Non-Toxic Oil Painting

My first baby step towards true Earth Art involved learning to paint with oils using non-toxic pigments, vegetable/nut oils, and no solvent like turpentine. It was actually super easy with almost no compromise on my usual techniques or color pallete. It surprised me to learn that using solvent (as a paint thinner and brush cleaner) is a pretty recent development in art history. The old masters did not use it but simply used walnut oil to clean brushes and dilute paint. A cheap jug of raw linseed oil will also work to clean brushes, but according to Vasari and others, it shouldn’t be used as a medium because it tends to yellow.
As far as the oil paints themselves, which are simply pigment mixed with a natural oil, most are already completely non-toxic. Only a few should be avoided because they contain toxic heavy metals like lead, mercury, cobalt and barium. Avoid flake white, cerulean blue, cobalt blue, vermillion, cadmium red and yellow, chrome and naple’s yellow. There are a few brands of oil paint that are made with only non-toxic pigment and walnut oil, like M.Graham. But you can also easily make your own oil paint by buying pigment or collecting colored soils and mixing it with walnut oil (or M.Grahm’s walnut oil alkyd medium). Rembrandt actually used no mediums in his painting because his hand-made paints were already fluid by themselves.
Another non-toxic option for a medium is 3 parts egg yolk mixed with 1 part black oil. But being a vegan, I haven’t tried this option. I’ve also discovered another brush cleaner option that’s biodegradable, non-toxic and odor-free called “Brush Flush.” It’s reusable if you store it in a lidded container and dip your brushes in. The company recommends that you wash your brushes with Dr. Bronner’s soap after you use Brush Flush.
The benefits of non-toxic painting are numerous. You don’t have to worry about ventilating your studio. And you don’t have to worry about harming yourself, your family, and the environment in order to create your art. No more off-gassing paintings in your studio. The risk of acute/chronic diseases from these toxins is eliminated. You can safely dispose of rags and excess paint in the trash and flush wash-water down the drain. The drying time is increased, and non-toxic pigments are more readily available and much cheaper than toxic chemical pigments. All of this gives me greater freedom mentally and physically with my painting and lifts a weight off my shoulders that has always tugged at my conscience.
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