View Full Version : Casein Practice on Paper

09-14-2006, 05:41 PM
This is a little study in casein done with light washes on a piece 6" x 3.5" 140lb. Arches watercolor paper. The paper had a light yellow ochre wash of watercolor. As you can see I don't have a steady hand. The painting has not been sealed in any way.
C & C, etc. always appreciated.

09-14-2006, 07:33 PM
I like it lots.

Richard Saylor
09-14-2006, 09:38 PM
Very nice! It's not necessary to seal it. Just treat it like a regular watercolor painting, unless you want to frame it without glass.


09-14-2006, 10:56 PM
Thank you Andy and Richard, glad you enjoyed the painting!


Terry Wynn
09-15-2006, 12:28 PM
Very nice, Ann. Love the effect you achieved.


09-15-2006, 12:42 PM
Thank you Terry, and thanks for taking time to look.


Richard Saylor
09-15-2006, 09:35 PM
...As you can see I don't have a steady hand. The painting has not been sealed in any way...I wish my hand were that unsteady. :)


09-16-2006, 05:16 AM
I think I was actually holding my breath with each stroke in some of the letters lol. I wonder how some artist get such exquisite lettering in their work.


09-16-2006, 08:46 AM
Ann, this is lovely! What you see as an unsteady hand, I see as nice soft edges! :D

I've been told that casein can be varnished, but when I tried that, the varnish just soaked right into the paper. I asked an expert and he said that I can seal the paper before painting on it with acrylic medium and acrylic primer, and then the varnish will sit better on the top. I haven't tried that yet though, so I've been framing with glass.


09-16-2006, 09:08 AM
Jamie, thank you :). Thanks for the info on sealing with the acrylic medium too. I will have to try that on a painting. I thought I would mat this one to hang in my studio :).

I e-mailed John Molnar regarding barrier layers. His response was that if one is having problems with lifting it could be the gesso is not absorbent enough. His recommendation was Zinsser 123 Primer/Sealer (waterbased). Also, he has used Weldbond PVA glue, mixing two parts water to one part glue, as a barrier layer between glazing, if one is having problems with painting lifting.


09-16-2006, 10:04 AM
I'm not a fan of any varnishing on caseins, myself. If you look at the MSDS (http://www.zinsser.com/PDF/MSDS/_123_ms.pdf) for the 123 Primer, it lists chalk, limestone, and pigment content, which seems certain to cause a value change on the work. Maybe a clear shellac; I believe Shiva's varnish is a shellac. The commercial liquid shellacs (Zinsser) have been processed (lubricated maybe?) to extend the shelf-life. Acylic polymer mediums I've seen discolor the casein surface (milkyness.) Acrylic resin matte varnishes might be a decent choice, but I'd recommend testing it out first. Painting on an acrylic medium seems too slick. Although, it seems to stick okay, the brushstrokes are more apparant.

09-16-2006, 10:16 AM
David, you are a fount of great information, thank you. I may have worded the info incorrectly from Mr. Molnar. The Zinsser is to be applied as an absorbent ground over the gessoed canvas or board before painting, not as a barrier layer.

I like the caseins buffed also, when they are on hardboard. I am going to experiment with buffing on paper to see what happens. Next is painting on canvas, continuing with my experimenting on different supports.


09-16-2006, 02:05 PM
David, you are a fount of great information, thank you. I may have worded the info incorrectly from Mr. Molnar. The Zinsser is to be applied as an absorbent ground over the gessoed canvas or board before painting, not as a barrier layer. ...

Oh, I see. I thought you meant he recommended using the Sealer as an isolation coat. My bad. :o I'd still be wary of the Zinsser primer, even casein itself can be used to make a good gesso.

Information isn't hard to come by, it's the accuracy of it, including mine, that should make you cautious ;).

09-16-2006, 03:10 PM
You are right David. Like my own mis-statement :(.

Below is part of the e-mail I received today from Mr. Molnar with some tips on starting to paint in casein. :

"Use a glass or enamel metal butchers' tray for a palette.
Use two large water containers, one for dirty water/cleaning brushes, the other to wet brushes in clean water.
Mix only enough water with casein to render it into a consistency of heavy table cream.
Use hog's hair, synthetic, oriental style brushes only. No sables.
Keep a spray bottle of water for rewetting your paints on the palette or the canvas itself.
Use a hair blow dryer for speedier drying times, if needed.
Use a palette knife to mix your colours, not brushes.
Apply an undercoat of toned casein white or any other casein colour as a good base for subsequent layers.
Never paint impasto with casein. Instead, use heavy gel or lay down an initial textured gesso for an impasto texture.
Try to paint with casein on canvas, without mixing with other media. This will speed up the learning curve with the paint, and also cut framing costs.
Remember; paintings on paper will always need to be framed under glass!
Always make sure your studio has plenty of fresh air circulating, preferably with a fan so situated as to have yourself in-between the fan and an open window. This is just good studio practice.
Casein can also be used as a ground for silver-point drawing on paper, or even canvas."

All the info everyone has so kindly shared has been much appreciated. Now, practice is the key to deciding what works and doesn't work for me>

Thanks all,

Caroline Trippe
03-26-2011, 04:15 PM
I've been told that casein can be varnished, but when I tried that, the varnish just soaked right into the paper.

I can't think of an instance when works on paper would be varnished. They are almost always matted and framed under glass. The paper must not be flush with the glass. (My husband is a conservator, so I get all kinds of useful tips---but I've also framed my own drawings and pastels in the past). There is no need to varnish watercolors or gouache, and casein on paper is similar in consistency.

Once casein is completely dry, it becomes impervious to water. Works on paper are fragile in other respects, of course, which is why framing under glass is the best option. If your casein paintings were on canvas or panel, you could certainly choose to frame without glass and not varnish either. Varnishing, or applying an isolation coat, will certainly change the surface of your painting in a way you might not like, unless you want a glossy finish. You could of course spray a VERY light coating of matte varnish---but try it on an "experimental" piece first. All you will do is seal the surface---varnish on paper will not be removable.

I've been struggling with the same issues with my own casein paintings (on panel, not paper) and have decided---no varnish. I emailed Golden about this, and while you can use a light MSA Varnish spray on caseins, they haven't really done extensive testing on that issue.

Mat your casein on paper, and frame under glass, and you'll be safe.

03-26-2011, 11:18 PM
I see in this old thread a couple comments by me that I no longer feel to be correct. Thanks, Caroline, for digging this out and giving me an opportunity to clarify them. I now do like the idea of varnishing caseins and prefer using an acrylic medium to prepare them for that.

I can't think of an instance when works on paper would be varnished.

I can. There are many oil paintings on paper, for example, some of them centuries old. There's an oil painting on paper in the Austin Blanton museum from the 17th century and not under glass that looks to be in very good condition to me. While such paintings could be placed under glass, they wouldn't need to be (and many aren't) when varnished; although, glass would make them easier to care for. Unfortunately, glass can also add weight and reflection problems. The only times I would recommend using glass (or acrylic glazing) is if the casein hasn't had enough time to completely cure before you sell or exhibit the painting, and/or if any paper is left exposed. Framing under glass can also be an easier thing to manage for some people than applying varnish.

Instead of applying varnish directly to the casein paint surface, I use an isolation coat process as if I were varnishing acrylic paintings. When my finished caseins have cured for at least 4 months, I apply a gloss acrylic medium that is designed to be used as an isolation coat, such as Liquitex Varnish Medium or Golden's Soft Gel. I can then apply a spirit varnish that is compatible with acrylics, such as Golden's MSA, Liquitex Soluvar, or Gamblin's GamVar.

There has been some discussion here regarding whether or not to varnish gouache paintings. I put my gouache paintings under glass and don't varnish them. I mention it here since I believe a varnish should only be considered removable, and varnish on gouache or watercolor cannot be removed. Varnish on casein, however, if protected by an acrylic isolation coat can be safely removed, just as if it were an acrylic painting. It's possible that egg tempera could be prepared that way also, but I've not thoroughly tested that.

Once casein is completely dry, it becomes impervious to water.

I disagree. Dried oil or acrylic paint I would describe as impervious, but not casein. After casein cures for about 4-6 months it becomes very water resistent, but paint can still be removed if lightly scrubbed with a damp rag, as might be done by cleaning. I've tested this myself, both on commercial Shiva and casein paint of my own making that were several months old. If it's been applied thinly like watercolor it will not be very resistent, and definetly not impervious.

Works on paper are fragile in other respects

If the paper is permanently mounted to a firm support it is no longer fragile; in fact, it would then be sturdier than stretched canvas. However, if any of the paper surface is exposed then it would not be a good thing to leave it that way. In that case, I would frame it under glass.

Caroline Trippe
03-27-2011, 08:55 AM
There are many oil paintings on paper, for example, some of them centuries old.

Hi David,

:o Okey... I stand corrected on a couple issues here. Re: varnishing works on paper-- although I was actually thinking of contemporary work, and not of oils but of watercolors or gouaches on paper.

Perhaps I should have worded it differently---there is not really a need to varnish works on paper---and certainly not work done in water media-- when they are going to be framed under glass.

As for mounting---it can certainly make a work on paper less likely to be bent or torn, but the delicate surface would still need protection, and glass is probably still be the best option. I know there have been a lot of oils done on paper that were subsequently mounted on board.

Hopefully if you choose to mount any work on paper, you know how to do it right---without messing it up--- like using the wrong adhesive,or creasing the paper. All I'm saying is there's a certain risk involved.

I hear that a lot of people now paint on Aquabord, which is not supposed to need framing under glass, There's supposed to be some kind of sealer just for that board, that protects the painting. I haven't tried it, so I don't know. I'm not trying to argue here, just to clarify my own comments, 'cause I don't wish to be misunderstood. ;)

You are obviously very experienced with casein---your work in this medium is really impessive--- and I've only been using it for a couple of years now. But I've already discovered that it takes as much patience as oil, in some ways, even though it does dry rapidly. What I like is that, unlike traditional acrylics (as opposed to Open Acrylics), is that it can be lifted to wipe out highlights, etc.

You make a very important point when you say that the casein really needs to be thoroughly cured---several months---before you apply that isolation coat. I tried this on a small "sacrificial" piece that had been dry for many months, brushing on the diluted medium, but did not like the result. The smooth surface acquired a patchy look. So now, if this were an "important" piece, I would have to spray on a matte varnish, such as MSA, to correct it. I'm prepared to give that a try on the experimental pieces, but am kind of nervous about doing anything to my larger panels.

I sure don't want to pass on any misinformation, either---but I did base some of what I was saying about the option to varnish casein or not from an email discussion with one of Golden's representatives, and also from my conservator husband. Presumably we all want our paintings to last, and to be as archival as possible---and it's easy to get confused. On the AMIEN site, the experts say not to varnish any casein painting at all---just framed under glass!

Some say "do this, don't do that." The best thing is to be as informed as possible before making your decision. :)

Caroline Trippe
03-27-2011, 09:20 AM
I believe a varnish should only be considered removable,

Hi again David---I just wanted to say, you're absolutely right about this. These days all varnishes must be removable. And more and more artists are aware of conservation issues.

The main purpose of varnishing is to protect the paint surface. If a painting becomes dirty, the varnish can be removed without damaging the painting. This is what the conservators do. Remove, repair, revarnish. (Fact: all paints used in conservation must also be reversible). Of course varnishing also helps even out of surface of paintings when there is sinking of pigments, improves saturation, etc. But #1 reason is to enable future cleaning without harming the work of art.

and varnish on gouache or watercolor cannot be removed.

Right. As Ann noted, it just sank in. I suppose you could remove a varnish on sealed casein, but if the casein is on paper, I wouldn't even try. I'd just frame it under glass as though it were a watercolor or gouache.

I thought I might have a use for it, so I bought a bottle of Shiva's Casein Varnish. But there is NO info on the bottle about what to use remove it, or clean your brushes. So I asked my husband, who makes his own shellac at work, for use on the frames he restores and builds. He said that the solvent would be toluene, and basically advising advoiding it. :eek:

With regard to the water resistance of casein, he was talking about years rather than months. It takes awhile, but in time, even water won't lift it. If your paintings are selling soon after you finish them, :) then you are well advised to give them some added protection.

I think I'm just going to have to experiment some before I decide for myself what to do, in the long run.

03-27-2011, 10:05 AM
I don't mean to pounce on your, Carloline. Most of the curatorial advice out there errs on the side of caution, but unfortunately other options often get left out. I'm the sort of person who's always been big on knowing the "why" of what I'm told. I would prefer not having to use glass unless I had to, and there are times when it isn't necessary. When I saw some museum pieces on paper not under glass I went, "wait a minute..."

Paper is not generic. For artwork, there's everything from tissue paper to Mutimedia Artboard that is as hard as wood veneer. There's even this product called "Yupo" which is called paper, not that I would refer to it as such. I wouldn't use anything less than a good stiff rag watercolor paper as a support, but even that I wouldn't want exposed to some careless cleaning attempt by an owner.

The Ampersand products such as Aquabord are all acrylic panels and do not themselves need protection. The only thing left to worry about is the paint film. If you painted watercolors or gouache on it, I would still frame under glass. Caseins are another matter, as I've described.

Caroline Trippe
03-27-2011, 10:40 AM
It's OK, David. My cat pounces on me all the time. :D

I was just reading back over my longish email response from the Golden rep. Since I haven't asked permission to quote him, I won't do so directly, but he did mention that there are in fact artists who still want to varnish their watercolors, and that there is also historical precedence for this, but that they (Golden) don't really advise it, and say that museums might then classify the work as "mixed media" rather than watercolor.

He also said there are a lot of acrylic paintings out there with no isolation coat or varnish, and that most would be fine. It's the ones with thin layers of paint and glazes that would be the most vulnerable in the long run. Glazes can be disturbed or removed during the cleaning process---that's why there has been such controversy over the cleaning of many masterpieces.

Protection issues aside, much of this has to do with personal aesthetics. I just prefer matte finishes to glossy ones---even on oil paintings. My own, anyway.

For that reason, and because I paint fairly small and on panel, I now like to use Gamblin's cold wax medium. And you don't have to wait 6 months for the painting to dry. It may not be as tough as other oil varnishes, but it does give a lovely, even, low sheen surface. But it's easier on panel paintings, and on pieces that aren't too big.

BTW the folks at Gamblin advise "oiling out" over the use of retouch varnish as a means of getting an even surface on oil paintings PRIOR to applying any varnish, and I've found this to be an excellent suggestion. (Maybe I'm a bit off the topic here---but since we're talking about varnish...)

I'd rather not frame my paintings on panel under glass, even though they are relatively small, so that's one reason I'm having this dilemma.

Re: Paper. Good point about it not being generic. I wanted to add something about Multi Media Artboard, since you mentioned it. It's tough alright---but it can also snap like a saltine cracker if bent. That's perhaps it's one weakness. I have only used it in a few very small works, but wonder if there might be some problems with larger formats,since it's so brittle. But it's nice because it stays completely flat when met media are applied.

03-27-2011, 06:45 PM
...He also said there are a lot of acrylic paintings out there with no isolation coat or varnish, and that most would be fine...

Perhaps, but that's acrylic. For casein, to stay on point, an acrylic isolation coat would be necessary, in my opinion, before varnishing.

...I wanted to add something about Multi Media Artboard, since you mentioned it. It's tough alright---but it can also snap like a saltine cracker if bent...

That won't matter if it's mounted to a firm support, which is what the manufacturer has advised me to do. As long as you don't try to roll it up it's not a problem. The edges do have a tendency to chip while in storage.

Below I'm attaching a water test I just made on the oldest examples of painted casein I had on hand that weren't varnished. The image on the left is from a sheet of paint swatches I made of Shiva caseins about 5 years ago. The image on the right is a corner of a painted sketch that's about 3 years old. The paint swatches are on Multimedia Artboard, the painting on 300# watercolor rag paper. The paint was applied fairly thick on both examples.


I took a slightly damp cotton swab and applied just a small amount of pressure. The swatch of Shiva Green took a little more effort, but it still broke down fairly easily. If I were using a wetter rag it would be very easy to remove all the paint. The blue wash under the paint on the right is from thin acrylic and you should see that it didn't budge at all.

Now, 5 years isn't 50, but it's hard for me to believe that casein will become any more resistent to water after even a few months. If there's any evidence to the contrary I'd like to see it. Casein, like hide glue, is also hygroscopic, meaning it permanently reacts to moisture or relative humidity throughout it's lifetime.

Caroline Trippe
03-28-2011, 07:00 AM
Thanks David. All good information. Well, I wasn't that crazy about MM Artboard to begin with. If it's really necessarily to mount it on another board, then I'll just continue painting in casein on Gessobord. Yes, the corner chipping can be a problem. I only used MM AB in the smallest size just to see how it worked, and I can live without it.

And yeah. I just took a cotton swab to one of the caseins on Claybord that I did last year---(one of the experimental pieces)--and sure enough, the color came up. :(

Re: isolation coat on casein panel. Unless I can spray it on, and that could be difficult unless I get a special sprayer, I am still reluctant to undertake something that might well ruin one of the paintings on which I labor so diligently. If you have any suggestions about how to avoid annoying brushstrokes showing up in the isolation coat---diluted soft gel medium---I'd be happy to hear them.

I only did one small panel on Claybord, as a test, but as I said earlier, didn't like the result. (I have yet to see whether the spray MSA matte varnish would correct the problem; it probably won't). I used a wide, flat, soft brush---new and clean--- that should have worked, but even after the layer dried I could see some brush marks, and the surface appeared patchy. Luckily this was an experimental panel, and I've made several of those. They are small, though, and it is going to be more difficult to get a perfectly even layer on my larger panels. Although they are not really large, by most standards.

My larger casein paintings are on Gessobord. I do not want to see any brushstrokes in that isolation layer, and I do not want to lose that matte surface. So it seems I'm between a rock and a hard place.

What, am I going to have to switch back to oils? At least I know how to deal with those! Or maybe get used to a differerent surface.

BTW, what paper do you use for your casein paintings, and do you treat it in any way? Sorry if you've already answered this question in another post! And thanks for all the information.

When and if I figure out the perfect solution to my problem, I'll let you (and the casein forum) know. :)

Caroline Trippe
03-28-2011, 08:21 AM

Caroline Trippe
03-28-2011, 08:28 AM
My apologies to you---I inadvertently called you "Ann" in one of my posts back and forth with David---got it confused. Reading back through this thread I realized that you were the one who had the problem varnishing casein on paper, not Ann! Anyway, if you've continued to follow this thread, I hope you are not thoroughly confused! I would still say you are safest framing your casein on paper under glass---if it were my painting that's what I'd do.
My big concern of the moment is with casein on panel, and I'd rather not frame those under glass, but the varnishing options seem to vary. Hence all the ensuing discussion---David has new opinions since he first posted---so we kind of got us sidetracked from your original comment.

Caroline Trippe
03-28-2011, 08:36 AM
For casein, to stay on point, an acrylic isolation coat would be necessary, in my opinion, before varnishing.

I'm getting it. Because if casein never does become impervious to water, then it can't safely be cleaned, and if there's only a varnish coat, there is still nothing to protect the casein underneath if the varnish is ever removed. I knew this....of course....but really thought from everything I'd heard or read previously, that casein might "self protect" in time. Well, c'est la vie. And back to the easel....

03-28-2011, 09:30 AM
...Well, I wasn't that crazy about MM Artboard to begin with. If it's really necessarily to mount it on another board, then I'll just continue painting in casein on Gessobord...

I wouldn't say that it's "necessary" to mount them but only recommend it in order to add more structure. A simple backing in the frame would work fine also, which you're going to have to do anyway. The only risk of damage is if they are bent somehow and the degree of bending would have to be extreme for them to break. Artboards or 300# watercolor paper have become my typical paint surface for caseins. I often cut down the absorbency of watercolor paper first by apply a coat of shellac. Other surfaces I've used are illustration boards, Aquabord, traditional gesso panels and polyester fabric mounted to panels. One thing I dislike about Aquabord is the rough surface is hard on brushes.

If you have any suggestions about how to avoid annoying brushstrokes showing up in the isolation coat---diluted soft gel medium---I'd be happy to hear them.

You might try Liquitex Gloss Medium & Varnish product instead of Soft Gel as an isolation layer. I've found this brushes on with better leveling than the gel and doesn't really need diluting. You can also "polish" it on with a lint-free rag (nylon or polyester) to help avoid brushstrokes. Even though it's "gloss" it winds up more "satin" on the dried casein so I don't lose much of that matte softness. I follow that up with a matte varnish (MSA) and like the results. I've never really liked spray cans myself finding them more difficult to control.

I want to emphasize again that I wait at least 4 months before applying anything liquid to the casein surface. If I apply it too soon it will change the tones of the paint in some cases or perhaps re-wet the paint itself. What you could do is paint a scratch sample of the same surface at the same time as your painting, and then test your isolation coat/varnishing on this sample several months later.

Re: cleaning caseins, if the paint is several years old it would take a good soaking to disturb the paint surface. A light cleaning with a damp rag wouldn't be a problem, but if the paint is varnished or under glass it shouldn't be necessary anyway.

Caroline Trippe
03-28-2011, 11:37 AM
Thanks David, for all the good tips. I think someone else may have mentioned Liquitex---not on this forum, though. I never rush into varnishing---for one thing, it takes me a long time to consider most of my paintings finished. So waiting 4 months would not bother me , although I'm not terribly prolific. Applyng the isolation coat with a cloth sounds like a good option. With the Liquitex I can certainly try it on an experimental piece first. Thanks again.

I had been painting in oils for many years before I started experimenting with acrylic, then Open Acrylic, (which is not opaque enough to suit me but makes beautiful glazes) and finally casein, with has both opacity and the ability to create delicate glazes. (Before all that I used to do my oil underpaintings in water miscible oil, because I liked being able to lift out highlights without using a solvent.) As I think I mentioned, Open Acrylics seemed like a good alternative, and seemed to work beautifully under oils, until I "found out" that acrylic is NOT recommended as an underpainting for oils after all. My acrylic layers were very thin, so I am not sure there would be a problem, but thought it best not to risk it.
I had used casein for about a year for some other work, and decided to try it for underpainting. I'm still working on a couple of these pieces, figuring out how to get the desired surface. Sometimes I wish I'd never ventured off the oil path, but....nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?