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An Eco-friendly Approach to Making Art

pigments stones eco-friendly art

As artists we are exploring the world around us and most of us wish to question and evolve society and culture in a positive way. However, as with many of humanity's pursuits there is an environmental impact from making art: damaging sourcing and production practices, the associated carbon footprint, the direct effect on animals through testing and sourcing products, polluting discharge and waste.  Recently I have developed my painting practice to be more environmentally aware. Here I will share some of my research with you and at the end I will tell you what products I currently use.

Where do Pigments Come From?

It’s important to understand how paint products are made and how pigments are sourced.


Ancient, medieval and Renaissance painters used pigments derived from some very strange and limited sources: Egyptian mummies, beetle extracts, rare stones and the secretion of hard to find marine creatures. This made some pigments much more valuable than others.


Nowadays many pigments sold are sourced and produced often in quite a secretive way. The paint production process however is well known to be damaging:


-       Using toxic chemicals (then disposed of in an environmentally damaging way)

-       Large amount of water and chemicals are required which leads to the production of high volumes of wastewater

-       Solid, non-biodegradable waste includes adhesives, plastic and resins

-       Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are hazardous gasses released during the creation and use of paint which can be harmful to people and animals

-       Heating to high temperatures increases the carbon footprint

-       Some pigments such as Iron Oxide are extracted via invasive mining practices this can lead to soil erosion, habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity. Other pigments may also be derived from other environmentally invasive means.

Green Washing

Be warned that many companies use the following terms often as marketing ploys: Responsibly sourced, natural, organic, eco-friendly, cruelty free, eco-[insert anything]. There is often a limited amount of clarity in the parameters and measurement of each word and some companies have been caught lying to sell their products. Fair Trade Certified products seem to have more clearly defined standards. 


Which?, a not-for-profit consumer watchdog in the UK, recently investigated companies claiming to produce toilet rolls from 100% bamboo. They found that some were as little as 3% bamboo. In fact, some were made of virgin hardwoods – mostly eucalyptus, but also Acacia which has been associated with deforestation in places such as Indonesia. One company blamed this on third party suppliers in China but admitted they should have done more regular product testing (they were only testing once a year). The problem is companies may have good intentions but with limited testing and regulation from impartial third-party organizations, consumers don’t have all the facts.  


Sourcing environmentally art supplies is equally as baffling and requires constant research.

Eco-Friendly Paint Products

What is an eco-friendly product and what factors should you consider?

Here is a checklist I compiled in my research while questioning so-called green credentials:

-       How the products are formulated, manufactured, packaged and transported – materials used, carbon footprint, factory regulations and fair-trade standards

-       How the materials are extracted, reused, recycled, disposed of (renewable, organic, biodegradable, less toxic, less wasteful)

-       If any animals, humans or environments have been harmed at any stage. Some products claim to be Vegan

-       If you require any non-eco-friendly products to use the eco-friendly product (to clean, use as a medium, seal or finish)

-       A company may have a natural line of products that is economically propped up by their other unethical, environmentally unfriendly products and research


There are some companies that endeavor to be entirely eco-friendly. U.S. based company Natural Earth Paint, claims to use locally-made, 100% post-consumer recycled packaging, home compostable paint pouches, recyclable glass and aluminum bottles, and operate out of a 100% solar-powered facility.


If you don’t want to put your trust in another company you can experiment with making your own paint using natural pigments. Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber and Carbon Black are all colors you can make yourself using common earth products like clay, soil and carbon. You can also use plant and flower dyes, and mineral pigments. The colors may not be as vibrant or as varied, and it will take time and dedication to track down, produce and test your product, but that is the challenge we have to face if we wish to be eco-friendly artists. I have included a ‘how to’ video below to get you started:


If you are going to collect your own pigments, be careful to avoid naturally toxic and poisonous plants, minerals and metals (dangerous toadstools, lead, arsenic, cadmium etc).

What I Use

At the moment I am experimenting with natural pigments mixed with water. I am also using Pracrylic which is a sustainable acrylic plant paint and when I want to paint in oil I use R&F Pigment Sticks. These pigment sticks are mixed with wax so the paint can be molded into sticks so I can draw or paint directly onto a surface without using brushes, paint tubes or harmful chemicals such as solvents. I have reverted back to traditional, more environmentally friendly materials: natural wax (beeswax and plant wax), linseed oil and pigment. When I want to sketch I use charcoal.


This is an evolving process and I love to hear about new eco-friendly products, hints and tips – please share yours below.

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Apr 23
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