Polar Bear

Casein painting of a polar bear sticking its head out of the water

What? Three posts in one week? What is the world coming to? Well, before you die from shock I should tell you that this is older content I’m finally posting here now that I’ve updated the website.

Something that’s been happening over the past year is that I’ve started dabbling in traditional media again after a long hiatus. Kate started this by wanting to experiment herself, and she encouraged me to as well. I first worked with gouache again, but due to James Gurney’s videos where he’d paint plein air in casein I decided to give casein a try and have been painting in it a lot. This polar bear is one of them.

Casein paint can be deduced by its name to have something to do with milk, and that’s true. The paint is bound with casein dissolved in an alkali like borax. Casein paint has a particular smell to it that’s not horrible, but it is indeed peculiar. It is probably one of the oldest kinds of paint there is, and was especially popular with illustrators because the paint dries to an even consistency and is perfect for photographing for print. Acrylic paint largely replaced it for that purpose in the 1960’s. There is only one manufacturer of casein paint today — Richeson.

I don’t quite remember at this point how I came to paint a polar bear, but I think Kate just suggested it at random when I inquired about what I should paint next. I think the piece shows off some of casein’s strengths. I painted the bear first completely to finish before I ever worked on the water. I took care to paint the fur differently above the water than in it to give the appearance of being underwater. I waited until the bear was dry then painted the water in washes of color over the top. You can’t do this in gouache because the paint below will reactivate and mix with whatever is painted on top. You can in casein because the paint seals when it dries like it does with acrylic. Casein paint can still be reactivated but only if you add a drop of ammonia. This gives it a versatility that borders on oil.

The painting is 9″×12″ in casein on watercolor paper.