health, safety and environmental aspects
statement by C.E.P.E (The European confederation of Paints, Printing
Inks and Artists'colours Manufacturers'Associations)
is associated with colour.
colours the artist creates objects of lasting value.
Artists’ colours serve culture; they have
to be aesthetically pleasing and permanent. Yet, artists’
colours are also products for use which should not harm humans or
Artists’ colours, as with any manufactured chemical preparation,
are subject to laws and regulations to protect both user and the
environment. A number of traditional artists’ pigments contain
elements which suggest they may be hazardous –cadmium for
example. Some people mistakenly assume that everything natural is
good and chemical id bad.
concern sometimes creates prejudice. This information paper is intended
to openly discuss the situation for the benefit of art and the artist.
What do artists’ colours consist of?
The main components of artists’ colours are pigments and binders.
Additional substances may be necessary to produce the characteristics
expected from a quality product.
pigment determines the visual characteristics of the colour, its
hue and transparency. Pigments are finely ground, coloured powders,
which may be natural or synthetic, they may be further classified
as inorganic, those of mineral origin, or organic, derived from
binder acts as an adhesive ensuring that the pigment is securely
attached to the painting ground. It also affects gloss, transparency,
and gives the particular medium its characteristic properties.
artists’ colour cannot be produced by simply mixing pigment
and binder, additives are necessary to give stability, flow and
drying characteristics. The optimum use of all these components
is part of the art of the colour manufacturer.
this age of concern for our environment it is important that the
artist is aware of the nature of the materials being used, but it
is equally important that those materials meet the quality and permanence
Do artists’ colours endanger health?
artists’ colours are manufactured wherever possible using
pigments which do not present a health-hazard to the user. That
was not always the case, however. The “orpiment”, highly
regarded in the Middle Ages and the ancient world for yellow colours,
was highly poisonous owing to its arsenic content. Similarly toxic
were the historical pigments realgar, red lead (minium), verdigris
and Schweinfurter Green. People found many of these toxic pigments
in nature or produced them from natural ores. The “natural”
origin of these colours is therefore no measure of their non-toxicity.
The brilliant tones of the historically toxic colours are today
replaced by colour manufacturers with harmless, synthetic pigments.
Some inorganic pigments now contained in artists’ colours
do, however, contain heavy metals. Unfortunately, the term “heavy
metals” is often equated automatically with “toxic”.
Many heavy metals contained in artists’ pigments such as iron,
manganese, and zinc, are, however, essential trace elements but
may have a detrimental effect in higher doses. Some heavy metals,
found in artists’ pigments, do require further explanations,
though, as they can be harmful.
the more harmful pigments can be used safely if the necessary precautions
are taken, such as good ventilation of the room, avoiding oral intake
of colours/paint, avoiding inhalation when using a spray-gun/airbrush.
lead (Flake White, Kremnitz or Cremnitz White) is probably the only
really harmful pigment, but the use is not very wide-spread anymore.
It can accumulate in the body and cause serious health problems.
Therefore precautions should be taken when using.
may be found in lake pigments and toners. Barium sulphate is often
used by pigment manufacturers to adjust batch strength but as is
insoluble, it does not constitute a danger in normal use.
pigments occur as cadmium zinc sulphide (yellows) and cadmium sulphoselenide
(reds). Soluble cadmium compounds are toxic but the method by which
modern cadmium pigments are manufactured makes them virtually insoluble
and therefore not a danger in normal use as an artists’ colour.
artist may encounter chromium as Oxide of chromium or Viridian an
as Lead Chrome Yellows. Lead, Barium and Zinc chromates are dangerous
to health, but most manufacturers have stopped using them. The chemical
nature of the chromium in the two greens is such as to render the
chromium different to that in the lead chromate pigments, and is
not a hazard.
will be encountered by the artist in drying mediums and as Cobalt
Blue, Cobalt Green, Cobalt Violet and Cobalt Yellow (Aureolin).
In the dry powder form as pigment, these can cause respiratory allergies
if inhaled. Ingestion hazards depend on solubility. Cobalt Violet
and Cobalt Yellow will be the most harmful as they have greater
solubility. There is no danger from normal use.
historical pigments contained copper in a soluble form which would
be harmful if ingested, such pigments have long since ceased to
be used. Copper is present in phtalocyanines, but is complexed in
such a way as to be virtually unavailable for absorption into the
is found in the pigment Vermillion, but mercuric sulphide is virtually
insoluble and only if soluble impurities are present does it constitute
has to be taken into the body for
it to present a health hazard. It then has to be soluble in the
stomach acids and be absorbed into the body to be harmful. Some
pigments might cause health problems if absorbed into the lungs
over a prolonged period of time.
How safe are binders and solvents?
binders for oil colours are natural vegetable oils (linseed, sunflower,
safflower, soya, poppy) and sometimes natural resins (dammar, mastic)
and synthetic resins (cyclohexanone, alkyds).
contact with these materials does not constitute a health hazard.
driers, e.g. cobalt and manganese, may be used in small quantities
to improve drying but at these levels they do not represent a hazard.
binders for water colour and gouache also come from natural sources,
gum Arabic, dextrin, gum tragacanth and cellulose derivatives.
emulsions used acrylic colours are suspensions of resin particles
in water, they do not constitute a health risk in normal use.
solvents used by artists are of more concern. These are volatile
materials which could be inhaled when in use. Turpentine which is
distilled from natural extracts of pine can cause allergic reactions
and irritate the skin and respiratory tracts. White spirit is perhaps
less hazardous but grades can vary. When using such solvents ensure
adequate ventilation and avoid breathing the vapour.
artists’ colours harm our environment?
containing heavy metals, particularly lead and cadmium, should not
be allowed to pollute the environment. Cadmium pigments, although
not biodegradable, will give off toxic gases if incinerated and
may adversely affect sewage treatment. Unfortunately there are no
substitutes with the characteristics of cadmium pigments. Artists’
should use and dispose of them responsibility.
binders used are for the most part natural gums, oils, and resins,
hence renewable raw materials. Their use can cause little harm to
the environment. The synthetic resins such as acrylics, should be
disposed of carefully, preferably as dried material. Artists’
use of these materials is minute compared to industry in general.
the natural nor the synthetic binding agents contaminate household
refuse especially. There are no chlorinated hydrocarbons used only
halogen-free hydrocarbons. These can be either incinerated or dumped.
The quantity uses, moreover, is small. Solvents do require consideration
in relation to the environment. Solvents both natural and synthetic,
can contribute to the “greenhouse effect”. Halogenated
hydrocarbons, and CFC’s formerly common in aerosols, which
can pose a threat to the ozone layer, are no longer used. All artists’
material manufacturers operate within the limits required by strict
EU rules for discharge of waste and by-products into the environment.
will be subjective, according to the artists’ individual attitude.
Some will attach importance to the colour brightness, other to permanence.
It is not always possible to realise all the desirable properties
is important to the artist for an artists’ colour to indicate
clearly on the label what pigment it contains. It is important for
the artist to know whether he or she is using genuine cadmium or
character of individual colours should not vary over time within
a branded range of good quality products. Carefully controlled additives
ensure this consistency. Artists’ colours containing “only
pigment and binder” will not achieve this.
permanence, durability and light-fastness of artists’ colours
are important for the completed work of art, and good quality colours
will have statements regarding composition and permanence on the
label. Such labelling will meet international legislation and artists
should pay special attention to any warnings given on the label.
Artists’ materials are generally safe if used in the manner
in which they are intended and care is taken by the artist not to
dispose of material carelessly.
A number of ingredients used in artists'colours are classified as "being toxic to aquatic organisms". Products which do contain these ingredients are labelled accordingly.
Artists’ colour manufacturers, who have united in CEPE and
who are fully committed to honest and clear labelling on tubes and
other containers of artists’ colour ;BLOCKX SA, B-Nandrin
; CARAN D'ACHE, CH-Geneve-Thônex ; DALER-ROWNEY, GB-Bracknell
; C.KREUL, D-Forchheim ; LASCAUX-ALOIS K.DIETHELM AG, CH-Brutissellen
; LEFRANC & BOURGEOIS, F-Le Mans ; MAIMERI FRATELLI &CO,
I-Mediglia ; MARABUWERKE GMBH &CO, D-Tamm ; PEBEO, F-Gemenos
; SENNELIER, F-Saint-Brieuc ; SCHJERNING'S FARVER, DK-Ebeltoft ;
H.SCHMINCKE &CO GMBH &CO.KG, D-Erkrath ; DR.FR.SCHOENFELD
GMBH &CO. LUCAS, D-Dusseldorf ; ROYAL TALENS B.V., NL-Apeldoorn
; INDUSTRIAS TITAN SA, E-Barcelone ; WINSOR & NEWTON, GB-HARROW