Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Safety and the Lead White Shortage

Lead white oil paint is gradually becoming a scarce commodity, as both artists and manufacturers slowly move towards alternatives. I was shocked to recently discover that a small tube of Old Holland Cremnitz white, now retails for the price of a dinner at a fancy restaurant.

The main reason for this development was the widespread phase-out of lead in paint products. While artist materials were exempt from these restrictions, the overall supply of lead carbonate has dwindled ever since. As I've mentioned before in earlier postings, artist paints are made from generic industrial pigments, with few exceptions. Art materials are a small fraction of the overall pigment market, thus they have little influence over industry trends.

Once of the last European manufacturers of lead carbonate recently ceased production. It is still produced in the US, but many artists feel the writing is on the wall. It is not uncommon to read about individuals hoarding large stockpiles of the pigment, in anticipation of the day when it is no longer available.

I don't think we'll see millions of obsessed artists, having the dedication mixing lead white from scratch. For one thing, the risks of poisoning oneself are far greater when handling the powder. Paints containing lead white tend to not keep well in the tube for long periods, unless stabilizers are included.

The best one can hope, is that in the future lead white will be a remain available, as a high quality niche product, at an attainable price.

No comments: