An Update

Painting has taken a backseat recently to other activities.  Becoming a grandmother is the easiest explanation.  But it also concerns consumerism, the acquisition and accumulation of stuff, safe working conditions and materials, and our current political climate. I'll write more later on this - as soon as the thoughts gel a little better. 

It will have to suffice for now to say that music and wood chips have been filling the air here lately: French horn (in a community band and a small brass gathering), Alto recorder (lessons now - group playing soon) and woodcarving once a week with a friendly group of neighbors.  There was also music at my youngest son's wedding last February. Here's a photo of me dancing with my oldest grandson there.  (I should add sewing to the list of activities too.  My mother-of-the groom outfit was sewn by me - in part because I really hate shopping.)

So, all-in-all, keeping busy. 

Hope this post finds you all content and productive as well.


happy 2014

Wishing you, dear readers, a wonderful start to the new year - and rich blessings in the days to come!

Nutcracker; oil on board; 10" x 6"; 2007 Copyright Mary Nagel Klein


south dakota

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the Oscar Howe Gallery at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.  The current exhibition, Dance of the Warrior, included highly stylized images of horses, warriors and spirits rendered in pure-flat shapes of color punctuated by fluid-dashed marks.  There were some tempera paintings and a wonderful drawing on display - but for the most part the work was done in casein paint.  Unfortunately, photography isn't allowed in the gallery.  So here are some links to the gallery and to Howe's Wikipedia entry where you'll be able to see some representative images of his work.

My favorite piece of the day was "War Dancer."  It was the only purely abstract painting in the show.  The colors, the intimate size and the lyrical nature of the shapes as they interacted with one another intrigued me.  As with the others, it had both an atomic feel and a primal vibe.  The negative space all in a velvety-matte black was perhaps what first drew me to this little gem.  Deep space cradling dancing-luminous shapes made for a sweet take-home memory.

This morning I woke up and made this little painting of a cow creamer - no doubt inspired by my trek to South Dakota.

Creamer on Black; casein on mounted paper; 10" x 8"; Mary Nagel Klein


hallowed cow

Creamer in Oranges and Blues; 10" x 8"; casein on paper; 2013 Mary Nagel Klein

The cow returns.

The oranges are a nod to the cavity which took several layers of orange and blue and burnt sienna to achieve its sense of depth.  And the blues are the color of white - this time - and the color of cream - sometimes.

I love painting suspended vessels.  In addition to depicting gravity with its implied potential energy, hanging vessels also highlight the act of containment.  Exactly what they contain is often a mystery.  One might assume that a cow creamer, with its opening facing downward, contains nothing but air - a hollow hallowed cow.


jug detail

Here's a close-up of the previous post's painting - and an opportunity to see the jug a bit differently.

Water Jug and Oranges (detail); casein on paper; 27.5" x 17"; 2013 Mary Nagel Klein


water jug

This is my first painting of this little jug.  I found it at a resale shop and bought it thinking it might be right for a painting.  It's a heavy little thing - only about 5 inches tall but sturdy and solid.  That lent to thoughts of weight and balance more so than with my lighter models.  With this piece I feel like I'm entering new territory - uncharted waters while making the map as I go.

Water Jug with Oranges; casein on paper; 27.5" x 17"; 2013 Mary Nagel Klein


why casein

In a comment on the previous post, Olga wrote, "Can I ask, by the way, why you use casein? Is it a simple case of you like the effect?"

Her questions gave me pause, the chance to gather my thoughts on the subject and to pull together some of the references I've been using lately.  Thank you, Olga.

Casein fine art painting was first introduced to me, and to many other contemporary artists, by James Gurney on his blog, Gurney Journey.  I hadn't thought about milk-based paint as an artistic medium until I saw a painting Gurney did of a chrome creamer at a restaurant booth in only black and white casein.  I was quite smitten by this little painting - Gurney's work is amazingly compelling and sincere.  His blog has a lot of posts dedicated to the medium with some great information on tools and materials.  I picked up a lot of useful tips there that got me started.

Timing was important with my switch too - I was ripe for change.  I had made a firm and deliberate decision to stop painting with lead white oil paint (for all of the obvious reasons) and had begun experimenting with alternative whites.  But oil painting wasn't the same without my favorite white. I really was spoiled and was finding it hard making the change. In the middle of that struggle, in the middle of last June, an alternative solution presented itself.  The time was right for me to give a new medium a serious try.

Since July 8, 2013, I've made 15 casein paintings (with Richeson Casein - The Shiva Series) and have read numerous books, posts and articles about the medium. Finding those references wasn't easy.  Here's a crop of a cover of one of the books I eventually did find:

It's a Walter Foster how-to book from who-knows-when (there is absolutely no date in it - I've checked and rechecked and even had a close friend search for it.)  I'm guessing it's from the 50's or 60's.  See how the word "Acrylic" is superimposed over "Casein"?  And remember the famous lines in the 1967 movie The Graduate, "I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Plastics"?  I'm guessing that casein was pushed out of the picture (and literally written over) in the 50's and 60's by the overwhelming popularity of acrylic (plastic) paint.  It really does take some detective work to find information on it now because it had gone out of fashion so abruptly and completely last mid-century.

Personally, and from the limited time I've been painting in casein, I continue because it combines the best of both watercolor and oils while providing me the comfort and assurance that I'm painting with the healthiest paint for myself, my family and the environment.  And I love it - the feel, the smell, the colors, the sumptuous matte surface it becomes and the painterly way I attack the surface now with only brush, paint and idea.  I feel safe and free to paint like I've never painted before.


apple moon

Some paintings have a much longer gestation period than others.  Below is one the seemed to require more than the usual amount of labor.  It was a delicate balancing act - lots of shapes, forms, textures and colors that needed to play well with one another.  And then there was that delicious white space.  But in the end it was the thread that pulled everything together.  Tug.
Green Apple Moon; 27.5 x 17 inches; casein on paper; 2013 Mary Nagel Klein


two words

I usually title my posts with two words.  And today's painting is titled Water & Glass.  Again, two words.  Just right.

Water & Glass; casein on mounted paper; 27.5 " x 17"; 2013 Mary Nagel Klein


decade ago

I went through a phase of painting phones and phone cords about 10 years ago.  Communication - and miscommunication - were on my mind at the time.

This one is getting ready to be picked up and placed in its new home.  It's nice when these older pieces finally find themselves in a collection.  So long - and best to you.

Phone Cord #6; oil on canvas; 15" x 24"; 2003 Mary Nagel Klein


bucket listing

Here's another casein painting for you to see - this time with a galvanized pail suspended.  I've included a detail so you can look up close.  It's not the same as seeing the real thing, though. 

You're always welcome to visit my studio to see any of these paintings in person - I'd be happy to show you around.  Please call to schedule a convenient time.  My contact info is in the upper right.

Galvanized; casein on mounted paper; 27.5" x 17"
Galvanized - detail


clara's teacup

The china set that Clara, my Dutch grandmother, gave me is in storage now.  One teacup, however, has been kept out of the box - to remind me of her.  It holds little things en route to where they belong - puzzle pieces, bolts, buttons.  And every once in a while - it gets strung up - and becomes part of a painting.

In Time; casein on mounted paper; 27.5" x 17"; ©2013 Mary Nagel Klein


send off

group of work dropped off to the gallery yesterday - all new casein paintings
After labeling, cutting backing boards and shrink-wrapping the above 6 pieces, they looked to me like they were asking to have their group photo taken - so I obliged.  They joined 7 other pieces of mine already at The Pioneer Art Gallery in St. Paul, Minnesota USA - all in place for the gallery's grand opening this Friday night at 6:00 pm.

This type of finishing work is best done on a separate table dedicated to the purpose.  It's got a thin velour cloth covering it and good lighting.  With a self-healing mat, an Exacto knife, pencil, pen and backing boards on hand, I'm ready to add the finishing touches before letting them go.  For the St. Paul Art Crawl, we decided to keep things simple and unframed - in order to keep the prices down and to offer easy-to-carry work for the patrons.  Master Framers in Lower Town has graciously offered a discount on framing for anyone who purchases the above work at The Pioneer Art Gallery.  Master Framers were very helpful when I asked them about how to frame casein paintings.  Per their advice, I've been including a one inch margin around the entire image.  The intent is to cover that margin with a mat - but, of course, it's the patron who has the final say.


coupla ghosts

It's rare, today, to find paintings done using casein. To help answer the public's questions regarding this medium, I wrote a little piece to help provide some basic information:
A Little Bit about Casein Paint
This little painting has been created with casein paint – one of the oldest kinds of paint known to mankind.  Art historians date the first casein paintings to the time of the ancient Egyptians.  Casein painting uses modified milk protein to bind the pigment (colors) onto a surface whereas oil painting typically uses linseed oil and acrylic painting an acrylic binder and, in a super-magnified sense, mosaics uses mortar as the binder and mosaic tiles as pigment.  The advantages of using casein as a binder are many.  It’s wonderfully archival, extremely versatile to create with and incredibly beautiful to behold. Before acrylic painting became popular in the second half of the 20th century, many artists painted in casein.  Andy Warhol’s Popeye (1960) and Dick Tracy (1960) were done in casein and Native American artist, Oscar Howe painted with it extensively. As you can see, casein painting is in good company and - with reasonable care (keep it dry and if needed, dust with a dry cloth) - your new little painting will last for centuries.
The best ways to learn about a medium, however, are to either paint with it or observe as many pieces of work created with it as you can.  Here are two more caseins of mine to help you with the latter:
Tiny Kleenex Ghost #5; casein on mounted paper; 7" x 5"

Long Ago; casein on mounted paper; 13" x 8"



around transparancy

With a chip in its lip, this little pitcher is still one of my favorite models.  I've painted it in oils in a large color field and titled the painting: "Opacity."  Now, four years later and painted in casein, it becomes: "Little White Jug Suspended."

Little White Jug Suspended; casein on mounted paper; 13" x 8"


up coming

Grand Opening of the Pioneer Art Gallery
Pioneer Endicott Building - Skyway Level - Suite 206
141 E 4th Street, Saint Paul, MN  55010
October 4th - 6th
Friday 6 - 10pm, Saturday 12 - 8 pm, Sunday 12 - 5 pm
Original Fine Art
Large Bright, Energy-Uplifting Abstracts (acrylic)
by Diane "Dyne" Simon
Serene Minnesota Landscapes (oil)
by Tom McGregor
Vibrant, Smart, Classic Prints (intaglio)
by Travis Erickson
Emotive, Concise, Small Paintings (casein)
by Mary Nagel Klein
American Craft
Funky, Whimsical Jewelry (wire and gemstone)
by Joy Benn
For those of you in the area, I hope you get a chance to attend this event.  Joy Benn, the gallery's proprietor, is a lovely person and I feel very honored to be included among these very talented artists.
For those of you reading this who are far from Minnesota, USA, please do check out the links above.  And if you find that you are interested in purchasing any of my little casein paintings but cannot attend the exhibit, please contact the Pioneer Art Gallery directly at: joy@pioneerartgallery.com or 612-875-3613.


milk & eggs

Below please find my latest paintings - all casein on mounted watercolor paper.

The irony wasn't planned, but as it turns out, these pieces are, among other things,
depictions of eggs
using pigments bound with milk
on paper made of cotton.

 I dearly wish I could upload the smells for you along with these images - a lovely and nostalgic aroma of essence of finger paint, Elmer's glue and wet paper.

Egg by an Orange Window; 7" x 5"

Egg in Milk; 7" x 5"


Egg in a Celadon Cup; casein on mounted paper; 13" x 8"