View Full Version : Watercolor Paints---Odor, Toxicity, Allergy, Sensitivities

02-18-2008, 01:15 PM
Hi all, I am thinking of trying watercolor. I have a few health issues, and I find I can be sensitive to fumes/odors, chemicals, and have odd allergies. I had to buy woodless watercolor pencils because cedar pencils seem to irritiate my sinuses badly!

Do watercolors have an odor? I can't stand oils and allergies seem to be fairly common to that medium. But has anyone had trouble with watercolors? Is there anyone else who has my issues or dislikes odorous things and has no trouble with watercolor paints or has some tips? Are there brands that are less smelly? ;)


02-18-2008, 01:35 PM
My wife and DIL are both sensitive and highly alergic. She hasn't thrown me out yet since I started doing this.

02-18-2008, 01:46 PM
Check out the site www.handprint.com you can do your own research there. As far as I know there are no problems with watercolours but then again I don't suffer from the problems you suggest.

02-18-2008, 04:23 PM
I don't find they have much of an odour to them. What does smell is wet Arches paper! :lol: But it's not irritating, just annoying...


02-18-2008, 07:33 PM
I was once tested- and was allergic to EVERYTHING on the list except one type of wierd palm tree (that does not grow here) and one type of grass.... and no, have NEVER had a problem with watercolors.... or gouache, or acrylics. Try to avoid cadmiums, etc. (if it is not OK in Calif., pass on it to be sure).... I have had no fume problems, and no skin problems.... when I tried pottery- my hands swelled up like ballons from the glazes!!!

02-18-2008, 08:04 PM
Most members of my family are allergic to all sorts of things. Lots of us use watercolours and nobody's had a problem. I am really sensitve to odors and the only stinky stuff I have found was masking fluid (it wasn't THAT bad) and some sable brushes I recently bought. (I have never had smelly brushes before. They went back to the store!)

If you are concerned about toxicity, check labels and websites. I don't buy paints with chemical warnings because I have a preschooler who loves to use my paints (plus I'd rather avoid the chems myself) and I have found that the labeling system is easy to use at a glance.

I hope that you will give watercolours a try!


02-19-2008, 11:55 AM
Noelle's mention of masking fluid reminded me that LATEX is a sensitizing agent, (latex erasers too) and if you are not allergic to latex, you can become so. Toxicity in pigments is a hazard, but it is easy to avoid those.

Blick Art Materials
02-19-2008, 12:26 PM
Hi Gina,
Watercolors are primarily made up of pigment and gum Arabic. While everyone has unique allergies, we've found most of our customers to respond well to gum Arabic. Pigment may be a concern for you, as some naturally milled pigments contain toxic ingredients. However, CL, Cautionary Labeling, should be noted next to each color containing lead bearing pigments.


02-19-2008, 12:51 PM

I have quite a few allergies (I can't wear most make-up, etc.)
and I've had no problem with watercolor paints.
I recommend highly the book, "What Every Artist Needs to Know About
Paints & Colors", by David Pyle, Krause Publications, Iola, Wis.: ISBN 0-87341-831-X
He will give you some information as to the contents of paint and its properties.
Also, you might consider using Daniel Smith brand watercolor paint.
They are very careful with the contents of their paints, pigments and areenvironmentally careful.
I have a daughter who has had asthma since she was a child and has had no problems using either watercolor or acrylics, but had problems with the smell of oil paint. She is in her thirties now and has been painting since childhood.

Best Wishes and Happy Painting!

02-19-2008, 07:50 PM
I am also really sensitive. I cannot use frisket at all. I would suggest buying just one tube and trying it out. I do not have any problems with watercolors, but because I have an sharp sense of smell some colors are more smelly than others to me. Alizeran Crimson seems to smell more to me. I would definitely stay away from the cadmiums.


02-19-2008, 08:29 PM
This is another masking fluid that is water based, I started using it this past year and haven't noticed the oder I get from other masking fluids.

Pebeo Drawing Gum is a masking fluid that can be used with a paintbrush or with a masking fluid pen. It thins with water and is easily removed. This masking fluid dies to a light grey color

03-24-2008, 12:48 PM
Thank you all so much for your responses! So very helpful. I have been checking the books from the library you all have mentioned, and have been looking at suggested products. :clap:

Another question: I'll try the Pebeo Drawing Gum for frisket, has anyone else found this to be the least smelly, or have another product to add? Also, what about white gouache? Does that have an odor? I have mobility issues, so preserving and rubbing at tiny scratches of frisket is not going to be possible for me, I'll need to use either gouache, or is the chinese or titanium white watercolor opaque enough for small white details?

03-24-2008, 07:33 PM
White gouache doesn't have a smell, but Pebeo or any other liquid fisket will have a smell if you are sensitive. They typically contain a weak ammonia solution.


03-25-2008, 12:16 AM
I have noticed that my tube of Winsor & Newton Genuine Rose Madder does have an odor--smells like flowers (roses?) to me; I don't mind it but you never know...
Arches paper does have an odor (sometimes) but doesn't bother me too much. To me, masking fluid is FAR worse as far as odor! I never use Cadmiums--not worth the risk and I prefer transparent paints anyway. I have alot more trouble with allergies than I used to.:(

Hope you start painting/posting soon...