The Best Animal-Free Art Supplies

Many people are familiar with the term cruelty-free; but what does it mean for a watercolour artist? If you’re vegan, vegetarian, or just want to avoid animal products, you probably know to avoid animal hair brushes in favour of synthetics.

But did you know that animal products can also be found in paper, and paint? Papers may contain gelatin, paints could have ox-gall, bone char or carmine. Natural paint brushes are made with the hair from animal pelts, including weasels, squirrels, badgers, pigs or goats.

In this post, I’ll show you what to look out for, and give you my all-time favourite animal-free art supplies. I’ve also flagged some pigments that you should avoid, and recommended some manufactures who are known for using synthetic alternatives.


Disclaimer:
I’ve written this article for the convenience of artists who want to avoid animal products. I have made every effort to confirm whether an item is vegan or otherwise; however, due to the nature of changing formulas, I cannot guarantee that something hasn’t been reformulated after this article was published. If in doubt, I urge you to contact your art shop or supplier directly.


Paint Brushes

Traditionally, watercolour brushes are made from a variety of animals including:

Animals are typically bred for their fur, and living conditions can vary greatly. The brush industry purchases pelts from the fur industry, and many of the same ethical concerns that impact the fashion industry will also impact artists using natural hair brushes.

badger

Usually from wild European badgers, native to Europe and parts of Asia, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Russia.

camel-hair

Not made from camels, but is often a mix of a variety of other animal hairs, sometimes mixed with synthetics. Can be made from squirrel, goat, ox or pony hair. See more.

hog bristle

Wild pig. This may also be called bristle, or Chunking bristle.

mongoose

The use of this hair has been banned, but you may still find vintage brushes made from mongoose.

sable

These brushes are made from sables, weasels, martens or minks. They may also be listed as Kolinsky Sable or Red Sable.

kolinsky sable

Siberian weasels. The sale of Kolinsky Sable has been banned in Canada and the U.S. as the Siberian weasel is on the international CITIES list.

squirrel

Generally made from Rusisan blue squirrels.

Synthetic brushes tend to be stiffer than natural hair brushes, and they used to be less absorbent than animal hair alternatives. However, the technology behind them has come on in leaps and bounds, and now many synthetics are excellent brushes in their own right, and some are as good as their natural predecessors.

The Best Synthetic Alternatives

I prefer softer brushes, and my all-time favourite synthetic brushes are dreamily springy. I would recommend:

Escoda’s Versatil Brushes
DaVinci Casaneo Brushes
Jackson’s Studio Synthetic Brushes
Princeton’s Neptune Brushes
Raphael Le Voyager Brushes
alternatives

There are also other options, including:

  • Princeton Aqua Elite (FSC wood)
  • Royal & Langnickel, Menta Series
  • Blue Heron Sumi-E brushes
  • Dynasty Faux Camel Brushes (student line, FSC wood, biodegradable)

vegan brush cleaner

Brush cleaners aren’t necessary, but you might choose to use one if you’re working with highly staining pigments which can affect the colour of your brush fibres. Winsor & Newton’s Brush Cleaner is animal-free.

Winsor & Newton, Brush Cleaner

Watercolour Paints

Watercolours can be made with a few parts; including a binder, pigment, dispersant and humectants. Of those parts, pigments, dispersants and humectants can be made from products derived from animals.

honey (a humectant)

Honey can be found in some watercolour formulas, and serves as a humectant which helps:

  • the paint retain moisture, preventing it from drying too quickly on the paper or palette
  • Enhance colour vibrancy
  • Improve paint flow
  • Improve paint consistency

As honey is an animal by-product, some may wish to avoid it.

Large art brands formulated with honey include Sennelier, M. Graham and Jackson’s Art. Many smaller, homemade watercolour paints that can be purchased from sites like Etsy are also often made using honey, as it is the most readily available humectant.

Synthetic alternatives exist, and include glycerin, propylene glycol, polyethylene glycol (PEG), and proprietary synthetic blends designed to mimic honey’s performance.

ox gall (a dispersant)

Ox Gall is obtained from cow bile. Traditionally, it has been used as a dispersant in paper marbling, engraving, lithography, and watercolours.

Dispersants are used in watercolours for three reasons:

  • help paint flow on the paper
  • maintain transparency
  • help watercolours settle evenly on the paper

Many professional and homemade paint manufacturers (including Winsor & Newton and Schmincke) add a few drops of ox gall into every batch they make, to improve the performance of their paints.

Synthetic ox gall is available; both QOR watercolours and Daniel Smith have opted to use this instead.

paint brands containing honey
  • Blockx
  • Isaro
  • Jackson’s
  • Lutea
  • M. Graham
  • Mijello, Mission Gold Watercolours
  • Renesans
  • Roman Szmal
  • Sennelier
paint brands containing ox gall
  • Schmincke Horadam Aquarell, Professional Range (Student line is vegan.)
  • Sennelier
  • Yarka St Petersburg Watercolours
  • Winsor & Newton Complete Professional Range

Even if the binder is animal-free, some pigments are inherently animal-unfriendly. Ivory/Bone Black (PBk9) is traditionally made from charred bones. Genuine Sepia is made from squid ink. Indian Ink uses crushed bugs. Bone Black might be easy to spot, but it might be mixed in other paints which are less obvious: for example, Ivory Black could be used to help mix a different colour which could be branded as Neutral Tint or Brown Oxide.

The following paints are vegan. Any exceptions will appear in the bracket (most exceptions contain PBk9, a pigment made from charred bones).

Every effort has been made to confirm these paints are vegan, as of April 2024. However, paint formulas can change, so please use this as a guide rather than a guarantee. If any formulas have changed, please do let me know and I will make sure to update this list.


Watercolour Paper

Watercolour papers can be made from rag, cotton or wood pulp (or a hybrid mix!). Most artists consider 100% cotton to be the best paper. However, papers are frequently treated with something called ‘sizing’, in order to improve their performance.

Traditionally, sizing was made from animal gelatine, and was either added into the pulp itself (internal sizing), or was brushed on top of a finished sheet (external sizing).

common watercolour papers that use gelatine sizing:
  • Arches
  • St Cuthbert’s Mill
  • Fabriano; Secolo XVIII, Romo and Esportazione papers
  • Winsor & Newton; Cotman Papers
  • Winsor & Newton; Saunder’s Waterford
  • Winsor & Newton; Artists’ Water Colour Paper
  • Royal Talens; Rembrandt, 100% Cotton Watercolour paper
my favourites

The following papers use synthetic sizing:

Bockingford Watercolour Paper
Fabriano Artistico*
Hahnemühle Britainnia
Strathmore 400 series**
Legion Stonehenge Aqua
Canson Moulin du Roy

* Some papers from this brand contain animal gelatine. Avoid Secolo XIII, Romo, and Esportazione.
** As above, avoid 500 series Gemini if you want an animal-free art practice.

alternatives
  • Canson; Heritage, Montval
  • Heritage
  • Daler-Rowney (except for The Langton Prestige and Murano papers from this brand, both of which contain gelatine sizing)

Manufacturer’s Links:

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One Comment

  1. Wow Ella you are truly amazing and very blessed
    Thank you for sharing all of this values
    I am new at this but love it
    And learn so much from you
    Blessing from above
    Zohar sinai

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