A look at: Vegan Art

“Art has the power to change the world”


In our (old / somewhat outdated) Guide to greening your art we mention choosing cruelty-free brushes and asking questions about where your materials actually derive from. In this post we offer the list of materials from Empty Easel in an effort to ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to not creating more suffering and destruction in the world. As said by Victoria Hart: “Kindness and non-exploitation are always the better choice in creativity.”



Is it time to rethink my art materials?


Katerine Keen is one of many artists who have made it a mission to transition to vegan art supplies, and says this about choosing brushes:

For me a big part of the equation is being able to sleep at night; avoiding the inhumane cruelty of industrial and fur farming. And for the 15% or so harvested by means of trapping, I am also considering that those methods are painful as well as indiscriminate, catching endangered species and pets along with the intended prey.”


Animal-Based Supplies


  • Cochineal – scarlet dye are made by grinding up female cochineal insects
  • Ox gall – obtained from cows and used as the wetting agent in most watercolour paints
  • Rabbit skin glue are used for gesso or sizing oil-painting canvases
  • Gelatin is made from boiling animal skins, tendons, ligaments and the skins, hoofs and bones of calves. Used in gesso and for sizing many watercolor papers
  • Sepia ink is made from the inky substance found in the sacs of squid and cuttlefish
  • India ink or Chinese ink is made of carbon or lampblack pigment, and a shellac binder obtained from secretions of an insect
  • Bone charcoal comes from animal bones
  • Natural hair brushes use hair harvested from farm-raised or trapped animals, particularly sable, squirrel and mongoose. Less expensive natural brushes are made of horsehair, pig bristles, or hair from ox snouts and ears
  • Oil pastels are made by combining raw pigments with animal fat and wax
  • Water resistant inks usually contain animal ingredients
  • Artist’s pencils may sometimes contain beeswax


Winsor & Newton list of supplies with animal derivative ingredients >>

You might be thinking, “but I don’t use that many art materials… How big can my impact be?” And then you have to start thinking about the sheer magnitude of art materials made and used daily all over the world. The human population is booming – growing exponentially – and artists, whether they are professionals, hobbists, crafters, or art therapists, are also increasing!

In 2001, there were 2,511,000 artists in the United States, according to the 2001 Current Population Survey. source
In that year, the total population for the USA were 284.97 million people. On May 1, 2017, it was 324.96 million. source

In 2007 the population of South Africa was measured as being 48.91, and the population are forecasted to be 59.53 Million people by 2020. source
From the recent national study of the visual arts industry in South Africa, recently undertaken by the Human Sciences Research Council, our local artist population estimates are as follows: source

The accumulative need for art materials mean that more and more animals are used and abused for the creation of our art! Remember… a lot of single drops in a bucket, fills the bucket with water. Each one of us adds to the numbers that make the big impacts on the Earth, on other species and on the biodiversity that we rely on for our survival. Climate Change are going to test our resilience and capacity to make changes that will help us survive! One of these changes should be about choosing how we do our work, hobbies or decor.


Cruelty-Free Supplies

  • Graphite
  • Charcoal from vines and willow trees
  • Golden’s Absorbent Ground instead of gesso. Or make your own gesso
  • Conte Crayon is made from natural pigments (iron oxides, carbon black, titanium dioxide), clay (kaolin) and a plant-based binder (cellulose ether)
  • Walnut ink can be used instead of sepia ink
  • Damar ink & varnish
  • Fixative sprays by Krylon
  • Yupo paper (100% polypropylene and is suitable for watercolour & drawing)
  • Raw fabrics (unsized organic hemp, bamboo, linen or cotton)
  • Synthetic brushes – There are now high quality synthetic brushes that are just as good as natural brushes.
  • Soft pastels (you can also make your own)
  • Holbein has some watercolour paints that do not contain ox gall
  • Accent Vellum
  • Construction paper
  • Most handmade papers usually don’t have gelatin.
  • Starch-sized papers — ask for them at your art supply store
  • Water soluble inks seldom contain animal ingredients
  • Artist’s pencils by Derwent does contain beeswax

The Vegan Womble supply a list of different suppliers who offer vegan art materials >>
And Colors of Nature seems to be a great (overseas, unfortunately) source for vegan supplies.

Locally Dala always springs to mind, but I haven’t had a proper list at their ingredients and policies when producing materials. Do you konw more? Know of local suppliers? Please share in the comments below!

Art has the power to transform, to illuminate, to educate, inspire and motivate.” – Harvey Fierstein


Lynda Bell - painting of the guardian, childlike woman, or girl,surrounded by animals, especially farm animals
The Guardian by Lynda Bell


Links to some vegan artists & art projects

Did you know?

Leonardo da Vinci seems to have been vegan >>

View a list of other famous vegans >>

Other forms of vegan art include land art, most art from waste (when using materials like scrap metal and plastic) and most installaion art

3 Responses

  1. Melissa

    What can I use to make a clauboard ? Recipes I have seen include rabbit skin glue !? I’m in SA and would love to make my own clayboards .
    Thanks so much x

    • Janet

      Hi Melissa, I don’t know, that’s a very good question! I’m going to pose the question to some fellow artists and hopefully we can find a good alternative. Have you contacted your local art shop(s) yet with the question? Where are you based? The people from Deckle Edge are usually incredibly helpful.