Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Cruelty Free Art supplies

I've been a vegetarian for a very very long time now and for the most part I make an effort to buy animal free and cruelty free products, however there is a great lack of information on cruelty free products for artists.
I'm going to try to debunk some myths and bring some of my research together here.

There is the obvious - animal hair brushes - No they do not sit and give the weasels a trim then let them romp in fields of clover. Its FUR.. It's part of the FUR industry. Sable brushes are essentially a small mink coat on a stick. You'd be hard pressed to find a brush made from an animal that isn't dead - it's not profitable to cuddle them and love them. They are tormented, then killed, skinned and their fur moves along to it's various applications. Yes, to a manufacturer it does make sense to kill them, not shave or brush them. It all comes down to the dollar. Sable Brushes - not so lovely.

In some cases the brushes are the left overs of other industries (fur and food), and in some cases it is actually brushed off animals like camels and then sold, and put through a sorting machine etc... but this isn't usually the case. Be leary of animal brushes.

Myth: Synthetic brushes are inferior to animal hair brushes. Whoever told you that is a damn fool. Back in the day, when synthetics were new, yes of course they had some major flaws but as synthetics grow in popularity they have some major advantages over the natural hair brushes. For example, synthetic watercolour brushes have superior spring in them over a sable. Synthetics are manufactured with hollows along the shaft of the bristle to simulate the natural hair and increasing the water holding capacity of the brushes.
Solvents will break down any brush, buying natural hair brushes doesn't make you immune to the  damage of a solvent. The key word is the product - it is a solvent... 
Your best bet is to do away with solvents in your paint all together. It's safer for you, safer for your painting, and safer for the earth. Thin with oil, clean with soap.

As a side note, I use all synthetics in my oil paint, when i used to use solvents, and now when I don't. I've never lost a brush to solvents.

Any brush you buy will last as long as you allow it through proper care and storage.

Pigments are another area for concern for some people. There are some pigments you should avoid.
Bone black and/or Ivory black (can be labelled either way) is made from charred animal bones. avoid. If you're looking on the back, the bone/ivory black pigment code is PBk9. You'd be surprised which paints have black in it (Golden has a list on their website). There is another pigment called Cochineal is a scarlet dye made from ground up female cochineal insects, However, I've not seen this pigment anywhere on any pigments lists so it's possible it's no longer used.
If you need some information on pigments this website has some awesome information on pigments specifically used in watercolours, but in general it applies to oil, acrylic and other paints as well.

Myth: Most watercolours have an ox gall binder

Not so! Most companies have switched to using Gum Arabic as a binder, which is a tree based product. Ox gall is a product that is harvested from ox galls (no kidding?!). By the way, Gall is bile. It's pretty gross to think of it in your paint, so I don't know why anyone would use it, but it is still available to purchase, and some companies may still use it or include it as a binder in their paint. Just look on the label.

Some papers, and canvas use animal product sizing. Rabbit skin glue is a traditional sizing for canvas, and is sometimes used in Gesso. Gelatin is often used as a paper sizing. There are alternatives to these of course, as there always is. Polyvinyl acetate or PVA glue is a better sizing because it won't yellow or crack with age.
In many (if not all, actually) cases the animal products are going to yellow or crack with age where the synthetic equivalent will not. So it's best to avoid anyway.

In many cases the term "traditional" when applied to gesso, or grounds will mean animal products.

What you can do to find out more information about your products.
Find the website for the brand you like - the actual manufacturers website.
Often times they will have moderate information on the products, but usually a way of contacting them for asking questions. the good companies will get back to you. 
Most importantly, if you are contacting them, asking questions about the environmental and humane aspects of the products they manufacture, they will know that people are out there paying attention, caring and thinking about where they spend their money. They will make more efforts to provide this information publicly and to be concious of where they get their ingredients. when leaders of the industry do it, other will follow suit.

Read the labels on your products. Be aware of what you are purchasing and be aware of what those things are. If you don't know what something is on your label Google it! If google gives you half answers email the company directly, download their literature. There's always answers.
Here are some websites for some brands I could think of off the top of my head... why not ask them some tough questions ;)

Golden paints
winsor newton
Georgian Paint
Daniel Smith

Useful links
Cruelty free art supplies
Vegans list of art supplies
Vegan and Vegetarian artists group on Facebook


  1. Hello Jayleen,

    We are equally concerned that there are few if any cruelty free art supplies that are of a professional quality. That is why we opened Colors of Nature. We offer 13 watercolor paints and soon to be added oil paints that are made with natural earth mineral pigments using an all vegetable based vehicle. On every paint jar you will find an ingredient list. In order to be certified by ACMI and PETA we needed to supply an ingredient list. We were certified as being safe for children and adults plus vegan and cruelty free.

    I hope you will consider us as a solution to the cruelty free art supply question.

    Please feel free to visit us at Colors of Nature or contact me directly.

    Thank you,

    1. Thank you! I'm going to request some samples and see how it goes :)

  2. Winsor and Newton isn't answering my email. At one time I asked them and they said they were cruelty free and they do have a list of what products of theirs is not Vegan but they don't say anything about cruelty free. Also, Grumbacher doesn't have much information on their webpage like they used to and any time a company starts manufacturing in China it is no longer cruelty free because they test everything on animals over there. Very bad people.
    Also, what do you know about the ACMI ? I've emailed them asking if part of their evaluation is animal testing but they haven't answered yet.

    1. Try emailing Colart regarding Winsor Newton. They're the north american distributor and might have some information.
      Manufacturing in China isn't an immediate write off for cruelty free. It depends on the standards of the company that's manufacturing.
      Some companies just set up in China due to lower manufacturing and labour costs and still import the raw products that meet thier standards.

      They're not bad people, they just have different culture and haven't adopted the issue en masse like western culture has. There's still animal testing here too.

      I find asking publicly on twitter and facebook often gets a quicker response than emails :P

      ACMI rates toxicity. I doubt they have anything to do with cruelty issues. I'd be interested if you hear back from them if they may have the information on the topic though :)

  3. Hi,
    Thanks a lot for the great info.
    The other concern I have is the human element - slave labor, child labor, working conditions etc. Mining cobalt, mica and the like. I'm new to the game and it would be good to find information on this aspect as well, since cruelty free also means cruelty towards our fellow humans.
    Thank you.


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