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26 November 2012

The End of Lead (Flake) White?

Several fairly-common oil paint colours are becoming scarce. Safety and environmental regulations have caused many European countries to ban the production of lead carbonate (pigment PW1), the main ingredient in oil paint colours like Lead White, Cremnitz White, Silver White, Naples Yellow, Lead Tin Yellow, etc. (Winsor-Newton recently moved their operations from the UK to more-highly regulated France, and recently announced that it may suspend production of their genuine cadmium oil and acrylic colours, in addition to colours containing PW1. I'm not aware of any acrylic paint that incoporates PW1.)

Colours containing admium are considered less harmful than colours containing lead, but cadmium is still considered toxic.

I bought my first tube of a lead-based oil paint on the advice of a college classmate during my sophomore year: Winsor-Newton Naples Yellow. Having any lead-based pigment on campus was against school policy (but, what they didn't know, didn't hurt them!)

I loved using the colour, especially for skin tones. I use Naples Yellow for skin much less these days, preferring Yellow Ochre (or glazing transparent or semi-transparent colours) for flesh, but there are still times when Naples Yellow comes in handy.

During my juniour year, I puchased a tube of Flake + Mica from Robert Doak, and it's been my "go-to" mixing white for several years--esepcially for skin tones, where it's semi-trasnparency is superiour to the chalky opacity of Titanium (PW6)--and flake doesn't have the potential delamination problems associated with zinc (PW6).

I'm currenly into my second 150ml tube of Doak's Flake + Mica.

Using toxic pigments like cadmium and lead frightens many painters, but the dangers of these paints can easily be managed. Following a few simple rules. like not eating in your studio, making sure to wash your hands frequently (and every time you get paint on your hands) and/or wearing protective gloves, will virtually eliminate the health risks of using lead or other toxic pigments.

I don't wear gloves when I paint, because they adversely affect my grip on brushes, paint tubes, palette knives--and especially airbrushes. But, I do wash my hands frequently, and I don't eat in my studio.

Some oil paint manufactuers--namely Michael Harding in the UK and Mr. Doak in NYC--have vowed to continue offering lead whites as long as lead carbonate remains available. Old Holland recently increased the prices on their lead whites; a 40ml tube of OH lead white can retail for as much as $25.00, or more.

I've been stocking up on flake white (photo) buying paint from Winsor-Newton, Williamsburg, and Holbein. I'm hoping to place another order from Robert Doak in the Spring, and hope to obtain at least three or four more 140ml tubes of his Flake + Mica.

Lastly, owning paintings that were made using PW1 is not a problem; lead white is toxic primarily when eaten. The danger from lead paint in Chinese Toys and lead-based house paint is that kids peel off chips of the paint--lead-based paint flakes taste sweet. Children eat the chips, and get sick.

I haven't heard of any instance where a child was injured from eating paint flakes from a painting, and I can't imagine any collector letting a child get close enough to a painting to peel and eat the picture!

Anyway, I've been working hard on The Presentation of Spiders this weekend, and the four figure has been drawn, and painting will begin soon. Also, I have an idea for the image that will go on a four foot by four foot panel I've prepared over the winter, too.

So, new stuff is on the way.

Thanks for reading.

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