The "vegan watercolors" sound interesting. Since watercolors are generally made of pigment and gum arabic (plant-derived), sometimes honey, and sometimes a fungicide such as thymol (don't know if formaldehyde is still used)… there are no animal-derived ingredients unless you are looking at the pigment itself. Most are either plant or mineral, sometimes a chemical reaction or precipitate… with the exception of a few pigments like bone black (lamp black being a good substitute), Indian yellow (which used to be derived from the urine of cows fed on saffron, I think; but this is no longer the case), vermillion made from cochineal beetles, and a few others. 

One way to know what you have is to make your own watercolors (which a friend of mine does, and says they are creamier and richer than any commercial watercolors he's used).

It does get difficult to avoid animal products when you need things like rabbit skin glue (for gesso for egg tempera), and of course the eggs for egg tempera. And as just mentioned, sable brushes. I've yet to find a good synthetic brush substitute. The synthetic brushes I've used are find at the start, but I can wear one out in an afternoon. Small detail sable brushes can last me a year of hard use. Then there are paper sizes… I imagine that acrylic sizes are used often now (and I don't like the feel at all), and prefer gelatin sizes… which gets us back into animal-derived products. Casein (milk-derived), which makes a nice ground for silverpoint. 

Would love to hear more about this from you. Are you looking at a specific brand? Or are you making your own? And if you're making your own, what binder(s) are you using? Fungicide (if any)? 


On Jan 20, 2014, at 10:03 PM, Lore Ruttan <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Oh, that makes sense that they are a by-product of the fur trade (one of those 'doh of course' moments on my part!). I don't wear real fur but still it makes me feel a little better. 

I always thought that age was at least in part a state of mind and you sound positively youthful in your experiments! 

On Mon, Jan 20, 2014 at 8:04 PM, Barry K. MacKay <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Agreed.  In fact, I’m a vegan (diet and clothing) or at least “veganish” (I know a few folks who are self-righteously fanatical about it, and I am not one of them) and try to find non-animal art products whenever I can, but it’s very difficult.   I hope to test a new “vegan” watercolour soon.   And not only that, I work on animal trade issues as well, and have attended several Conferences of the Parties to CITES.  But that said, I’ve always heard that the hairs used tend to be at least a by-product of the fur trade.


Mustelids don’t really do well in captivity (although we are often told they do) due to their high metabolism, activity and home range sizes…there is a lot of stress-related illness in them.   I have found that synthetics work for me for all but the finest brush (WN 000 Series 7), but that’s just me and my particular style of work.   I don’t do washes as such.


I also find, and this is a bit embarrassing, that even at a rather advanced age, I keep discovering new ways of doing things, with the same old materials, or with new ones.  





Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

Studio: (905)-472-9731
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