Do you know what ingredients are in your paints, pencils, inks and dyes? If you do, then you have a great head start in knowing what materials you are working with on a daily basis as well as the broader actions you are participating in.
For example, some artist pigments are made from plants, minerals, or synthetics—but many are not. Ivory Black and Bone Black pigments come from charred animal bones. Lampblack, on the other hand, is pure carbon and not from animals at all.
Here are some other pigments that are not made from animals: Ochre, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Yellow, Zinc Oxide, Gamboge, Indigo, Madder, Cobalt Blue, Naphthol Crimson and Diozine.
Knowing what ingredients are in your pigments is only a start, since many art products combine pigment, binder, and other materials (which may be made from animals.).
For those of you who are conscientious about the art supplies you use, the following list contains artist materials you might want to stay away from.
Art products made from animals:
Cochineal is a scarlet dye made from ground up female cochineal insects.
Ox gall is obtained from cows and used as the wetting agent in most watercolour paints.Thankfully, Holbein has some watercolour paints that do not contain ox gall, including Cadmium Red Deep, Cobalt Blue, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Lamp Black, Opera, Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Deep.
Rabbit-skin glue comes from rabbits and is used for sizing oil painting canvases.
Gelatin is made from boiling animal skins, tendons, ligaments, etc. The highest-grade gelatin, made from the skins, hoofs, and bones of calves, is used in Gesso, while many watercolour papers are also sized with gelatin. Accent Vellum, construction paper and most handmade papers usually don’t have gelatin. There are also some papers available now that are sized with starch—ask for them at your art supply store.
Sepia ink is made from the inky substance found in the sacs of squid and cuttlefish.
India Ink or Chinese Ink is made of carbon or lampblack pigment, and a shellac binder which is obtained from secretions of an insect.
Water resistant inks usually contain animal ingredients. Water soluble inks, on the other hand, seldom contain animal ingredients. In almost every case you can check with the manufacturer via the internet using a contact form or email address posted on their website.
Bone charcoal comes from animal bones. Regular “charcoal” comes from vines and willow trees. The word “bone” is a dead give away—if you’re unsure, ask.
Artist’s pencils may contain beeswax, but not always. Derwent (for example) does not use beeswax in any of their products. Their charcoal pencils are made from pure charcoal, clay and pigment, the wax used in their pencils is from a plant source, and the binding material is from a mineral source.
Natural hair brushes use hair harvested from farm-raised or trapped animals, particularly sable (marten), squirrel and mongoose. Less expensive natural brushes are made of horsehair, pig bristles, or hair from ox snouts and ears.
There are now high quality synthetic brushes that are just as good as natural brushes. Winsor & Newton is just one of many manufacturers who make excellent synthetic brushes.
Oil pastels are made by combining raw pigments with animal fat and wax. Soft pastels on the other hand are usually free of animal ingredients, and you can even make your own, if you’d like. Here’s some additional information on that.
Art supplies free from animal ingredients:
Graphite is a mineral. What surrounds it may not always be animal-free, but by itself, it is. As mentioned above, Derwent is usually a good choice for animal-free pencils.
Charcoal—not bone charcoal—comes from plants.
Conte Crayon is made from natural pigments (iron oxides, carbon black, titanium dioxide), clay (kaolin) and a plant-based binder (cellulose ether).
Walnut ink, made from walnuts of course, can be used in place of sepia ink and gives a tone from sepia to rich brown depending on how much water is mixed in with it.
Yupo paper is made from 100% polypropylene and is suitable for all watercolour techniques. It’s good for drawing and fixatives stick to it as well. You can get Yupo at Blick online.
Raw fabrics such as unsized organic hemp, bamboo, linen or cotton can all be used for supports and contain no animal products. Stretch the fabric on stretcher bars and apply Golden’s Absorbent Ground instead of Gesso. Golden’s Absorbent Ground is 100% polymer and absorbent for watercolours.
How to learn more about ingredients in art materials:
Going straight to the manufacturer or company is the best way to find out what is in your art supplies, and when you’re ready to buy, remember to check online because you can find some great sales on art materials that way. The internet also makes it easy to reach manufactures and companies who want to hear from us and are willing to respond (or even make changes if their customers are unhappy).
A simple, polite request has power—we can see that by all the new products being made that are free of animal products.