Among the boxes I discovered a collection of casein paints, a medium I'd read about but which I'd never used. Casein is a kind of tempera paint that was often used in illustration before the advent of acrylics. The binder is basically milk, or a milk protein, casein. Cottage cheese is casein protein. Add a little ammonia and cook it and you've got the binder for casein paint. If you've ever tried to wash a glass or dish on which milk has dried you can understand what a durable medium casein paint is.
The paint itself is wonderfully silky to work with, has a pleasant smell, and dries chalky and opaque, like liquid pastel. It dries fairly quickly and becomes nearly unwettable with time, unlike watercolor or gouache. However if re-wetting is desired, a little scrubbing with water and brush and you've got it. It can be built up to oil paint-like impastos, or used transparently. For me casein combines the best qualities of acrylics, the fast drying and potential for overpainting, without the plastic feeling or look.
Like so many other once arcane art media, the art suppliers have obliged us by making these available easily at our local art supply houses, or online. Much as I enjoy playing medieval alchemist in my studio, cooking up strange concoctions of this and that, making things from scratch, I suppose I should be grateful that I don't have to start with the actual cottage cheese in order to make casein paints.
Some recent work in the medium. All the paintings are around twelve inches, on rag paper:
Tobacco Country, Southern Virginia, casein on rag paper, 9" x12," 2013
Northeast of Winchester, Virginia; Winter casein on rag paper, 9" x12," 2013
Northeast of Winchester, Virginia; Winter - Single Tree, casein on rag paper, 9" x12," 2013
In the Hocking Hills at Sundown; Winter, casein on rag paper, 9" x12," 2013
In the Valdicchiana, Tuscany; Summer, casein on rag paper, 9" x12," 2013
In the Valdicchiana, Tuscany; Summer - Cropped Hayfields, casein on rag paper, 7" x12," 2013
Vineyards on the Road to Montepulciano, Tuscany; Summer, casein on rag paper, 9" x12," 2013