Updated: Apr 15
Oil paints are a beautiful medium and are known for their archival quality.
They have been used over the centuries by Old masters but a lot of beginner artists these days tend to stay away from oil paints because of the fear of toxicity.
While oil painting can be toxic not just for you but for your pets as well ( specially birbs ) it's fairly easy to be safe while using oil paints.
Let's dive a little deep into Oil Painting practices and how you can paint with non-toxic mediums.
Oil paints are made of pigments and oil. While most pigments are non-toxic, some can be really harmful if you consume or inhale the pigment particles. On the other hand, oils used as binders in oil paints are non-toxic.
There are some pigments which contain heavy metals such as cadmiums, lead white etc.
Most of my oil paints are from Sennelier Rive Gauche Artist Oil Color Series.
They contain safflower oil instead of linseed oil so they dry faster in comparison.
Solvents are essentially what you should be wary of. Turpentine and other mineral spirits emit very toxic fumes. You can use them safely by working in a very well-ventilated area and don't use them too much.
I personally get severe headaches because of strong smells even if they are pleasant, so I stay far far away from turpentine.
Non-Toxic Oil Painting
Creating oil paintings without the use of toxic materials is very much a possible option for artists.
Keep reading to know different methods for creating oil paintings without the use of toxic materials.
Pigments As I mentioned earlier most pigments are safe except a few which contain heavy metals like cadmium. If you really want to use cadmium, lead-white or other toxic pigments, you can do so by wearing gloves while painting or ensuring that you wash your hand really well after you are done painting.
Or you can simply use alternative pigments like titanium white instead of lead white.
For thinning down your paint you can simply use linseed ( my preferred oil ), walnut or safflower oil instead of turpentine.
If you want to use turpentine to clean your brushes you can do that in a well-ventilated area, near an open window, or outside your house and then make sure you close the lid of the turpentine container.
Check out this Sennelier Green for Oil - Thinner. It's non-toxic, a bio solvent and environment friendly.
It's a bio solvent so it does have a bioproduct smell but not strong enough to give you an instant headache. It's also environment-friendly as compared to turpentine. Although it claims to be a Non-Toxic product I still prefer using it to only clean my brushes that too on my balcony.
For an even safer option, you can clean your brushes using soaps specially made for cleaning your brush.
My favourite is Generals Master Brush Cleaner and Preserver.
As far as varnishing goes you can either not varnish your paintings at all or use less toxic varnishes. Take precautions while using them like working in a well-ventilated area, wearing gloves and if possible even a mask.
Water-Mixable Oil Paints
Yes, water-mixable oil paints are a thing!
They are very easy to use, you just have to use water instead of oils or solvents with them.
You can use them with oils as well, though I would recommend not using oils and water in the same painting.
You don't need any toxic solvent to clean your brushes or thin down the paint, water will work just fine.
Oil painting can be fairly non-toxic if you work with precaution. Always try to work in a well-ventilated area, don't inhale or ingest paints, and remember to wash your hands properly after you are done painting.
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