Transforming the 20th century's "conventional" oil painting process into the 21st century's earth-conscious approach
In 2009, Leah Fanning was to participate in a large gallery and needed to paint full-time to be prepared for it. Around the same time, she discovered that she was pregnant with her first child. In response, she ditched every single toxin in her art studio—from paints, to primers, and thinners.
Leah threw out all her materials because she knew that conventional paints contained a lot of fillers and synthetic materials that are toxic to humans. As an avid environmentalist and health enthusiast, she wanted to use natural paints that would not negatively affect her baby's health.
Drawing inspiration from historical paint recipes, Leah took to nature to find her supplies. “I actually went into the woods and harvested all the pigments myself,” she said, laughing. While running errands in her state of Oregon, “I would never leave home without a trowel and a bag. If I saw beautiful colors in the strata on the roadside, I would jump out of my car and gather the pigments.”
She discovered that using natural pigments and oils creates paintings that are more radiant and archival, where the fillers don’t get in the way of the colors and the luminosity of the paints. “It was so cool to discover that you can make practically edible natural paints,” she said. “And that it was actually a way higher quality than what you can get at the store in a tube.”
Leah did not stop there. She wanted to find natural materials for all aspects of her art. “I found replacements for other toxic things I would normally use such as the solvents and the paint thinners. I figured out how to make my own gesso to prime my canvas, and started using organic canvas and recycled wood.”
After her baby Django was born, Leah started making children’s paints for him to use. She was shocked to discover that in conventional ‘nontoxic’ kid’s paints the most common preservative was formaldehyde. Suddenly, Leah realized the business potential of her natural paints. “That was my epiphany moment. It just hit me that I should create a business about this. I should make oil paints and kids paints and educate the world.” A year later, Natural Earth Paints LLC was born.
Her products, including face paints, fine art supplies, and kids paints and crafts can be found on her website. Natural Earth Paints LLC is Gold Certified member of Green America’s Green Business Network, the highest rank for a green business.