Busman’s holiday

When buying paint, it’s all about that base.
My second-favorite kind of painting.
I’m in the western Berkshires painting the interior walls in my oldest kid’s new house. She’s 28 and it’s her first house, and she’s very excited. So am I; like many artists, my idea of a good vacation is to paint walls. (Ceilings, not so much, but you must take the good with the bad.)
In artists’ oils, I like RGH paints. This is a small company based in Albany, NY. The owner, Rolf Haerem, has been making paints since 1989, and is a painter himself. In acrylics, I prefer Golden. Today, Golden is a large national brand. However, it also started as a small New York business, the brainchild of retired paint-maker Sam Golden, in New Berlin, Chenango County. In oil painting mediums, I like Grumbacher, which was founded in New York City in 1902. It’s now owned by Chartpak, based in Northhampton, MA. In brushes, I like Robert Simmons Signet.
None of these brands are sacred in themselves. They’re just my preferences, developed over decades of painting.  They work with my technique. On Monday, I wrote that I’d used a gel medium in an emergency, and it messed with my style. Still, other painters love it. It depends on what you’re striving for.
Nevertheless, there’s a theme running through my choices. They’re professional grade materials. I, too, was once an impecunious student buying student-grade materials, so I understand economy. But at some point, artists need to buy the right stuff, or they’ll never get the right results.
The new homeowner, surrounded by her paint chips.
In wall paints, I also have strong preferences. I’ve been painting with Benjamin Moore for decades. I know I can drop a bead of color alongside wooden moldings without taping or endless massaging, and I can generally get full coverage in a single coat. As with oil paints, wall paints are made with various combinations of pigments, binder and filler. It’s important to find one you like.
Here in the wilds of the New York-Massachusetts border, it’s been a problem to find it. And my budget-masters kvetch at the sticker price. Yesterday I capitulated for expediency’s sake, and used a brand sold by a large big-box retailer. I immediately regretted it. It clumped in the roller, and it didn’t slide easily off my brush.
When I first arrived on Sunday, I drove up to see my son-in-law digging a trench, sweaty and hot in the September warmth. He and my daughter are the same age as my husband and I were when we built our own first house. It was also a modular, also on a wooded rural hillside, and we also did all the sitework and finishing ourselves.
I was happy to watch the lad dig. One of the consolations of getting old is that you never need to pound another copper ground rod into rocky soil if you don’t want to. Some jobs are best enjoyed through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia.

The cadmium question

The only cadmium in here is cadmium orange. Peppers, 8X6, oils, by little ol’ me.
Yesterday, my favorite color scientist forwarded me this from Golden:
For environmental protection reasons, the European Community is currently considering a ban on cadmium pigments in artist paints. We would like to gather comments from artists concerning the relative importance of these colors in their work, in an effort to better understand the potential effect of this measure.
To complete a brief survey, click here: GOLDEN Cadmium Survey.
I use only one cadmium—orange, For yellows, I prefer Hansa (arylide). For reds, I use naphthol red and quinacridone violet.
That said, losing cadmium orange from my palette would hurt; it’s one of my workhorse pigments in both landscape and figure. I suspect there are substitutes out there, such as pyrrole orange, but I haven’t tried integrating them into my palette.
Mixing your paints and your wine is probably not the healthiest option.
Moreover, the cadmiums are great pigments. Pigments affect technique, and losing the cadmiums, with their great lightfastness and solidity, would be difficult for many painters. Before they toss them out willy-nilly, it’s worth asking what the environmental impact is, and whether their replacements are any safer.
The risk to artists is low, since cadmium poisoning primarily comes from inhalation or ingestion. Unless you’re working in encaustic, you’re unlikely to inhale paint fumes. Pastel artists should already know to use an air cleaner when working indoors. For all painters, gloves or silicone hand lotion is always advisable.
More difficult is that our use of cadmium pigments might endanger others. We all dispose of pigments into the waste stream when we clean brushes. (I just realized this morning that my long-term habit of solidifying waste pigments and putting them in the solid waste stream is counterproductive if my city burns trash for energy.) The stuff also has to be manufactured and milled before it’s turned into paints, and that may be happening in countries where environmental protections are nil.
My palette doesn’t even usually include a true red, for the same reason that it doesn’t include a true green.
Cadmium is present in cigarettes, and the smoking artist inhales dangerous levels of it every time he or she lights up. It is used in the manufacture of plastics, iron, steel, cement, non-ferrous metals and batteries. What percentage of the overall cadmium stream comes from artists, I don’t know, and it’s an important question. I suspect it’s pretty small, but whether that is a moral green light to keep using it, I can’t say.
As for whether the substitutes are safer or not, that’s also an open question. No known health risks are associated with the other red and yellow pigments I ‘m currently using, but the important caveat is that word, “known.” Recent research, for example, has linked azo pigments with basal cell carcinoma.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. My Belfast, ME, workshop is almost sold out. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!