When I commit art, I’ve pretty much used airbrush acrylic or scratchboard as my mediums of choice. While I love both of them, when I want to do painting, my airbrush situation is far from idea. As a result, I’ve been exploring various mediums that would allow me to make art with that newfangled quality…oh, what is it called….oh yeah — color. I’m now down to the last few.
My favorite way to apply paint is, by far, airbrush. Unfortunately, my airbrush area is not climate controlled. This means that it’s typically unbearably hot from mid-May through early October, and uncomfortably cold from late November through early March. That pretty much leaves two months in Spring and about two months in Autumn to get work done. These times also coincide with the necessary and time-consuming chore windows. As a result, I don’t get as much chance to shoot paint as I did before my responsibilities increased. The only way to consistently get art produced is to switch to using a “hairy stick” or some other controlled medium.
Since my indoor art space is cramped and in my house, that means a limit on size and environmental impact. This immediately excluded oil paints. My lungs aren’t in any condition to constantly be breathing in the VOCs that come from every variant of oil paints. Also, the time they take to dry, and especially to dry enough to varnish, makes oils a non-starter. I simply don’t have the storage space.
Acrylics, then, seemed like a natural choice. They are water-based with negligible odor and easy clean up. Unfortunately, I live in the high desert. Humidity is very low — it doesn’t typically rise above 15% (usually it’s less than 10%) unless there’s precipitation lurking about. Combine that with being at 1600 m (1 mile) altitude, which helps moisture to evaporate faster, and you start to understand my primary issue with acrylics: in this environment, even with various palettes, mediums, and extenders, their working time is too short to do the art I want to do. Blending/scumbling is all but impossible.
I’m not really a watercolor enthusiast. While I appreciate those who can splash paint with both great control and wild abandon, it’s never been so that I wanted to do it. Perhaps it’s because there are so many out there who are clearly masters of it and who truly embrace it in a way I never could — the proof being the numbers of prints hanging around my house that I marvel at. I’ve used it over the years, but its never called to me.
I briefly tried colored pencils. After all, I’d dabbled with them for quite a while and I’ve also been known to do a graphite pencil sketch intended to be the final work. So, I thought I’d try to do a fair number of pieces in a month and then see where I was with it. I lasted two-and-a-half days. I found that my prior and chronic CTS/RSI problems will not allow me to use colored pencils for any useful amounts of time — at least, not if I wanted to use my dominant hand to do absolutely anything else in my life. With that sad realization, my colored pencils have pretty much been relegated to tweaking watercolor pieces and the occasional holiday card.
So…although I was running out of conventional fine art mediums, I still had not exhausted the possibilities. Next up: gouache (often described as opaque watercolor). All in all, it’s not terrible. It’s actually pretty great for achieving that early-to-mid-20th century illustrator look — largely because it was commonly used for that purpose at the time.
I’ve only done a few practice works, but I find myself warming to it. I do like that it’s “infinitely rewettable”, meaning that if it dries in this climate, it can be brought back to life with a little water. That is also the bane of gouache — at least in my limited experience. Blending on the board can be difficult because if the underlayer gets too hydrated, it will be more likely to lift off the paper than to simply blend with your current color. Not that it can’t be done, but you have to be paying attention and have more practice than I’ve had to this point. Still, it shows a lot of promise.
I have not yet worked with the last medium I can think of to try: casein (kay-‘seen). I just got the paints and have done a few tests but no art yet. From what I understand, this medium was what people used before acrylics burst on the scene and sent casein into obscurity. It’s sort of a cross between gouache and acrylic. It’s rewettable, at least in the short term, and is said to be effectively permanent after it dries and fully cures. I’ve tested its palette drying time and it far surpasses my experience with brushed acrylics even without any re-hydration tricks. More importantly for me, it blends/scumbles nicely…at least in tests. I’ll do up a piece in a few days to see if my hopes bear fruit.
If casein doesn’t come up roses, I’ll have to consider whether to give up on colored mediums and focus mostly on scratchboard (yes, it can also be colored…but it’s not the same thing). Gouache will definitely stay in my toolbox; except for the blending issues, it’s really nice. Maybe watercolor a little, but it still isn’t something I want to use as my primary. I’ll keep y’all posted.