Every now and then we get emails from artists inquiring whether our paints are vegan. We love that and are happy to share information so artists can feel comfortable using our products without compromising on their principles. To start the discussion on the same page, here is a definition of the term ‘vegan’ by The Vegan Society:
Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. (see: Vegan Society definition).
In the following, we hope to provide all the information as to which GOLDEN paints and products can be considered vegan. Instead of listing the hundreds of products that ARE free of animal products, we will point out which ones are not suitable for vegans.
In GOLDEN Acrylics
Our product range is by far the most extensive among the acrylics. Among the 300+ acrylic paints, gels, pastes, and mediums, only Bone Black and blends containing Bone Black are non-vegan. Bone Black (PBk 9) is made of carbonized cattle bones and as a single pigment color is produced in the Heavy Body, Fluid, and OPEN lines, as well as our Custom High Load Acrylics. See the table below for a list of all the acrylic colors that contain Bone Black:
Animal free alternatives to Bone Black would be Carbon Black (PBk 7) and Mars Black (PBk 11). However, neither Mars Black nor Carbon Black have the same warm hue as Bone Black. To create the same color space, mix Regular Gel Semi-gloss, Carbon Black and a small amount of Raw Umber to get a color that has a similar transparency, warm undertone and sheen to Bone Black. Also, one can always resort to the Virtual Paint Mixer for aid in color mixing, or simply some inspiration.
In Williamsburg Oil Colors
All of our Williamsburg Oil Colors contain small amounts of beeswax, which stabilizes the paint and prevents oil from separating and leaking out. Beeswax is a long proven stabilizer for oil paints and part of the tradition of Williamsburg Handmade Oil Paints. Other, animal-free stabilizers exist, but they have their own issues, which would require more research before we would venture to try or use them. For example, metal stearates, and in particular aluminum stearate, is widely used and is very effective at making the oil form a gel, which keeps pigments in suspension. However, in conservation research it is often thought to be a major cause of free fatty acid crystallization, which shows up as an efflorescence or whitish surface bloom. These additives can also change the consistency of the paints in a dominant way, making them more homogeneous across a paint line. This can be a desired quality for some painters, but it is the individuality of each color in consistency, grind, and feel, that makes Williamsburg Oil Colors what they are.
While beeswax is by definition a non-vegan product (Vegan Society: Honey Industry), if one was willing to look past that, then only three of the 173 colors contain animal ingredients. These are Ivory Black (PBk 9), which is no longer made from ivory but rather cattle bones, as well as the two blends made with this pigment: Payne’s Grey and Cold Black.
Ivory Black, like the earlier Bone Black, is a jet black color in mass tone, uniquely warm in undertone, and mixes to warm gray tints. Its tints can be mimicked with Mars Black, while Lamp Black and German Earth somewhat resemble its masstone.
Beyond our oil colors, Rabbit Skin Glue is a product that many traditional oil painters are familiar with. It is a size, valued for the drum tight tension it creates on cotton and linen canvases. As the name suggests, it is made of refined rabbit collagen. Alternative animal-free sizes exist of course, but so far we know of none that replicates the tightening of canvas to the level that Rabbit Skin Glue does. Our GAC 400, an acrylic fabric stiffener, would be the closest match. See Just Paint article GAC 400: Fabric and Paper Stiffener for detailed usage instructions.
In QoR Watercolors
The same Ivory Black (PBk 9) discussed earlier is the only non-vegan color produced in our QoR Watercolor line. It is a granulating, staining, and opaque warm color. The alternative, Carbon Black (Pbk 7), is significantly cooler and not granulating. However, Carbon Black can be used together with Raw Umber or Burnt Umber, to mix a color similar to Ivory Black. Other colors that could be used for mixing warm blacks together with Carbon Black would be Van Dyke Brown and Payne’s Gray, Neutral Tint, and Sepia.
QoR Watercolors do not contain any honey, which is used in a few traditional watercolor paints as plasticizer. QoR Ox Gall, too, is completely vegan friendly as it is a synthetic material and involves no animal parts.
With the topic of animal testing we enter what seems like a gray zone in regard to veganism. Fact is, Golden Artist Colors does not carry out any animal testing. However, many of the ingredients used for our paints have been tested on animals. This is unavoidable under current laws. Regulations, particularly those decreed by the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals), require that the potential toxicity of chemical substances be determined in order to help safeguard human and environmental health. REACH aims to control and limit animal testing to a minimum, by having companies that produce or import the same substance, work together and share toxicity information. More information on animal testing can be found here:
If wanting to go completely vegan in the studio, a couple of other art materials would have to be avoided. A big one would be natural hair brushes. Especially oil and watercolor artists would feel the difference, since synthetic hairs miss the curved form of hogs hair, for instance, which allows brushes to have defined tips. The surface texture of natural hairs furthermore allows more paint to be carried by a brush. The ammonia in wet acrylic products damages natural hair brushes, and therefore acrylic painters are anyway better off with synthetic hair brushes. Another item that can contain animal products are watercolor papers. The surface sizing of some watercolor papers is still done with animal hide glues. Specific information can usually be obtained from the paper manufacturers’ websites.
Always feel free to reach out to the Materials and Application Team with any questions you might have. Find us here.