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Painting Safely Using Oil Colors – Part 1

I am writing down how to ‘paint safely using oil colors’ to invite new artists to try using oil colors instead of other alternatives in the market. There is much to learn, so I will publish related content in several, bite-size, posts.

Painting with oil colors comes with a heavy cost to some artists. Some oil colors contain toxic chemicals—such mercury, cadmiums, cobalt, lead–and oil color mediums to change oil colors or to clean your brushes can be extremely harmful. Despite the dangers of these chemicals—let me assure you—that oil painting is a safe sport.

The dangers from the toxic materials weren’t well known until recent decades, so it’s not surprising that some of the best known ‘dead’ artists had been careless: Carravaggio often used his painting palette as a plate, Van Gogh apparently drank paint thinners, and many artists painted with bare hands, exposing them to chemical poisoning. Perhaps it was the result of chemical poisoning that made Carravaggio go off killing people, and changed how Van Gogh see colors with higher shades of yellow.  

So why use oil colors? Well, because many oil colors are “organic” and safer than newer, heavily advertised artist painting materials. What do you think will be more dangerous: eating oil colors made from earthly materials vs. ingesting Acrylic paint?  But the major reason to paint with oil colors is the quality of the end product that is more vibrant and closer to living things.

Here are 3 main practices that I have experimented to paint safely: 

  • Make use of non-toxic colors
  • Stop or Limit the use of paint thinners
  • Make use of Acrylic Paints for underpainting

I will discuss above practices in upcoming posts. Let me end today’s posts by inviting you to read a post from August 2020 and recommending you additional two colors to start your oil painting journey. Once you have read my two posts, you will be armed with four colors for portrait painting: Ivory Black, Scarlet Lake, Yellow Ochre, and Titanium White–This is a safer alternative to Zorn Palette, named after Anders Zorn.

Order Scarlet Lake from Amazon.com (This is an alternative to Vermilion, a famous red color, considered super toxic due to its mercury content)