Demonstration of Watercolor & Casein
by Bill Hudson
A couple of times each year I’m invited to give a painting demonstration at a monthly art league meeting. Typically, I arrive early, set up, and judge recent works brought in by attending artists who may number from 25 to 200. At smaller club meetings, rather than judge winners in each category, I’ve been asked to critique recent paintings.
Last month at the Huntington Beach Art League (HBAL), with roughly 150 in attendance, I first judged about 60 pieces of original art in: watercolor, oil/acrylic, mixed media, drawing/pastel, photography, and ceramics/3D. HBAL began in 1962 and now has 250 to 300 members. After their president, Eileen McCollogh, made a few announcements, I was introduced to demonstrate for the next hour and a half on the stage of the new Senior Center.
I explained that I am a representational maritime watercolor artist. My father and his family were watermen on the Chincoteague Bay of Virginia where I developed a life-long fascination with wooden work boats, harbors, docks, fish shacks, crabbing, fishing, the interface of land and sea, and the lives of watermen. Logically these became topics for most of my paintings and, appropriately, watercolor became my favorite medium. It can make objects appear as sources of light, and its wet-in-wet spontaneity is unmatched.
However, transparent watercolor can be difficult to master with its challenges and limitations. It requires preplanning and often demands care and/or the use of masking fluid to
preserve the white of the paper to achieve light-over-dark representations. For example, a maritime painter frequently renders bright crashing waves over dark lava rocks … or wet, shinning eel grass exposed against dark tidepools during extreme low, slack tides. Personally, I am
not a transparent watercolor purist who only uses the paper to achieve white. In fact, I often prefer painting opaque white/light objects over dark backgrounds. I also enjoy the freedom near the completion of a painting to add details at my whim with no preplanning. These efforts often require the opacity of either gouache or acrylic paints, but I object to the visual chalkiness of gouache and the plastic properties of acrylic when either is used with a watercolor. So, after some research, I discovered a complementary water medium that offers every artist new options while retaining the appearance of a transparent watercolor. That medium is the oldest paint known to man … casein … which uses milk curds as a binder rather than the gum arabic found in watercolor and gouache.
As with past demonstrations I asked how many have painted with casein. Only two hands went up in the room of 150. And I recognized both as people I had recently introduced to casein. Imagine, the oldest paint known to man, a paint used regularly by the old masters, is now barely known by anyone thanks to the introduction of acrylics in the 60’s.
With that introduction, I began my actual demonstration. I painted two dark windmill silhouettes – one with watercolor, the other with casein. Both were visually identical – indistinguishable from each other. I then applied a sky-like watercolor wash over each. The watercolor windmill reactivated, blurred, and contaminated the sky wash. The casein windmill remained unaffected because casein dries rapidly and does not readily reactivate. I then used casein greens and yellows to opaquely paint bright trees over my dark, Payne’s Gray windmills. No masking fluid or paint-around required.
The remainder of the evening I spent painting a seascape of waves pounding against the rocks on a beach cove. I used white casein spattered with blue and purple watercolor to depict the waves.
I’ve searched YouTube and found only a handful of artists using casein and none using casein as a complementary tool with transparent watercolor. I intend to film
a video to include in next month’s newsletter to help visualize the merits of this neglected medium.
For now, here was my approach to painting “Spiddal” featured above. Also, since we artists are frequently asked, “How long did that painting take?” I’ve included my time for each step. I am slower than most, but I enjoy every painting minute while listening to oldies-but-goodies.