How ‘Green’ is your Green watercolour ?!

Green, the colour of nature, new life and sustainability can never be green ! It is ironically toxic to all forms of life and environment!

“Nature in her green, tranquil woods heals and soothes all afflictions” –John Muir

Trail walk to Laudachsee, Upper Austria

Green is the color of nature, which symbolizes renewal and growth. It also means balance, calm and harmony. It is no surprise that we feel so invigorated when we are out in the open surrounded by the beauty of nature. Such is the power of green, which manages to resonate with our inner energy, rebalancing us.

Today Green is no longer just a color. It is the symbol of Ecology!

But in an artist’s world, green has always been a troublesome color. Because mixing greens can be one of the major issues that can start to throw your landscape painting off-course. Green can be an Achilles heel for any artist, and the urge to grab premix green watercolor paint out of a tube can be hard to resist. Why is it so, I am not sure? Perhaps it has something to do with how we all actually perceive green.

As Pablo Picasso once said: “They will sell you thousands of greens. Veronese green and emerald green and cadmium green and any sort of green you like, but that particular green, never.”

Which Colors Make Green?

I don’t think there is one shade of green available in watercolor that depicts the beauty of nature in any season. That’s why I have always mixed my greens and that too using natural pigments because I strongly believe and enjoy painting in organic sensibility!

One of the basic rules of elementary school art class is that blue mixed with yellow produces green. True, those two colors alone can produce many wonderful greens, assuming that the yellow and blue paints you are using are pure yellow and pure blue. If they  have been altered from their pure forms, it will consequently alter your green as well.

Mixing greens with genuine Indigo blue (NB1), Curcuma (NY3), Ercolano Red (PR102) and Gold Ochre (PY43). Lost in colours handmade watercolours.

The chart on left shows the most delightful greens that I have achieved with my mixing. Notice all those green (rows 1-3) were made using only two of my own handmade natural paints Indigo genuine (NB1) and Curcuma (NY3). In the last two rows I varied the colours by adding a bit of Ercolano Red (PR102) and yellow gold ochre ( PY43).   I sometimes also use Ultramarine blue (PB29) in my work  to create several mixes of green with Py43. Infact, NY3 when mixed with PB29 also gives beautiful greens. Try doing several charts on your own to make some luscious greens!

Toxic convenience Green watercolor paints !

While the color green evokes nature and renewal, the cruel truth is that most forms of the colour green, the powerful symbol of sustainability can be quite damaging not only to the human health but also to the environment. Infact, green color has a very toxic history. Whereas all shades of green look beautiful in nature!

Today there are many green hues available in artists’ colours, I’m not going to make you the whole list as its beyond the scope of this article.  Almost all greens contain chromium, cobalt, or copper, all of which are poisonous and cause or are suspected to cause birth defects and abnormalities.

Toxic popular green watercolor paints

Phthalo Green (PG7 and PG36),  probably the most popular green in use by artists today as it is capable of producing a vast range of useful colour mixtures ! Several studies have demonstrated that PG7  an organic pigment containing copper and chlorine can cause cancer and serious birth defects  (read the articles & 2 if you are really inclined) and they are quite toxic to the aquatic environment (links 1 & 2).  Another popular shade, PG36, includes potentially hazardous bromide atoms as well as chlorine. Something to really consider is that phthalocyanine pigment manufacture is  done primarily in the third world countries where safety regulations are not as strict  and the risk  it poses to the workers involved and environment is phenomenal. Remember these are innocent people whose lives are put to risk for meeting the demands of industries requiring that particular green color!

Cobalt turquoise or Cobalt Teal (PG 50) is a noxious cocktail of cobalt, titanium, nickel and zinc oxide.  Additionally, mineral pigments containing copper clearly come with a hazard warning such as Malachite (links 1 & 2) and Atacamite (link here ).

Chromium, a carcinogen which causes birth defects, is found in Viridian (PG 18) and Chromium Oxide Green (PG 17).

Cobalt Green (PG 19) contains cobalt.

Green Gold (PG10) contains Nickel.

The only acceptable greens are Green Earth (PG23) and Ultramarine green.   Green Earths are more numerous, but one must take care that they have not been adulterated with one of the poisonous greens to produce a stronger color.

Its true that the watercolor paint contains insufficient quantities in a pan or a tube to be acutely toxic or injurious to humans but pigments in dry state  are far more dangerous if precaution is not taken. Caution the blues and yellows are no different either !

The heart of the problem is that green is such an elusive color to manufacture that toxic substances are often used to stabilize it. Ironic isn’t it?  So, next time you’re tempted to buy something in any shade of green, be prudent and just remember how poisonous that color was in the past, and can be today.

Most importantly,  know what you’re working with, what are the risks to your health,  to those who manufacture the pigments and  your environment!

Alternatives to toxic green watercolors certainly does exist but the question is are you willing to make that choice  to your art practice? Something to ponder over!

Nature is not a place to visit, it is home and we don’t destroy the home where we live in!

Hike to Avalanche peak, Arthurs Pass, New Zealand

 

 

Bibliography, Sources, and Recommended Reading:

The Secret Lives of Colour -Kassia St Clair

Artists’ Pigments- A Handbook of Their History and Characteristics

Volume 3 Elisabeth West Fitzhugh, Editor

Rossol, Monona. Artists Complete Health & Safety Guide 3rd Edition, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York 2001.

 

 

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 art materials. The author may change the contents of this document at any time, either in whole or in part.

 

 

A safe pair of hands

This is a guest blog featuring Elma Hogeboom

 

My name is Elma Hogeboom, a sustainable artist from the Netherlands. I strive towards a sustainable lifestyle in every walk of my life. Art is a huge passion of mine and I apply sustainability to my passion too. After a long painstaking research, I found out that sustainable materials to create pieces of art were either very scarce or non-existent! It got me thinking: in this day and age, how in the world can we not transition to sustainable alternatives in art? Connecting art and sustainability requires creativity and unconventional approaches, a challenge that I love! So I started my journey in sustainable art.

 

A few weeks ago I discovered something called eco glitter, it sparkles in all colors and is completely biodegradable and eco-friendly. All those pictures of sparkling hands and eyelids… – yes, it seems perfect for make-up too! – Now I’m not really the ‘over-the-top makeup’ kind of gal, but if I were, I would definitely stock up big time!

While searching Instagram for my daily dose of inspiration a while back – honestly, I sometimes feel like a coffee addict looking for their next cup… – I suddenly found myself flabbergasted. I saw a movie clip, you may have seen it yourself, of an artist having some sort of liquid metal in the palm of their hands. The first thing that popped into my mind was ‘mercury poisoning’, and since I didn’t see a caption of what the metal was, I started reading the comments. People were amazed and horrified at the same time. Some stated that it could be gallium, which they claimed was less big of a deal. Nevertheless, I clearly saw the grayish stain the metal left on the hands, which didn’t seem all that appealing to me and I quickly decided I definitely wouldn’t try this one at home…

After this incident, I started thinking: what else did I see on Instagram that might not be such a good idea to try myself? I knew that I had painted with my bare hands in the past, inspired by intuitive artists and their beautifully captivating pictures of bare hands covered in paint. I stopped doing this because I thought it might have a negative impact on my health. However, as this seems to be some sort of trend nowadays, it seemed like a good idea to share why I quit painting with my bare hands myself.

As a sustainable artist, I spend lots time researching the materials I use in my art practice. I read about pros en cons for the materials I use, with regard to their eco-friendliness, impact on life on this planet and the circumstances under which it has been produced; talking about light reading! But sustainability also includes thinking about my own health, especially when I’m in direct contact with chemicals like paints.

Now, many (professional) paints contain heavy metals, like cadmium, cobalt, manganese, zinc and lead, that not only have beautiful colors, but which can be very toxic too! And these metals can cause severe health issues, like cancer and metal poisoning, when we fail to handle them with the proper precautions. For example: inhaling cadmium may cause lung cancer. Boy! I was I glad to have read about this before even considering using my spray bottles with cadmium-based paints!

But while diving deep into the product safety data sheets of the major paint manufacturers – honestly, it can really feel like reading Chinese sometimes- I also found out that they warn about prolonged or repeated skin-contact with their paints. This really got me thinking: is it safe to frequently use my hands as painting tools? Especially when I’m not 100% sure the paints I use are safe? My conclusion?

1) I’ll try to avoid some paints/pigments I’m not comfortable with using and

2) I’d rather stick to that good old paintbrush.

Better to be safe than sorry, right? And if I do feel the urge to let the child in me indulge from time to time, I’ll go with some non-toxic alternatives like eco- and child-friendly finger paints, or better yet, make them myself with some natural ingredients. ‘Cause, hey, we all need a spark of childhood memories from time to time, right?

That’s it for now. Safe painting my friends! And if you liked this post, please check out my blog on www.elmahogeboom.nl/blog or follow me on Instagram (@elmahogeboom). Talk to you soon!

 

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.