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.

 

 

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.