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Product Profiles: Ecological Advantages of Watercolor and Gouache

Ask the Expert: “I want to start painting, but I'mconcerned about the environmental impact of mymaterials. Watercolor seems like it would be asafe choice, but what is it made of? Also, is therea recycled paper option for watercolors?”

Raw Gum Arabic

A: Watercolor on recycled paper is one of the most"green" approaches to making art. By usingwatercolor and gouache, artists are encouragingecologically responsible agriculture, consuming fewerraw materials and reducing the use of hydrocarbonsolvents.

Gum Arabic, a fresh product of several species ofacacia tree, is the binder for better watercolors andgouache. Raw gum is harvested without harm to thetrees in a process analogous to maple syrupcollection.

Gum production provides an economic benefit thatdiscourages the cutting of wild trees in arid regions.Income from gum production also encourages theplanting of cultivated acacia groves, important inholding back desertification in environmentally devastated regions such as Sudan. The living plantsalso provide a source of food for livestock.

'The Old Sea Dog' by Henry Scott Tuke,watercolor heightened with white and gumarabic

Recycled watercolor paper is available from a numberof manufacturers, including some made usingpollution-free processes. High quality recycledwatercolor papers yield great results and are perfectlysuitable for permanent art. Artists accustomed to aspecific traditional (rag) watercolor paper might wantto test several brands to find which type works best.

In addition to using ecologically sustainable materials,watercolor painting is accomplished with much lesspigment than other mediums, and no risky solvents.Watercolorists can take pride in choosing amedium that lets them leave their mark withouttreading on the environment.

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