Archive for the ‘Discoveries’ Category


Plaster Coated Paper for Gouache Paint

May 4, 2017

As I get ready to prepare the surface for my new painting, I wanted to test out a ground to use especially for the grass area I’ll be painting. I’ll be using a large sheet of illustration board, and coating it with a thin ground made with spackling compound.

Spackling is a paste made out of (typically) calcium carbonate, silica, and glycol. You can find it at hardware stores, and it’s used for filling small holes and cracks in walls prior to painting. It can be thinned with water. I’ve added a small amount of acrylic medium to improve the adhesion and make it more flexible. In the picture above, I’ve drawn an area in pencil to show the rough texture it makes. It feels like a fine grit sandpaper. I applied just one coat. It creates a nice paint ground, but can lift if you use a very wet wash. Adding acrylic medium helps prevent that.

The main reason I’m using this particular ground is to allow me to lightly scrape away paint layers. You can see the marks I’ve made on the small test area of gouache paint in the picture. It will help me create a more convincing grass texture. The tools I used here are a bamboo pen and a solder scraping brush. The bamboo doesn’t dig too deeply into the plaster, and the steel brush gives a fuzzy, random scratch. I’m using various commercial gouache paint, as well as a couple of my own. This should work well for me.

I’m adding a closeup of the painted area to show the scratch marks better.


Sinopia Casein Gesso Update: Jar Problem

May 2, 2017

I’m interrupting my series of posts on the new painting to point out a problem I discovered today with a jar of Casein Gesso from Sinopia. This follows up on two posts I made in the past: one is a review of this product, and another was how I store paint containers like this upside down.

I bought this jar of gesso a little over a year ago, and keep it inside a drawer in my studio. I haven’t used it in awhile, but today I decided to open the drawer to try it out again, only to find the contents had leaked out. The lid was screwed on tight, but that wasn’t enough to stop air from getting in, and some of the contents leaking onto the drawer. Fortunately that was plastic, so it was easy to clean (that’s what that clean piece of gel is in the picture,) but I had to use a plumber’s wrench to get the lid off, and found that about 1/3 of the paint had dried out. That rounded disk inside the lid is about 1/2 inch layer of dried paint, and more dried on the sides of the jar. It had been stored upside-down.

As I mentioned in the article link above, I store containers like this upside down just for this reason. Screw-on lids of this type make very poor containers for paint, since air gets in easily. Even if this was stored upright, air gets in, and would have dried out the paint even worse. Some jars you can buy come with cushions inside the lid, sponges or thick paper, that help seal the jar. Another solution I’ve used in the past is to wrap wide tape around the outside. That has to be replaced frequently, but it’s better than throwing away paint.

Metal cans for paint make a better seal than a screw-on lid, unfortunately, a quart size can is the smallest available. Tubes are also better since the opening is smaller, so less air gets in. The best option is to use it up quickly. Prime several sheets of paper stock or canvas that you have on hand, and don’t store the left over paint for very long.


Watercolor Paper Stretcher – Version 3

November 1, 2016

My previous version of a paper stretcher worked well enough, but it was a bit awkward and bulky in the design, so I came up with another modification.


I replaced those 4 strips of wood clamped to the outside edge with several small strips of wood glued to the back of the frame and flush with the outside edge. Now I don’t have separate strips of wood to carry around or lose.


In place of the screw clamps, I’m now using 2 inch binder clips attached to these strips of wood. I can fold the wet paper around the edge, and use the clips to hold it place. Now I don’t have to tape the paper to the back when it dries in order to remove the clamps. I can leave the clips on while I’m painting.


The metal handles on the clips are also removable, which makes the frame sit better on an easel or flat on a table.


This frame is 16 x 20.” I may build a larger one, and have the four 1/8 strips go along the whole length of the outer edge so I can place the clips wherever I want. I didn’t have enough scrap wood for that this time, but this will work just as well.


Homemade Casein Fixative

October 27, 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.


Preview: Drawing on Liquitex Clear Gesso

October 19, 2016

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.


Lip Balm Tube Holder for Oil Pastels

September 9, 2016


Okay, here’s my latest experiment. I was online looking for some more gum arabic powder to make some gouache, and I found a new supplier to try out, Mountain Rose Herbs, who had a good price. While on their site, I saw they had various containers too, including empty lip balm tubes. (People make their own lip balm? Okay.)

As some of you who have been following my blog may know, I make my own oil pastels. Seeing these empty lip balm tubes you can probably see where my idea went, so I bought a few to try out as oil pastel holders. The order came in the mail yesterday.


The first thing was to melt the block of charcoal pastel I had made into a liquid using a coffee cup warmer and a muffin tin. I thought I might want to make the pastel a bit harder, so I shaved off a bit of encaustic wax too. I found a piece of plastic from some packaging that made a better funnel by using a snipped off corner, and poured the wax into the tube.


So, how well does it work? Not bad. It poured in fairly easy, but the wax hardens quickly, and this left some air gaps in the tube. I need to find a better tool to push it down and fill it with more wax. The tube is small (1/2 x 1″), but they’re cheap (.30 each) so I can make several at once. The cooled wax will easily push up, but not back down by turning the dial at the bottom. It does make a nice holder, and is not messy to use.


New Design for Watercolor Paper Stretcher

September 6, 2016

I thought up a new project to update my method for stretching paper on a wooden frame instead of taping it to the face of a board. I had made a post on this subject several years ago showing a cheap and easy way that I have been doing this. That works fine, but the pins or staples on the sides can eventually damage the frame to such a degree that I have to make another one. So I thought I’d try out a new design using wood clamps. This is my first rough of that idea.


What I’ve done is build a small strainer type frame similar to that used for stretching canvas. The size is 16 x 20 inches. I’m using 3/4″ square strips of poplar, and thinner strips for the inner bracing. I have longer strips to fit the outer edges, and I’ve built small “C” clamps made of wood and 4″ bolts to grip the paper.


Here’s a shot of the the whole assembly from the back with the clamps in place. I’m using 300# Arches watercolor paper. It had been soaking in a tub of water for 10 minutes. The paper wasn’t quite long enough to wrap all the way around the shortest distance; only up the sides. In this case, I’ll have to keep the clamps on those two sides until I’m finished painting. With paper at the correct length, once it dries I can tape it to the back, and then remove the clamps with the tape holding it tight.


Here’s the front. I noticed that I had the clamps pressing against the paper on the top, and you can see marks they left in the paper. I pulled the clamps back a bit, and re-wet the paper to smooth it, and that got rid of the indentations. I think I’ll modify the clamps so that they have a beveled edge that can’t touch the paper. I might bevel the inner frame also, just in case.

This has only been drying now for about an hour, and I can already feel the paper getting very tight. I’ll check it in the morning to see how well it holds up. I can paint on this with any water based media without worrying about buckles or warping in the paper.