Have you ever wondered where your art supplies come from? Have you ever considered what products are in your art supplies, or whether these products have been tested on animals?
As an artist who is constantly looking for cruelty-free ways to live, I began researching the world of art supplies. Animals are not just in the obvious products we buy – food, clothing and fashion. Their remnants filter through to the most unlikely places. And the more I research vegan art supplies, the more I discover.
Many bone black pigments are made from carbonized cattle bones. Watercolours often include the extract of bovine gall bladders, used as a wetting agent. A canvas that has been primed with gesso contains gelatine – the boiled parts of animals. To size a canvas, rabbit skin glue is regularly used. Paintbrushes contain animal hair and fur from squirrels, ferrets, goats and horses. Certain inks include crushed bugs to obtain the required colour.
It’s not just the obvious products we buy which contain animal ingredients, but the not so obvious products. Some companies state that they do not test their products on animals, but that’s not to say the raw ingredients haven’t been. It’s always worth emailing or calling a company to ask. Contacting a company directly puts pressure on them to stop supporting animal testing.
Sadly, many products available for consumers are still tested on animals in laboratories - not only art supplies but many household products, make-up and hair products. Cats, dogs, rabbits, mice, rats, and other innocent animals spend their lives locked up in cages, having chemicals put on their skin and into their eyes. Their suffering is unimaginable. All this misery, so we can have a product deemed ‘safe’ for human use.
There are so many products out there that don’t support this practice and are fine to use. This is why it’s crucial to look into companies, how they work, and what’s in their products. This is why our consumer choices matter. Because there’s no excuse for this suffering to happen. Just try, for a moment, to imagine what life inside a lab must be like. Relentless pain and suffering, blindness, vomiting, sickness and eventually death. It’s inconceivable that these sentient beings are put through this treatment. Caring about animals doesn’t just sit with our pet cats and dogs. The products we promote with our wallets matter. We are either supporting these practices or rejecting them, by how we spend our money. It’s that simple.
Luckily, there are more and more options for consumers to buy cruelty-free products. In the art world, many art supplies don’t contain animal products and several companies don’t support animal testing. It’s just a case of a little research and questioning. There are gall-free watercolours available at most art supply stores. DaVinci and Holbein Artist Materials supply gall-free watercolours. Faber Castell market their products as cruelty-free and environmentally friendly. Their sepia and India inks are made with synthetic materials. Strathmore Art make paper without gelatine. Fabriano Papers are mostly sized with starch. Derwent Pencils do not contain beeswax. Natural Earth Paint state that their products are non-toxic, natural and sustainable. Many art supply stores sell synthetic paintbrushes, so no animal hair is used.
As an artist who regularly promotes animal rescue and welfare, I need to find products which don’t support cruel practices. I also want to be gentle on the environment as much as possible. This seems a challenge with art. There’s always the option of using waste paint. This is something I have started doing with the first mural I practised on my garden shed. I collected waste house paint from a recycle centre and used that as my mural background. If it’s only going to be thrown into landfill, it’s better not to waste paint. And it’s more affordable.
Many artists I’ve met care deeply about the planet and how we treat this world. It’s possible to create artwork that doesn’t support cruel animal practices. And the more we request this from companies, the more likely alternative products will be available.
If you’d like to find cruelty-free art supplies, Jackson’s Art has provided an excellent blog post on this subject: