You can find natural and non-toxic art supplies in many shops, especially those that cater to small children. The Art & Creative Materials Institute certifies non-toxic art supplies, including many products from major brands like Elmer's; looking for the ACMI seal is an easy way to identify safe items. However, the label doesn't guarantee that a product is completely free of chemicals or environmentally friendly, so you'll want to scrutinize ingredients more closely and even try making some of your own supplies.
Purchase art supplies that are designated as AP Non-toxic or CP Non-toxic by the Art & Creative Materials Institute (see References 2). The ACMI maintains a complete list of all certified materials on its website. Note that the ACMI's standards simply mean that a certified product contains "no materials in sufficient quantities to be toxic or injurious to humans or to cause acute or chronic health problems" --- this label does not indicate an all-natural product. (See References 1)
Look for water-based markers and paints, which are less likely to be toxic than oil- or alcohol-based art supplies (see References 3, page 116).
Avoid professional artists' supplies, which often contain toxins and look for products marketed to children instead. Anything with a strong smell should also be avoided unless it is labeled non-toxic by a reputable agency. (See References 3, page 116)
Look for crayons made from beeswax and infused with natural dyes. Younger children may prefer beeswax block crayons, which are easier to grip than standard crayons.
Try milk paint for an alternative to oil and acrylic paints. Milk paint is free of hazardous air pollutants, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), lead, mercury and solvents. It is sold in powdered form and should be mixed with water to use. (See References 4, page 17)
Create natural dyes from brightly-colored fruits and vegetables --- beets and blueberries are natural choices, but even onion skins yield interesting hues. Boil one part plant to eight parts water for one hour, then test the resulting dye using a paintbrush on white paper. Continue boiling if you wish to achieve a stronger color, then strain and bottle the resulting dye. (See References 5)
- Avoid purchasing paints that are labeled non-toxic but require solvents to clean brushes and palettes. Although you may avoid coming in contact with the chemicals found in paint, most solvents contain high levels of volatile organic compounds.
- Pigments that are natural are not necessarily non-toxic. Orpiment, a natural pigment used to create the color yellow, contains arsenic, while Egyptian blue pigment contains copper, which is toxic if inhaled. Choose natural pigments wisely if you choose to mix your own paint. (See References 4, page 14)
- Art & Creative Materials Institute, Inc.: ACMI's Certified Product List
- GSA Public Buildings Service: Child Care Division; Eco-Healthy Child Care; Spring 2010
- "Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children"; Carol Petrash; 1992
- "Green Guide for Artists: Nontoxic Recipes, Green Art Ideas, & Resources for the Eco-Conscious Artist"; Karen Michel; 2009
- Lion Brand Yarns: Natural Dyes From Items
Amy A. Whittle is a freelance writer who specializes in home improvement, green living and pet care issues. Her work has been published by Woman's Day.com, the Huffington Post and other online and print publications.