vegan painting technique

In traditional oil-painting-techniques you often find materials made from (dead/exploited) animals. For instance pig bristle brushes, bone glue (for priming the canvas), the use of egg-oil-emulsions for accompaniment or some pigments made from animals. In the following I will give you an overview of the materials I use and some issues to be solved when refraining from all non-vegan materials.

Oil paints

The binder of oil paints and media are pure vegetable (different oils and resins). An exeption are the paints of LUKAS because they unfortunately contain bees wax. The vast majority of non-vegan pigments are nowadays replaced by synthetic pigments. Exceptions are crimson (pigment name/pigment number: NR 3 or NR 4) , which is sometimes still “produced” by drying and cooking female carmin scale (nowadays crimson is usually synthetically produced –  depending on the producer and trademark) or ivory black/bone black (PBk 9), which is made of animal bones. Ivory black/bone black can also be mixed in other paints like ultramarin or umbra. Hence you should always pay attention to the pigment name and pigment number, which is written on the tube label (ivory black/bone black: PBk 9). With other paints – like acrylic, watercolor or pastell it is the same of course. Cheaper paints unfortunately often do not have written the pigment name and number on it. A very detailed list of pigments you can find here.

A new development in oil colour techniques are water mixable oil colours, which are better for the environment and for your health, because you do not need turpentine anymore. The water mixable oil colours “Cobra” by Talens are made with synthetic emulsifier. The only problem is, that they only have ivory black and no alternative vegan black paint. The water mixable oil colours “Artisan” by  Winsor & Newton are  vegan except ivory black. But fortunately they also have lampblack, which is vegan. The water mixable oil colours “Berlin” by Lukas are unfortunately not vegan, because they contain bees wax.

As far as I know there is no animal testing for art paints. But I am really sure only for the brands that I use: boesner, Daler Rowney, and Winsor & Newton. According to the information they give, they don’t do any animal testing.

Egg tempera, which is used in some traditional way of painting is obviously not vegan. I therefore do not use egg tempera for accompaniment.


Compared with synthetic bristles, pig bristles are harder and rougher and therefore suitable for thick impasto and vigorous brushwork. But fortunateley art supplier Boesner now provides rough synthetic bristle brushes, which work almost as good as pig bristle brushes. (I only buy these synthetic bristle brushes or other finer synthetic brushes.)

Painting Surfaces/Carriers

The tissues for image carriers are vegetable (linen, cotton, jute, hemp etc.). Most commercially available readyto-use-canvases (usually made of cotton and not linen) are provided with an acrylic primer without animal glues. (But it is best to ask before buying or to contact the manufacturer to be sure the primer is vegan)

But since I’m building my canvases for larger sizes myself, I have problem to get tension on the canvas. Traditionally, the raw fabric is stretched over the wooden frame and then primed with bone-, rabbit-, or hide glue. This is important for the preservation of the fabric (the same can also be done with an acrylic binder) and – more importantly – for the tension of the fabric. The non-vegan glues, unlike acrylic binder, have the property to contract during drying, thus ensuring a very high tension of the canvas. I still have not found a comparable synthetic or vegetable glue (I would be very grateful for hints). Therefore I use already primed canvas (without animal glue; e. g. Henry from boesner) to span directly to the wood frame. Here I have also achieved good results in large formats, with regard to the tension of the canvas.

Alternatively you can use wood as a medium as well. However, wooden boards have the disadvantage that they are very heavy and therefore unsuitable for larger sizes. Also wood is prone to warping. I use wood only in smaller sizes.

In addition, I occasionally use polyethylene-tarp, which is purely synthetic. However, this material has the disadvantage that it can not be 100% flat span. Furthermore, the durability of oil paint on this material, to my knowledge, has not been tested yet.