Art or Environment-What matters to you the most?

It’s a delightful feeling when you get excited to create something, and then venture forth and share your creative endeavour with the rest of the world.

I am talking about the current trend of handmade watercolours. I too am a watercolour paint maker and an artist who uses them. I started using handmade paints when it came to my notice that some of the commercial ones were quite toxic, not only to the humans but also to our environment.

I have also observed that many of the handmade paint makers use pigments that are of toxic nature and market them as non-toxic. Which I think is probably more due to ignorance rather than deliberate. Which makes me think, how many handmade watercolour paints that are out in the market carry correct label and information for the end consumers?

READ THE WARNING LABELS: Toxic Supplies

I have mentioned this in my previous posts that the next best thing you can do before you buy your art supplies is to inform yourself. Always read the label of your supplies and choose environmentally friendly and/or non-toxic supplies. Toxic art supplies and materials are those that are harmful if inhaled or ingested, or that cause harmful reactions when in contact with skin. These chemicals are dangerous to flora and fauna for the same reasons. By knowing what materials are toxic and by limiting their use, you can help improve the overall environmental impact of your studio or art practices.

Following is a detailed list of toxic inorganic pigments used for making watercolour paints:

Whilst some of the inorganic pigments have been very well studied  for their toxicological effects, data for others is not available and should therefore be treated as toxic. It’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss every pigment in detail. The following list only serves as a reference guide.

Highly Toxic Pigments /Known or Probable Carcinogens

Antimony white (antimony trioxide)

Barium yellow (barium chromate)

Burnt umber or raw umber (iron oxides, manganese silicates or dioxide)

Cadmium red or orange (cadmium sulfide, cadmium selenide)

Cadmium yellow (cadmium sulfide)

Cadmium barium colors (cadmium colors and barium sulfate)

Cadmium barium yellow (cadmium sulfide, cadmium selenide, barium sulfate, zinc sulfide)

Chrome green (prussian blue, lead chromate)

Chrome orange (basic lead carbonate)

Chrome yellow (lead chromate)

Cobalt violet (cobalt arsenate or cobalt phosphate)

Cobalt yellow (potassium cobaltinitrate)

Lead or flake white (basic lead carbonate)

Lithol red (sodium, barium and calcium salts of soluble azopigment)

Manganese violet (manganese ammonium pyrophosphate)

Molybdate orange (lead chromate, lead molybdate, lead sulfate)

Naples yellow (lead antimonate)

Strontium yellow (strontium chromate)

Vermilion (mercuric sulfide)

Zinc sulfide

Zinc yellow (zinc chromate)

Moderately Toxic Pigments

Cerulean blue (cobalt stannate)

Cobalt blue (cobalt stannate)

Cobalt green (calcined cobalt, zinc and aluminum oxides)

Chromium oxide green (chromic oxide)

Manganese blue (barium manganate, barium sulfate)

Prussian blue (ferric ferrocyanide)

Viridian (hydrated chromic oxide)

Zinc white (zinc oxide)

Needless to say, art is  a great contribution to the world. It has been existing since thousands of years and it is here to stay! It inspires us, boosts our creativity and has a calming effect on us. However, sometimes the process of creating art can end up hurting more than benefiting. Working with watercolours or any other kind of art supplies, which are of toxic nature, often have serious detrimental effects on our environment.

I take great care and do my best in having reduced or when possible negligible environmental impact with my art practices. Which is why I don’t use any paint that contains heavy metal ions. My watercolour palette is rather very limited consisting primarily of  ochres (no known toxic effects at least), a couple of ultramarines (toxic if ingested) and a sparingly used pan of quinacridone red.

It is important to remember that protecting our planet is just as important as bringing beauty to it. By making a conscious choice in selecting your art supplies will help reduce the environmental impact of your studio practices. We only have one planet, and while your art helps to add beauty to it, we all can help protect it at the same time.

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make!”-Jane Goodall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER: This article concerns itself with the common sense safety aspects of art materials and art safety in general. The intent of this article is merely to raise individual awareness of some of the issues involved and to encourage the reader to take steps in learning more about the factors involved with the hazards associated with artist’s materials. The author may change the contents of this document at any time, either in whole or in part.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in your Watercolour Paint?

Hazards in the art world often aren’t taken very seriously. It’s hard to see artists as people who are engaged in a dangerous field. Had I not been a scientist, I too would have remained oblivious about the perils lurking in artist’s world ! It comes as no surprise that artists through history have been called by many names-geniuses, crazy, dreamers, unemployed-but rarely chemists!

There can be a lot of mystery when you go to purchase paints, especially if it’s your first time buying a particular medium.  I remember, when I first bought a pan of watercolour paint from a local art store, I was quite alarmed to find out that the  paint contained preservative of harmful nature. I started exploring alternatives to commercial paints that didn’t contain such toxic preservatives or pigments. I soon discovered that there were a couple of  handmade watercolour paint makers who provided artists with non toxic and high quality paints.  The experience of working with such handcrafted watercolour paints was quite delightful. The art of handmade watercolours piqued my interest in learning about the process.   That’s when my journey as a paint maker began! It was definitely not easy.  I did an extensive research in understanding about different kind of pigments, their chemical properties and most importantly any potential hazards associated with pigments to human health and  environment.

So, what are pigments?

By definition,  pigments are particles of coloured materials that are insoluble in water, oil and resin.  Although, when suspended in liquid binders or vehicles, it transforms into paint. The binder or  vehicle used with each pigment, as well as the size and shape of the pigment particle, determines the type of paint that i’s created.

Pigments are classified into three basic categories, that a manufacturer mayuse when creating paint: natural organic pigments, synthetic organic pigments and inorganic pigments.

Inorganic pigments: These pigments tend to be quite lightfast, they are derived from the earth, and/or manufactured from metals or minerals. These pigments have been studied for long for their long term effects (for example;  earth pigments : Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber; Cobalts, Cadmium, Titanium etc )

Organic pigments ( natural/synthetic) : These pigments are derived from plant or animal sources, or they can also be chemically synthesized ( eg, quinacridones). Natural organic pigments are  made from carbon compounds that exists in nature.

In prehistoric times, early humans found many natural organic colourants in the minerals occurring in soils and clays. Cave paintings using red- and yellow-coloured clays date from at least 15,000 B.C. As long ago as 8,000 B.C., artists in Egypt had discovered how to process animal products and vegetable matter into useful and fairly stable colourants. The pigments from plant and animal sources tend to be safe – but the colours do fade, making them “fugitive” colors.  Although, the long term effect of these colours are as such not known.

Trend of handmade watercolours paints

In recent times, there has been a phenomenal increase in the number of handmade watercolour paint makers. My research in this field till date tells me that paint labeling is probably the least interesting topic on watercolour paints … its like reading a safety tag on your mobile phones. Unfortunately, boredom leads to lack of concern, and eventually leads to ignorance, and it is this ignorance that paint manufacturers exploit through  marketing.

The crux of the problem is that paint manufacturers (including  small business owners who are  watercolour paint makers) can name a paint anything they want. The result? If the marketing name is all you rely on, it is impossible to tell what is in your paint. Knowing the safety of artist’s material is a subject of high importance and must not be overlooked.

Let’s quickly recap some of the elements we know are bad for human health: Umbers, Sienna, Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, Chromium VI. Hazardous compounds to note: Copper and Cobalt compounds. Common effects from these various substances include cancer, nerve and organ damage.

Impact of using watercolours (pigments) on the Environment and health

Some artists (including me)  strongly attend to the health or environmental impact of the materials they use, and in a few cases watercolours do present some problems.

Environmental impact occurs through mining or raw materials manufacture and the disposal of manufacturing wastes. Unfortunately, though many high quality pigments are manufactured in Europe, Japan and the USA, the environmental consequences of industrial pigment manufacture are increasingly being exported to the Third World (China and India in particular), whose environmental laws and enforcement are of a different kind. This is one reason why pigments can be made there so cheaply and  just remember its a hell on the health of factory workers and their living environment.

Unfortunately, I know of no way at present to find out whether all pigments are manufactured in an environmentally friendly way, because (for proprietary reasons) paint manufacturers do not disclose where they buy their pigments, and there is no easy way to obtain trustworthy environmental impact statements from specific pigment manufacturers in, say, China or India. Artists or painters have no effective control over these upstream environmental impacts.

My purpose is not to frighten but to inform, so that, next time you are at checkout line at the art store or making an online purchase you can make a wise choice.

Take home message

That said, watercolours should always be handled with reasonable care and applied with appropriate techniques. They should be kept out of the reach or unsupervised use of children.

And watch out for your pets!

 

DISCLAIMER: This article concerns itself with the common sense safety aspects of art materials and art safety in general. The intent of this article is merely to raise individual awareness of some of the issues involved and to encourage the reader to take steps in learning more about the factors involved with the hazards associated with artist’s materials. The author may change the contents of this document at any time, either in whole or in part.

Respect a few rules !

The art of paint making has been existing for thousands of years. Today’s paint making process is perhaps no different than how it was several 100 years ago. At the time when commercial colours were not available artists made their own paint, or had an assistant or colourman make it for them. The pigments were ground by hand on a flat piece of marble or glass using a glass muller.

Its no doubt that  making beautiful pieces of art is immensely rewarding for artists. Since we have been around paints since an early age, we don’t realize it could be dangerous in the long term. I’m sorry to remind you so: paints are mildly toxic. The  kid’s ones too are a bit toxic, most of the time. The toxic effects are due to chronic exposure.

Having a science background has helped me a lot in understanding the process of paint making, researching about a pigment, its chemical composition, properties and most importantly if there are any hazards associated with pigments that I am working with.

From pre-modern times when medical science was still ill-equipped to determine common threats, to the present day, when artists often still put their art before their well-being, certain art supplies have been a source of peril for countless painters and sculptors—and have done serious harm to some of art history’s most famous names.

Early artists were unaware of the hazards of many of the materials they used, but information on the topic is readily available today. While the long term improper use of your materials could have serious mental and physical health consequences, with proper safety precautions, awareness and common sense, these potential hazards can be mitigated if not avoided completely.

This blog post focuses on the safety precaution every artist and paint maker should take into consideration.

A few items bear repeating: Read the label. Acquire  MSDS from your supplier. Inform yourself about the pigment you are dealing with. Learn what it means. Learn what should be on the label. Choose safe materials. Use proper techniques, handling, safety gear (a must for everyone) and safety precautions. Keep you and your area clean. Use proper cleanup and disposal methods which is in sync with your city council and  environmental regulation guidelines.

All chemicals and pigment powders can be toxic if not handled correctly. Wear respirator and protective gloves and clothing. Chemicals and pigments should only be handled in strict laboratory conditions away from food, pets and children. Wash your hands thoroughly after you have finished painting or paint making.

As an artist and a paint maker I always like to work with pigments that are not only non toxic but also do not cause harm to the aquatic life. I don’t like working with handmade watercolours where the pigment classification number is not mentioned. Be informed and Be safe  … paint to your  heart’s content, as simple as that!

 

 

DISCLAIMER: This article concerns itself with the common sense safety aspects of art materials and art safety in general. The intent of this article is merely to raise individual awareness of some of the issues involved and to encourage the reader to take steps in learning more about the factors involved with the hazards associated with artist’s materials. The author may change the contents of this document at any time, either in whole or in part.