More about LEAD WHITE Paint
If you don’t use some form of lead white yourself you may wonder what all the fuss is about but for the painters whose use of lead white is essential to their painting this will be a difficult hurdle to overcome.
Lead White in some form has been used by painters since antiquity prepared from metallic lead and vinegar. Lead white was the only white used in European easel paintings all the way until the 19th century when Titanium White was introduced. All the great masters used lead white and for such painters as Rembrandt, his brushwork and paint surface could only have been made with his particular manner of using of his recipe of white lead.
There are many reasons why the use of lead white is desired by many painters, most frequently people report it is because they prefer the way the paint handles and the resulting superior paint surface and texture. You can smoothly drag longer brush strokes on your canvas that will better retain the look of the paint as it was first laid down without the leveling or flattening out of the paint i.e. retains the topography of the brush stroke. Which some painters prefer in order to accentuate the animated, expressive quality of the paint surface.
Some feel lead whites are better able to work with close valued colors where there are many subtle color gradations and color interactions. Occasionally you will hear people say that you are less apt to get a chalkiness to your color compared to when using Titanium. I suspect this may have more to do with the skill of the artist in getting the right color tone but the weaker tinting strength of lead white may help make this less of a problem as you are able to more easily obtain very subtle value changes unlike titanium.
You might ask if lead white is so superior why don’t more painters use it?
Obviously, the widely known toxicity of lead scares away many painters. Painters working in small home studios, who have children, pets or similar concerns about keeping loved ones safe of course have legitimate concerns.
Truthfully, I’ve known many professional painters as well as part-time hobbyist painters who aren’t careful or serious enough about their use of art materials and these people are better off staying away from paints with toxic pigments.
However, when used in a rational manner with careful and routine safety precautions it is safe. After all painters have been using lead white for hundreds of years, many such as Lucien Freud, Monet, Titian and Rembrandt lived long, full lives.
Lead is most easily transferred to the human body through inhalation, so best to stay away from any lead dust or particles unless it is in a highly controlled situation where you know exactly what you are doing and use a NIOSH respirator.
Lead dust could be formed from small particles scraped from palette or the canvas. Large amounts of dried paint on clothing is another potentially overlooked trouble spot.
Some important considerations for safety with lead paint will be obvious such as wearing Nitrile, Neoprene or latex gloves while you paint.
Lead is not readily absorbed through the skin, but has been documented for this to be possible. Don’t smoke, eat or drink while painting, don’t sand the paint surface, use care when scraping dried paint off the canvas so that the scrapings don’t then become ground to dust underneath or otherwise get tracked or airborne. Wet mop and or Vacuum regularly around where you paint to prevent a build up of paint dust. Care with disposal of paint rags with lead paint, and paint residue from solvent jars. It isn’t just lead paint as Cadmium pigments, cobalt, etc. This all should be considered hazardous waste and treated accordingly as part of standard studio practice. Much of this is true for many pigments, not just lead paint.