Le Petit Matisse

Child plays with clay

High-performance art supplies that are safe for little ones.

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An artist with a background in fashion and interior design, Eza Borchardt knew many art supplies contain chemicals that have not been tested enough to determine their safety. For example, chromate pigments, found in paint, can cause ulcers or rashes, according to Healthy Child, Healthy World. And known carcinogens cobalt, cadmium, manganese, arsenic, and lead are often found in conventional nonwater-based paints. When she had her son André Matisse, Borchardt wanted him to share her love for creating art, but she didn’t want it to be at the cost of his health.

So she began researching nontoxic and natural paints for André, who was born premature at 26 weeks and was extra-sensitive to chemicals.

“I searched the market for a couple of months but was unable to find anything that was even remotely close to [the quality of] traditional art supplies, but safe enough for use with young children,” she says.

She started looking up recipes online to make her own but immediately ran into problems: “Everything I made needed to be refrigerated, or it grew mold in a day or so.”

After many attempts to make less-toxic art supplies, Borchardt found a chemist who told her it was possible to increase the shelf life of natural products without resorting to toxic additives. She began testing new ideas, starting with an all-natural paint she called Young Artist Paint, which performed similarly to acrylics. Her homemade art supplies worked so well that they started to attract attention in her community.

“Moms in my neighborhood wanted to come over to my home for play dates to use the products,” she says.

Sensing a business opportunity, in 2012, Borchardt opened Le Petit Matisse m , an art studio in Alameda, CA, aimed at introducing children to the arts using supplies made with nontoxic, environmentally safe, and kid-friendly ingredients.

While at first, she only sold the Young Artist Paint, in 2014, she launched a full line of Le Petit Matisse art supplies, including face paint, watercolors, crayon rocks and tubes, craft glue, modeling dough, egg dye, and food coloring.

While conventional art supplies can have synthetic pigments and preservatives that may contain toxins, Borchardt uses truly natural materials, including vegetable, fruit, and mineral extracts to color the products; beeswax; soy wax; chalk; natural ochers; gluten-free flour; kosher salt; and a number of pure essential oils like chamomile, lavender, sweet almond, argan, and others. So while eating the product isn’t recommended, a very distinct lack of the harmful carcinogens, cobalt, cadmium, and more found in conventional supplies can allow parents to rest easier if little ones do ingest their art or lick their fingers during the creative process. Each Le Petit Matisse product displays all ingredients on the label.

Besides enjoying the products’ textures and colors, children inhale the sweet, calming scents of Roman chamomile and lavender essential oils while they create, which Borchardt uses to scent many of her products.

While the company’s first product, the Young Artist Paint, remains its most popular, it will soon be launching new products, including chalkboard paint in three colors, hexagon-shaped beeswax crayons (the shape of which makes it harder for them to roll off desks and break), and less-toxic markers that will be refillable to cut down on plastic waste.

Borchardt is extremely proud of the company she’s built. While others in the art supplies industry told her that creating natural products with few to no preservatives was “impossible”, she not only proved her naysayers wrong, she also found a way to use natural preservatives to help her supplies survive international shipping without special packaging.

No matter what new product she dreams up, Borchardt still makes sure it is as safe as possible—in part because she comes face to face with the little ones who will be using them every day. André and her second son Axel, who were five years old and 16 months old, respectively, at presstime, and the children in her neighborhood still test every product.

Like her children, Borchardt’s business continues to grow, and she has high hopes for both them and her blossoming company: “[I]t’s our goal to become the Crayola of the natural art supplies industry.”