Professional paints contain pigments are the same or nearly the same in all mediums. Some pigments contain ingredients such as cobalt, cadmium or lead, which are toxic. There are a plethora of pigments that are not toxic, and will give you a full palette of colors.
Acrylics take no less than 20 chemicals to produce the binder, this does not include the pigments. Plastics although are deemed safe, but they have not been around long enough to see the true side effects in humans. Therefore it is wise to keep these paints out of your body; off your skin and out of your lungs.
Oils are made with vegetable oil such as linseed, poppy seed oil, walnut oil and a variety of other oils depending on the paint manufacturer. Predominately, linseed oil is used. These are all safe to use, as these oils are used in cooking food. With that said, you do not want the oils to seep pigments into your skin, particularly pigments that contain cobalts or cadmiums; take care to keep it off your body.
Turpentine, or other volatile paint thinners should be avoided unless you have a teacher who insists on old school art lessons. I use good old linseed or Gamblin’s Solvent-Free Medium to thin or clean the color off the brushes during the paint session.
Watercolors are made with Gum Arabic, which is tree sap. Other ingredients include glycerine, honey, and perhaps another ingredient or two depending on the manufacturer. Watercolors, with the exception of some pigments are deemed non-toxic.
Disposal of materials
Again, acrylics are plastic. Acrylics, no matter what you do seems to have much more waste than any other painting medium. At least in my 20 years of experience. Dumping waste water into the streams, down the sink or the like is not environmentally sound. If you choose to use acrylics while painting out of doors, then use a resealable container for wastewater. At least you will not end up dumping a bunch of paint in nature.
If you take my advice and use wax paper as a palette, then clean up or storing the pigment is a simple task. You can use your paints until almost all of the pigment is on your canvas and not in the trash. Oil dries by absorbing air, or lack of a better term, inhaling. Fold over the wax paper if you want to use it again the following day, or place a piece of tin foil over it (you can reuse a piece of foil seemingly forever). Once you have exhausted all of your colors, you can fold the wax paper and place it into the trash. Save the foil for your next painting.
Watercolors can be reactivated on your palette. There is very little to no waste of paint if done right. This works with any watercolors be it the tube colors or the pans, cakes or sticks. Use two small water cups… yes really! I use two palette cups for an entire session. One is the rinse water, and the other is the clean water. I promise, the clean water will stay clean. Unfortunately, this is another bit of waste water that will have to be dumped in the sink.
You can use paper towels if you want to, but I feel that they are an unnecessary expense and waste. Also, potentially dangerous if you constantly place oil soaked towels in the trash, as many oils are combustible.
If you are an oil painter, have two rags. One rag is for today, once you’ve completed the painting session, wash it with dish soap, and hang up to dry. If you are worried about the flammability of your painting medium, then use Gamblin’s Solvent-free Painting Medium, which is basically a fast drying safflower oil, and is fabulous. It has higher flash point than most other oils, are deemed fire safe, and is also non-toxic. The second rag is there for you if the first rag is not completely dry the next day.
If you are an acrylic painter have a rag or two, wash with dish soap.
If you are a watercolor painter, you only need one rag, and it really doesn’t need frequent washing. Just be sure to let it dry out, otherwise it might stink the next day.
Care of your brushes
If you are an oil painter and are painting on location and still have a few more hours until you get to a sink, cover your brushes in a piece of tin foil so the will not dry out as fast. You don’t have to go crazy and wrap each brush, just fold over some foil on your bushes together, and place them in your easel, pochade box or brush holder.
Washing any of your brushes in any medium is easy. Wipe the excess paint onto your rag. Then use The Master’s Brush Cleaner and Restorer to clean them with water. Dry with a clean towel, and lay the brushes on a flat surface. Yes, some say to stand them up, but the problem with that habit, is that moisture falls into the ferrule, and as such will loosen the glue that holds the hair on the stick over time. It is not recommended.