“Let’s get Dirty”!

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up” – Picasso

My education over the years led me on a path of science, research, discovery and development– in other words nothing to do with art for several years. Life has a way of waiting patiently until you are ready for your purpose. I believe that my purpose was to become a watercolor artist. It was only two years ago that the long lost connection with the artist that was within me got reconnected and I transformed from being a scientist for almost two decades into a full-time artist. And I am loving being one!

Lostincolours Earth Pigments

My love for watercolors and the guilt!

The alchemy of water, pigment and paper merging together is quite satisfying and unique to watercolors. I carried on using this medium despite the guilt of polluting the Earth with toxic chemicals, remaining ignorant of any other option. A great many watercolor paints and pigments that are out in the market either are NOT healthy for you or others are completely neutral.
Thanks to my years of training as a scientist that I cannot overlook not knowing the chemical composition of any pigment that I work with.
When I learned that it was possible to make my own paints from Earth, my passion was ignited and the whole process then became strongly aligned with my intrinsic values.

Step into the little corner of our guest room/studio where stands the classic Austrian REX marmalade jars containing a very small collection of my consciously selected beautiful Earth pigments; yellow and Red ochres from Italy, Cool Green Earth clay from Cypress, Orange ochre from France and a beautiful organic Indigo blue pigment from India. There is a natural attraction between the entire spectrum of earth colours, and this impression of pigments resonating with each other is evident in all of my work, which is painted using mostly the earth pigments, and I call them my ‘Dirty Paintings’. I remain in awe of the intensity and strength of earth pigments – there lies a whole palette of colours beneath your feet. While  painting, I prefer to apply the pigments in layers until the earth I have painted glows with the same intensity as it did in its native state.

Why do I paint with Earth pigments?!

For a variety of reasons, I have made a point of only using  natural Earth in my daily art practice . In fact, the only watercolors that I ever paint with are my own handmade watercolors (unless stated otherwise). The most obvious benefit of making and working with paints from natural resources is that we’re no longer poisoning the Earth or ourselves with unnecessary chemicals and toxins.

Even better, natural earth pigments

Lostincolours Handmade watercolours-Earth pigments

are actually superior to synthetic paints: they are more permanent (think cave paintings), and are not affected by sunlight, humidity, temperature or impurities. There is no need for added fillers or stabilisers to increase shelf life, and the colors themselves are more intense because the light bounces off the irregular surfaces of each particle. I don’t know of many artists who love painting with Earth pigments at least not on the social media platform. I had conducted a poll some time ago to know from artists if they knew what was inside their paint. I was not surprised that 85% of them voted NO. Although, statistically this is not significant when the sample size was only approx. 120. But it did give me an idea that many  people really didn’t know what’s inside their paint?

Are watercolors (commercial/handmade) toxic?

The toxicity problem in an artists world is kind of a blurry area. There’s no simple answer sorry. Watercolor paints usually have a low toxic index, including the ones stating “natural ingredients” such as Earths like Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, Burnt umber, Raw Umber, are quite toxic in nature !

The toxic effect of  heavy metals in paints is very well known to us and is stated clearly on the paint tubes or the MSDS provided by the manufacturer, but I have not come across any paint that mentions anything about the presence of toxic trace minerals. For. eg paints like Malachite, Azurite,  Emerald green, Viridian etc.

This also applies to the wide range of  handmade watercolors that have  flooded the market in recent times where complete information about the paints by some suppliers is not provided except for the marketing name under which they are sold.

I know of many artists who ignore the safety aspect of the art material they work with. In fact, many artists may feel that they are exposed to toxic painting pigments in such small quantities that no danger to their health is likely. However, it is important to understand that repeated small doses of hazardous materials might prove to have a cumulative effect on an artist’s  health that may become evident at a later date. Especially, if you happen to be a passionate watercolor paint maker too. Pigments in pulverized state pose higher risk as opposed to  when bound with a binder. The body may be able to rid itself of the poison but it may take a long time to do so. If toxic material is absorbed at a faster rate than it can be excreted, the accumulation may cause serious illness. Reactions to a toxic material may vary according to the artist’s age, size, or physical condition.

By saying so, it certainly doesn’t imply that you should stop painting or making colors or be scared to reach out to your box of watercolor paints /pigments. Painting is a beautiful activity that allows an individual to capture their feelings. In fact , most daily  activities, from washing your hands,  to walking in the streets, involve dealing with low doses of toxic pollutants that lurk in our environment, and sometimes ingesting them!  I just don’t like to ignore and expose myself  to accumulate low risks.

Therefore, its important to inform yourself  about what you are working with. Once  you have learned about the risks, and took the proper habits while creating your piece of art… paint to your heart’s content!

 

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.

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 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 labels 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 for 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 benefits. 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 a 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 the 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 an 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 a 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 extensive research in understanding different kinds 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 the 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 is created.

Pigments are classified into three basic categories, that a manufacturer may use 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 exist 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 is 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 to date tells me that paint labeling is probably the least interesting topic on watercolour paints … it is like reading a safety tag on your mobile phones. Unfortunately, boredom leads to a 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 an 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 the 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 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 the 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 from 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 a 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 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 the artist’s materials. The author may change the contents of this document at any time, either in whole or in part.Thanks.

 

Ignorance is not bliss!

The entire world keeps talking about how its not that hard to blog about something ! Where do I begin, I am still struggling how to start this very first blog article of mine. I am a professionally trained scientist and I consider myself as an artist too, but a writer? Well, at least not a creative writer because I have published articles in scientific journals.   I was quite frustrated on the weekend staring at a blank screen waiting for that moment to strike! Aha! I know how to write an opening line! Well, that moment never arrived! So, I ditched the whole idea to have that perfect creative post. Instead,  I decided to just dive into the topic that matters to me a lot. Indeed, its health and safety issue in the Art world. Who would have thought that it matters? Perhaps, if I didn’t have a science background I too would have remained ignorant about the hazards that are associated with the art supplies. How many of you know what’s in an artist’s pigment?

If any art material has a hazard warning mentioned on the back of the paint I take notice.  Health and safety aren’t often mentioned in connection with fine arts, but we are exposed to more toxins than we may be aware of. You may know that the cadmiums, cobalts, chromes, lead are toxic but what about your other paint colors? Are they toxic? I am not saying do not use such paints. In fact, I believe that would be pretty much impossible, but you should know what you are handling. Simply because ignorance is not bliss!

I don’t want to write a scientific post here but just a little chemistry: most, but not all, of the toxicity issues are associated with heavy metals such as copper, cobalt, cadmium, lead, chromium etc. Chronic exposure to these poisons the body, and many are known or suspected to be carcinogens. If you remember your periodic table from high school chemistry class, these are transition metals from that central section. So a quick rule of thumb is that if there’s heavy metal in pigment, it’s probably toxic.

Safety is as simple as ABC = Always Be Careful

 

 

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