Vegan Art Supplies, part 3: corrections

IMG_3393Okay, let’s try this again.

Despite what Daniel Smith are saying, it’s highly unlikely that their paints are made with only pigment and gum arabic. Why?


1. They don’t dry out.

The paint does not behave as though there is only pigment and gum arabic. I mixed up some powdered pigment and gum arabic, and do you know what happened to it? It dried out, hard as a rock, complete with cracks. Something in DS paints is keeping it moist-ish, and that thing is a humectant—most likely either glycerin (possibly vegan) or honey (not vegan).

2. Dispersal wet-on-wet

DS paint explodes in wet-on-wet painting. This, too, is a sign that something else is being used, namely a dispersant, probably ox gall. (Ox gall is often the reason the big name paints are so expensive, and DS certainly ain’t cheap.)

3. No fuzzy business

They do not mould. These paints clearly have a humectant, which will draw water from the environment even if you’re not adding water to your palette, in order to keep them from drying out completely. When you add water to something, you’re inviting the growth of mould. There are a few ways to keep mould at bay: high temperature, high pH, and fungicides are the main ones. No one stores their palette in the oven, and paints are not at a high pH, so they most likely contain some sort of anti-microbial. Which is fine—these things are vegan, but…

IMG_3394Even if they don’t contain ox gall; even if DS paints are vegan—they’re not disclosing all their ingredients, even after 2 emails and a phone call. They must contain at least one, probably several of the above additives, and they’re not being open about it, so there’s no way to know for sure if what I’m buying is animal-free.

Most telling of all—Daniel Smith make no public claims about their watercolours being animal-free.

I have 22 tubes Daniel Smith paint. All of them have gone up for sale on eBay.

What am I going to replace them with?

IMG_1309 2Holbein.

In my previous post, I was critical of Holbein, but after speaking to other artists who use them, doing some online research, watching some YouTube videos, and contacting Holbein, I feel much happier about these paints.

Also, Holbein are open about the fact that their watercolours do not contain either ox gall or honey, and all of their colours—apart from ivory black—are vegan. Click here to see: Holbein media containing animal products

Holbein have sent me some excellent product information, including a huge colour chart and a list of their watercolours with the pigments used–very useful!

IMG_3391I purchased a small tube of Quinacridone red, and it’s gorgeous—just as vibrant as DS and W&N. I also really like the caps on these, and I enjoy the control I have (I never really liked the explosive nature of most paints).

For more information on how watercolours are manufactured, check out:


Vegan Art Supplies, part 2: paints & pigments

Many watercolours are not vegan, and in the case of some brands, NONE of their paints are vegan, because they contain ox gall (obtained from the stomachs of cows). In other cases, it’s the pigment that’s animal-derived.

Here’s what I know about the big brands:

•Winsor & Newton

None of their Artists’ Quality Watercolours are vegan because they contain ox gall. Their student range–Cotman–are all vegan, apart from Viridian Hue, Raw Umber, and Ivory Black.

I’m pleased that (most of) the Cotman paints are vegan, since my son uses them. But they’re not high enough quality, nor do they offer enough of a colour spectrum for me.


These paints contain ox gall.

•Jackson’s Professional Watercolours

I rang them. Their paints contain both ox gall and honey.


These paints are animal-free, except for the ivory black, which is made from charred animal bones. Sadly, this is not a brand I would use, because according to the paints contain fillers, have lightfastness issues, and pigment quality is just not as good as other brands.

•Daler-Rowney Artists’ Watercolours

Animal-friendly apart from “bone black”. Sadly, another brand I wouldn’t use as these paints have brighteners, fillers, and lightfastness issues.

•Daniel Smith

Right…Daniel Smith is a favourite of mine; they’re fabulous. I emailed them to ask if their watercolours contain any animal-derived ingredients, and this is the reply I got:

“Hi Michelle, They don’t. We have our MSDS sheets listed on our website too- if that helps with your research.”

I wasn’t really satisfied with this response as I know for sure that at least one of their pigments (ivory black) contains charred animal bones. So I emailed again:

“I’m sorry, I can’t seem to find the ingredients (apart from the metals & pigments) on the MSDS. Can you please tell me what is used as the brightener (if used), the binder, the plasticizer, the humectant, the extender (or filler, if used), and the dispersant? And if glycerin is used, whether it is plant or animal-based? I plan to sell my paintings to raise money for animal sanctuaries, and I’d really like to be able to label them as vegan, so I really appreciate your help and any information you can provide. Thank you, Michelle”

This was the response:

“Hi Michelle, Just pigment and gum arabic. We don’t use fillers.”

I still wasn’t happy, so I called them. The person I spoke to assured me that the paints do not contain ox gall and only contain gum arabic (which is vegan) and pigment.

Despite all of this, I’m still not convinced. See this post for why: 

•Colors of Nature

Colors of NatureEach paint is made from a single, natural earth pigment, and is comprised of at least 30% pigment. They’re lightfast, solvent-free, petrol chemical-free, non-toxic, vegan, natural, and completely cruelty-free. However, as far as I’m aware, there is no UK distributor. I was sent a set of these to review a while back, and here’s what I made of them:

Upon opening the paints, I noticed a slightly sweet smell—not unpleasant—but very different from traditional watercolours.

The paints behave much like other watercolours, although I’d say they’re a little stickier. They do, however, dissolve easier in water, and I was never left with any bits of neat paint smeared across the paper.

They spread well, granulate beautifully, and do provide a lot of coverage. The colours are not at all chalky. I feel the quality is as good as professional watercolours.

Due to Colors of Nature’s commitment to provide completely natural, non-toxic, eco-friendly, cruelty-free paints, the palette is somewhat limited, but they are working to add more colours to their range.

Earth pigments aren’t as transparent as some other colours, and because of that, along with the limited colour range, mixing is a little tricky.

I am a lover of bright colours. I adore quinacridones. I paint fuchsia poppies and emerald chickens. I layer colours and do a lot of wet-in-wet work. I am also an artist of very limited ability, and I just couldn’t get these colours to do what I wanted. Other far more talented artists have done beautiful things with these paints. You can view some of their amazing artwork here:

I think these paints offer such a great alternative, and although there aren’t yet enough bright colours to satisfy me, for artists who paint landscapes, nature scenes, and portraits, these are perfect.


Most pigments are either synthetic, mineral, or from metals; very few are animal-derived. A simple search clears up the matter. You can’t look up the pigment name, you need the pigment ID. For example, I assumed that Daniel Smith’s “Carmine” was from cochineal, but it’s not. Cochineal is no longer used in watercolours because it is not lightfast.

These pigments are animal-based:

•pbk9 = charred animal bones. Found in blacks (“Ivory black”) and browns (particularly sepia).

•NR4 = cochineal. On the off-chance it is present.

•NY20 = extracted from the urine of cows fed mango leaves. I’ve not seen this pigment in any supplies, and it’s banned in England.

There may be more, and when I find them, I’ll add them to this list. A great resource is

Other Media

According to online investigations:

•Daler-Rowney FW acrylic inks are all vegan. These inks are excellent.

•ALL Faber-Castell products are vegan apart from a set of crayons.

•Caran d’Ache NeoColour II water-soluble crayons are vegan.


So, what am I using now?

DSC03615These brushes are all from Rosemary & Co. They are the best synthetic brushes I’ve tried so far. They hold nearly as much water as the animal hair brushes and are just as soft. They also point better. Her prices and customer service are second to none. I placed 3 orders in total and received my items the next day, or day after if I ordered later in the day.

dsc03614These are my Daniel Smith watercolours. I’ve purchased a basic, split-primary palette of:


•lemon yellow (cool)

•new gamboge (warm)

•quinacridone rose (cool)

•pyrrol red (warm)

•phthalo blue green shade (cool)

•phthalo blue red shade (warm)

I have sold the Daniel Smith paints, which I suspect are not vegan and replaced them with Holbein. (See:

And, of course, I’m using the Fabriano Artistico paper.

Vegan Art Supplies, part 1: paper

It’s only been…38 months since my last post. During that time, I set up a vegan soap making business and shut it down after a little over two years. I hated the business side of soap making (and the bitchiness of other soap makers). I’ve gone back to my first love: writing.

But writing—a predominately left-brained activity—is so cerebral and often mentally draining; it’s work. Right-brained activities, on the other hand, are energising and restorative; they’re play.

In comes painting. I’ve not painted in months, but I’m going to start again.

One little problem, though…I’ve since learned that most of my watercolour supplies were not vegan. I had many makes of watercolour paper, lots of brushes, and around 50 tubes of (very expensive) artists’ quality watercolours. By expensive, I mean £12 for a 14mL tube. One tube. I also had a sizeable investment in brushes. Sable brushes. Animal hair. £10-30 each, roughly. Squirrel hair, £9-15 each, roughly. (All purchased prior to going vegan.)

Are these supplies cruelty-free? Obviously, the brushes were not.  What about paints and paper? Surely paper doesn’t contain animal products, right?

Wrong. Some papers are buffered, a process which uses milk (??!?!!?), and most watercolour papers are “sized” with gelatine. The sizing slows down the absorption of water and paint, allowing the artist more time to move and mix the paint. This is part of the natural and desirable behaviour of watercolour paper, so sizing is pretty important. There are synthetic versions of sizing, but not many producers use it. Here’s what I know about a few brands:


One of my favourite papers. I emailed them and was informed that the gelatine used is animal-based. Damn.

•Winsor & Newton

Artists’ Water Colour Paper, Saunder’s Waterford Paper, and Cotman Water Colour Paper are NOT suitable for vegans.


Heavily sized with gelatine. No wonder it smells so bad.


Sized with gelatine.


From their website:

Hahnemühle was the first papermill in Germany to switch to synthetic sizing with a neutral synthetic agent. Such a paper sizing method has been possible for about 30 years and is used to make extremely stable and ageing resistant paper grades.



According to Winsor & Newton: Bockingford Water Colour Paper can be used by vegans as it is not externally sized with an animal derived size.

I use a lot of Bockingford, so this is great news.

•Fabriano Artistico

From their product description:

Papers are synthetically sized both internally and externally so that no animal by-products are used.

I’m doing my happy dance now, because this is my absolute favourite paper to use!


This paper is a type of plastic and contains no sizing or animal ingredients. Fabulous.

In part 2, I’ll talk about brushes and paints.


Life would be so much simpler if I could just focus on one thing, but I can’t; it’s not me.

I set up an Etsy shop and worked really hard for several months, but made only one sale. I created some beautiful journals and got a lot of praise for them, but I’m no salesperson. I’ve closed the shop and the blog and chalked it up as experience. I had some fun and learned so much about paper, books, and handmade goods.

DSC02879 DSC02919 DSC02938 DSC03030

Now, I’m focusing heavily on my studies with the Open University. Even that has undergone some big changes recently. I started out working towards an honours degree in English language and literature. However, I’m not interested in studying literature. I love literature, literary theory and criticism, but I don’t want a degree in it. I want to focus more on languages, so I’ve changed to an honours in Humanities specialising in creative writing and French. It takes up a LOT of my time and is very hard work, but I love it.

I’ve been painting a lot, too, but haven’t had time to post things. I miss blogging and connecting with other artists, so I’m hoping to revive this blog.

I’ve recently gone through all of  my art supplies and cleared out a lot of the stuff I’m not using. I went through a phase of wanting to try every product available, but have realised that I don’t need all that stuff. Not sure what to do with these nearly new supplies; maybe I’ll try to sell them on eBay.

I read something wonderful in my creative writing text. Flannery O’Connor said in ‘Writing Short Stories’ that a lot of writers paint because it helps their writing by forcing them to look at things. My art is an ideal complement to my writing. 🙂


I love art journals. I’ve always wanted to keep an art journal, but I’ve never gotten around to it. I even have this amazing book called Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You. If you’re into nature or journaling at all, you need this book. This is probably the most comprehensive, beautiful, practical, inspirational how-to book on anything I’ve ever come across.

Anyhoo, I decided to give it a go. Now, I’ve never been able to find a commercial art journal that I really like. The Moleskine ones are nice, but they’re expensive, don’t come in sizes I want, and only offer one type of watercolour paper. They’re kind of boring. Now, Roz Stendahl (of whom I’ve been stalking as of late), makes her own journals. I assumed this must involve copious amounts of tools and materials. I have neither the space nor the funds for a new hobby.

Out of curiosity, I did a bit of Googling on bookbinding and came across this website: and this video:’ve discovered that with just an awl, a bone folder (which I already have from sewing), a large sewing needle (ditto), some paper (ahem), and some linen thread, I can make a very basic journal. I went onto eBay and ordered a few bits. I think I spent about £6.

In the meantime, I’ve started journaling using an A5 Moleskine watercolour notebook. I got out my Staedtleer pigment liners and drew my cat, who was sleeping in her little bed. (A side note: we’re not actually sure she is a she. I’m now suspecting she is a neutered male.) She moved her head after I’d gotten the shape in, and I couldn’t see her face. I put down a few marks for eyes and a nose, but it looks awful. I’m hoping to fix it later.

What’s significant about this is that I’m addicted to my eraser. I erase so much it looks like it’s been snowing because of all the eraser dust. I never go straight in with indelible ink. I was thrilled when I managed to capture not only the correct shape, but also the essence of the cat bed in ink on my first try.

How the hell can a cat bed have an essence? What I mean is that is looks like our cat bed; not just any old generic cat bed. I can identify it as ours.

I’m also happy with the overall shape of Bingy. Her head and face are a little weird, but I’ll keep practising.

Once I was done painting, I decided to throw in a background. It looked not so great, so I used a small piece of natural sponge and gently lifted most of the paint. I think I’ll avoid backgrounds for now.

With background:

After scrubbing it back:

It did make the paper cockle a bit, but I can live with that. Despite being on the thin side, the paper does hold up pretty well to washes and scrubbing.

Here I’ve added some detail to the face. It’s pretty generic, but better than before. I also darkened part of her body, but it’s too stark. I’ll work on it.

*                          *                         *                         *                         *

We took Bingy to the vet yesterday. Turns out she is a neutered he after all. 🙂

Pears and Flutes

I’ve recently rejoined the great Yahoo! Group WatercolorWorkshop. Every month there is a challenge of some sort (monotone painting, triads, etc) and a paint-along. Here was this month’s photo:

And here is my very loose painting:

I’m not sure if it’s done yet. I’m thinking of extending that pink background to the left. I may darken those glasses, too. I’m not thrilled with that pear sitting in front of that glass on the right. I may try this again and either remove the pear or place it somewhere else. This made a nice change from my usual florals!