Ethical considerations with artists’ materials

I’ve been hunting around the web for information on sourcing artists’ materials ethically.  It is extremely difficult to find any information.  From what I’ve managed to find, here is what I could do to mitigate potential impacts (environmental, social, and animal welfare).  I’ll update this post as I find new information.

1. Painting ground – I use MDF, but I could use FSC sourced MDF board from a local supplier.

2. Textured surface – I use secondhand bedsheets as a ‘canvas’ to cover the boards.  These are made from cotton (which involves issues with chemicals and poor worker conditions in its sourcing) and polyester (by-product of petrochemical industry).  This is part-mitigated by my use of second-hand materials, but to be purist, I could use organic pure cotton, linen or ideally hemp.  Better still would be secondhand hemp.

3.  Currently I glue this on with Golden acrylic softgel medium, seal the panel with Golden Acrylic polymer medium GAC100, and prime with acrylic primer.  Acrylic products are acrylic polymers, which contain acrylic resin, which come from acrylic acid or methacrylic acid.  Acrylic acid is produced from propene which is a byproduct of ethylene and gasoline production.  Ethylene is produced in the petrochemical industry – and petrochemicals are chemical products derived from petroleum or ‘crude oil’.  The details of all this took some uncovering (thanks, Wikipedia!).  So any acrylic artist products (mediums, primers, and paints) are derived from crude oil, which is an unsustainable and finite resource.  There are also considerations of energy use and carbon emissions during manufacturing processes.

4. I use oil paints, which are not sourced from petrochemicals (to my knowledge – although possibly some of the pigments may be).  However, there are some issues with some of the pigments used and I’d need to research each of these separately.  I could use pure pigment and a binder such as walnut oil, which would increase my knowledge of the ingredients and would reduce packaging and manufactuing-energy-use.  The main environmental issue with oil paints is the use of solvents, which I have avoided by using sunflower oil to clean brushes.  I did come across advice to use baby oil, which might be nicer – but what is baby oil made from?  Turns out it usually contains mineral oil which, you guessed it, is a by-product of the petrochemical industry.  So I’ll stick with the sunflower oil (not vegetable oil, which can come from palm oil, which is often unsustainably produced).

5. I buy my paintbrushes from a local supplier, Rosemary’s Brushes.  I was using chunking bristle, but I’m not sure whether animal welfare issues are involved.  So I’m going to try their ‘Ivory’, which is synthetic bristle.  Of course, that probably means it is derived from the petrochemical industry – so I need to ask more questions.  However, they are made locally so I am at least supporting a local business.

Resources that I have managed to find:-