but it can also be made from dry casein powder, which I’ve talked about before. The grain alcohol I’m using is Everclear, which is 190 proof. A good clear Vodka could also work.
Mixing it was simple enough, so to apply it I used the Preval sprayer I wrote about a few years ago. I’ve used it occasionally for spraying primers and it works great. I found that the spray comes out with a little more force and volume than most aerosol cans I’ve used. As such, I knew to step back about 2 feet with the art surface upright, and move across the art in a quick sweeping motion; starting the spray off the art and finishing off the art.
The plastic sheet above has the fixative on it, and the sheet below it has none, so you can see how it turns the plastic very dull. When sprayed on paper, even black paper, I don’t see anything. Held up to the light, I can’t see any reflections. Each coat dries very quickly, under 10 minutes. When soft pastels were sprayed with two coats, I didn’t get any smearing.
At first, I got worried when I sprayed the grey pastels above. The whole image almost disappeared, but it came back as the fixative dried. It lost a little of it’s brightness, but otherwise worked fine. On the white paper sample, the color pastels didn’t seem to change value at all. It also works well on soft graphite pencils and charcoal.
I would have no concerns using this fixative on my finished work. I could also layer it; although, I would be reluctant to build it up too much – 3 to 4 coats max. The water content could cause paper to buckle, especially thin paper, unless it was stretched or taped down before the drawing was started.
These are a few high resolution photos from a set that my friend, Jim Vadeboncoeur Jr., took recently on his trip to Prague. They are three of a group of twenty paintings made by Alphons Mucha, called the Slav Epic.
The paintings are huge canvases, reaching up to about 20 feet wide. The medium is described as egg tempera mixed with oil, which is also known as “tempera grassa.” This medium works best with the technique he used to apply the paint.
One of the surprising revelations to me from these was how he painted large gradient areas as dabs of broken color. In reproductions I have seen of them, I’d always assumed that to be the texture of the paint, but the paint is actually quite thin. Instead he mixed the different shades and tones by hand, and applied them as thin brush strokes of dappled paint, most notable in the large skies. Coincidentally, I’ve found that when painting with an oil and casein emulsion, this is often the best way to work with the paint, rather than trying to blend large areas together. If you want it to look smoother, you can go back over it with a fatter oily layer.
Jim photographed all of the paintings and placed them on his Facebook page. There you can also see close up details.
In my ongoing exploration of drawing surfaces, I recently picked up a bottle of Liquitex Clear Gesso. An online friend was looking for a way to prime wood for oil paint but still let the grain of the wood show through. I suggested this product, and noticed that it was also recommended for drawing with pastels or other dry media.
Here I have painted a small square of the gesso on a sheet of black poster paper, and drew on it with a selection of different pencils; pastel, watercolor, graphite and charcoal. The media has a gritty sand paper texture like Ampersand’s Aquabord, or other similar acrylic primed surfaces that are made to have more tooth than regular acrylic dispersion (“gesso”) primers. It feels a little rougher than the Acrylic Ground for Pastels made by Golden. I suspect there’s acrylic resin mixed in to make it clear, since the Pastel Ground has silica and looks grayer when it’s wet. You can add water mixable paints or inks to color this gesso if you wish, and it can be thinned with water.
The particles catch the light and will give the surface a slight sheen at an angle. It’s thinner than regular acrylic gesso, more like acrylic medium. To avoid brush marks you might consider thinning it and applying multiple coats to make the strokes less noticeable, or use a sprayer. An eraser won’t work well removing any marks, but you can dab the surface and lighten them with an eraser. I noticed that if this gets slightly scratched it will leave scratch marks behind.
You can also paint on this with acrylics, gouache, casein, or oils. The tooth will give the paint something to adhere to on any hard slick surface, but it’s recommended that the surface first be sanded before applying the gesso, which might be noticeable through the clear gesso. My main complaint with these rough surfaces for painting is that they really chew up my brushes.
I’ve been working more on the painting, and completely changed the original setting. He’s now outdoors, sitting on a boat dock at a lake. This is based on a couple photos I had on file that I’ve merged together. I’ve refined the figure a bit from the last post, and roughly painted in the background. That strip of blue on the left is tape that is masking off a sign post I’ll paint in later.