Everything you need to know about vegan & cruelty free art supplies - Part 2
Now that we’ve covered what art materials are animal-friendly (see Part 1 here), this section will discuss what exactly is used in the manufacturing of non-vegan art supplies and why we should avoid using these products. Animal cruelty isn’t exactly the first thing that springs to mind when browsing in an art supply shop, because you just don’t expect paints and pencils to be products of cruelty in the same way that many food and cosmetic products are. Unfortunately animal use is so very widely accepted in our society that animal parts are often hidden in everyday items, many of which do not even state on their packaging that animal products are contained or if animal testing has been part of the manufacturing process.
The art world still has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to vegan and cruelty free options, which is why I started writing about it and contacting companies. The manufacturing of art materials is a supply and demand system just like all other consumer driven industries, so it is important to make these companies aware that there is a demand for cruelty free options, just as we have done in other industries like food and cosmetics.
Below is a list of common animal derivatives used in the production of art supplies, and some information regarding the cruel practices involved in obtaining these ingredients.
Animal Hair: This is probably the most obvious one, as most paint brushes are traditionally made using hair from animals such as pigs, weasels, squirrels, mongooses, minks, ferrets, goats, ponies and oxen. Before I was vegan, I honestly did not think there was any cruelty involved in taking animal hair for paint brushes, and I definitely didn’t think it was comparable to buying and wearing real fur. I was very wrong. Paintbrushes containing animal hair are largely manufactured in China, or the hair is obtained from China and manufactured elsewhere, however animal welfare laws are practically non existent in China. Even clothing in several UK stores containing faux fur bought from China was discovered to be a variety of dog, cat and rabbit fur.
Regardless of where the animal hair is harvested, the practices are cruel and exploitative. Animals are often caught in steel-jaw traps, where they either die from their injuries, freeze to death, or are killed when found. Some animals will be gassed in their dens or beaten to death with clubs. Other animals, such as boars, goats, oxen, badgers, ponies and horses, will have the hair cut or plucked when they are alive. And I’m not talking about a little bit at a time, the demand for animal hair is still very high, and as with all animal exploiting industries, profit always comes before welfare. It is completely unnecessary, especially when there are so many beautifully crafted synthetic brushes that mimic the bounce, flexibility and water absorption of natural hair with zero animal cruelty.
Honey is used as a preservative and to increase the smoothness and vibrancy of pigments, and beeswax is used to improve smoothness in pencils and crayons. Honey is something that I thought was ‘silly’ to avoid when I first went vegan, I still avoided it, just to be consistent, but I really couldn’t imagine what humans could possibly do to bees that involved cruelty. Unfortunately, I learned that humans don’t exactly lack creativity when it comes to finding ways to exploit even the smallest of creatures in the most sadistic ways possible. Honey bees are complex, social and highly intelligent animals. Their methods of communication with other bees are so complex that scientists still do not fully understand them. They also use the sun to navigate and are able to distinguish their family members from other bees within the hive. Bees work tirelessly throughout their lives to make honey - which is intended as a main food source for the hive in harsh weather and winter months. However, in commercial bee farming, the majority of honey is harvested to be sold, and is replaced with a sugar substitute such as corn syrup which is inadequate for the bee’s health, as it lacks the essential nutrients found in honey. This also results in bee’s overworking themselves to replace the honey, further compromising their health.
On top of this, queen bees often have their wings cut off to prevent them from leaving the hive, and rough handling often results in some bees being killed or having their wings ripped off. Farmed honey bees are often affected by ‘colony collapse disorder’, which has been scientifically linked to poor nutrition, pesticide poisoning and bee management stress. There are also environmental implications, however that would be an entirely separate post. You can read more about this here.
Eggs: Used to bind pigments together in Tempera paints.
The egg industry is one of the most deceptively cruel industries on the planet, much like the dairy industry. Clever marketing strategies depict happy, free range hens on grassy pastures, when in reality the majority of egg-laying hens are kept in crowded, filthy sheds. These animals don’t see the light of day until they are are sent to slaughter, no longer able to lay a profitable amount of eggs. Egg laying hens have been genetically manipulated to lay around 300 eggs per year, yet naturally they should only lay around 10-15. This takes a massive physical toll on their bodies, depleting them of calcium and other essential nutrients, meaning that their bones are fragile and often break. You might wonder about ‘backyard hens’, however all hens start off life in a hatchery, where male and female chicks are sorted as soon as they are hatched. As male chicks are unable to lay eggs, they are considered a "waste product" and are killed on their first day of life, either by being ground up alive in a macerator, gassed with CO2, or by being tossed into a plastic bag which is tied to suffocate them. This is standard practice for all hatcheries, regardless if the chicks are ‘free-range’ or ‘organic’. If you are kind enough to rescue a hen, it is still important that we do not eat the eggs they lay. These eggs can instead be fed back to the hens to help them get back some of the nutrients lost. To be honest, it's pretty gross and unnecessary to eat the ovulation of an animal when we don’t need to anyway.
Gelatin: is obtained by boiling the bones, tendons, ligaments and skin of animals, usually cows and pigs. As well as being used in food such as sweets, gelatin is often used to size canvas and paper. Gelatin is a byproduct of slaughterhouses, and being an active member of The Save Movement I can personally tell you that slaughterhouses are hell on earth. Animals go in terrified, covered in their own waste and are brutally killed. The most common method of pig slaughter in the UK is gassing with high concentrations of aversive CO2 gas, and cows are usually stunned (often ineffectively, meaning they are still conscious) with a bolt gun before being hung upside down and having their throats slit. It sounds as graphic as it is. To learn more about the cruelty within the meat industry, as well as the egg and dairy industries, watch The Land of Hope and Glory, Dominion & Earthlings.
Rabbit skin glue: Commonly known as hide glue, this is often used as a canvas sealant and in the preparation of gesso. I found it surprising that over 1 billion rabbits are slaughtered annually for meat, and over 50% are slaughtered in China. Rabbit skin glue is a byproduct of the rabbit meat industry, and is rendered similarly to gelatin, by the boiling of connective tissue and skin. The vast majority of rabbits farmed for meat and fur are kept in barren and overcrowded conditions, often crammed into tiny cages where they are unable to exhibit their natural behaviours. This results in stereotypical behaviours such as cage chewing and over grooming. Mortality rates in these farms are very high, with rabbits often dying from respiratory and intestinal diseases. Like all farmed animals, the females have been bred to produce larger litters and are subjected to repeated ‘artificial insemination’ and hormonal treatments. This intensive reproductive manipulation means that their bodies are a put under massive physical strain, resulting in poor body condition and spinal deformities. The list of cruel practices is much longer than the few examples I have listed here, but I hope that it is enough to convince you to use the cruelty free alternatives listed in part 1.
Casein: This is a milk protein taken from cows milk to use as an adhesive binder in some pencils. Some of the highest quality pencils available such as all Faber-Castell pencils do not contain this, making it (in my opinion) a completely unnecessary ingredient.
The dairy industry, if you aren’t already aware, is one of the cruellest industries on the planet. Dairy cows are selectively bred to produce much greater quantities of milk than is natural, and in order to produce this milk, they need to be impregnated. Dairy cows are artificially inseminated, to do this, a farmer must first collect semen from a bull by masturbating them (I thought bestiality was illegal in most countries but apparently this fell through an imaginary loophole). To insert the semen, the farmer then puts their arm into the female’s anus to open her cervix, where the bull semen is then injected. After this ‘process’, the female will give birth around 9 months later. The baby calf is taken away, often within 24 hours of being born. If the calf is a female, she will be kept separate in a crate, and faces the same fate as her mother. If the calf is male, he will be either sent to slaughter for veal or simply shot on the farm (they are considered waste products, just like male chicks in the egg industry).
Cows are extremely maternal animals, and will mourn and cry out for days after their babies are taken away, however, after this has happened several times, some dairy cows ‘give up’ and stop reacting. If this were a human, we would call it emotionally shutting down due to repeated trauma, but that wouldn’t be very good marketing for the dairy industry. After around 5-7 years of this cycle of abuse, dairy cows will often collapse - they are referred to as ‘downers’ in the dairy industry. Their bodies are no longer able to cope with the constant pregnancy and milking, and they are likely unable to psychologically cope with the repeated trauma either. The are sent to slaughter for cheap meat, ad often have to be fork lifted onto the slaughterhouse truck because they can no longer walk.
This short video goes into a little more detail on the dairy industry if you want to learn more. All this said, it seems pretty extreme to consume dairy or buy pencils containing casein (milk protein) when there are alternatives available. Even if there weren’t alternatives, it would be inexcusable to fund this industry when you become aware of what it involves.
Ox gall: This is actually bile (produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder) taken from cows, but other animals are often used, including fish. This bile is a byproduct of slaughterhouses and is used to “improve” the flow of watercolour paint. Perhaps Ox Gall sounds less disgusting than cow bile.
Bone char/bone black: Made by charring animal bones to produce a dense black pigment. Like gelatin and ox gall, this is a byproduct of slaughterhouses.
Shellac: This is a resin like secretion obtained from female lac insects, commonly used as a binder in inks and to give a glossy finish. It is also used in many cosmetics such as nail polish. Shellac is commercially harvested on shellac plantations in Southeast Asia, and it is estimated that between 50,000 to 300,000 lac insects are needed to make 1 kilo of shellac. The female lac insect produces a layer of shellac over herself once she has been fertilised, this is used as a protective cocoon in which she lays her eggs. Shellac is harvested by scraping this layer off, killing most of the insects and destroying their eggs.
Cochineal: This is another secretion taken from the lac insect, and is used to make a red carmine pigment in paints, inks as well as some food colouring. This is made by drying, crushing and then boiling cochineal beetles. Like all of the above, this is completely unnecessary considering there is an abundance of cruelty free alternatives available.
If you stumbled across this list and are not already vegan, I hope that you are not too traumatised, but I hope that after reading this you will consider going vegan, and are convinced to use cruelty free art supplies. Going vegan is so easy today, there is so much online support available, local vegan groups that you can join on Facebook, and so many vegan options in supermarkets and restaurants. I really recommend doing some more research, here are some resources to get you started. Most people call themselves animal lovers, and if not, the majority are at the very least against animal cruelty. It is just unfortunate that we have been culturally conditioned to accept things as they are, especially when it comes to food and the use of animals for industry. I hope that you will agree that exploiting animals for something as trivial as a paintbrush or even a sandwich, is morally wrong. I promise that all my other blog posts will be less depressing - I felt I needed to write this to show people the level of cruelty that goes into any item containing animal products. So do stick around! Thanks for taking the time to read this!