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Can eco-friendly art supplies be archival and professional quality?

Can eco-friendly art supplies be archival and professional quality?

May 12th 2013

Painting by Rembrandt created with natural earth pigments, minerals, and walnut oil.

While studying painting at one of the top art schools in America, I trusted my amazing professors like they were preaching the gospel. I looked up to their expertise so completely that I assumed they would of course tell me if any of these supplies they were recommending might be extremely toxic. For the supplies that I already knew were toxic (like turpentine and cadmium paints), I assumed they were a necessary evil to produce a high quality piece of art - or else someone would have told me an alternative.

After leaving art school and becoming more concerned about my personal health and the health of our planet, I began changing my life by surrounding myself with healthy, non-toxic alternatives to many things. My family lived off the grid in small, hand-built, earthen cabins with very little solar electricity and a wood stove for heat. We grew much of our own food, used composting toilets, and eliminated all toxins from our home. And yet I STILL used toxic art supplies in my studio because I did not want to sacrifice the “professional quality” of my art which was my life and my livelihood.

I soon began researching “green” art supplies but did not fully dive in until I was truly forced. I found out that I was pregnant at the same time that I was awarded a large solo show that required me to paint twenty-five large-scale oil paintings during the nine months of my pregnancy. I went to my studio and packed four large boxes of toxic paint supplies, shaking my head at the price I had paid for all that. There were solvents, tubes of paint containing heavy metals, numerous synthetic, petroleum-based paints, and acrylic gesso.

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