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New Standards Being Developed for Artists’ Paints

by Mark David Gottsegen

ASTM Subcommittee D01.57 began 2003 with a bang. At its January meeting, four new task groups were formed in this subcommittee of D01 on Paints and Related Coatings, Materials, and Applications to deal with a variety of issues.

Safe Disposal

At the January meeting, D01.57 approved the formation of a new group to look into the safe disposal of hazardous art material waste. All paints, even some children’s materials, can contain pigments that may cause harm to the environment if allowed to enter the waste stream. Solvents disposed improperly can also contaminate soil and waste water treatment plants. And even wastewater, which can contain saponified solvents and pigments from brush washing procedures, can be fouled. Moreover, solvent or paint soaked rags, paper towels, and failed art projects are a problem. These conditions are relatively easy to mitigate, but there is no standard practice, in institutions or for solo artists in their studios. With the help of the Environmental Protection Agency, which gave a presentation at a recent subcommittee meeting, D01.57 hopes to produce a practice soon.

Light Stability

Also in January, the subcommittee learned about an ongoing effort in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to write a light stability test method for printed color digital imagery. The document so far seems to be aimed at commercial products, not artists’ materials, so a new task group to write test methods for artists’ versions of these products has been formed. Fine art digital prints have exploded into the marketplace in recent years — but so far, and in spite of industry predictions of longevity to the contrary, printed images made with inkjet inks seem to have relatively poor lightfastness. It is likely that a variation of D01.57’s D 4303, Test Methods for Lightfastness of Pigments Used in Artists’ Paints, can easily be adapted to work for digital printing inks and papers.

Possibly the most influential and consequential art form of the 20th century (and now, the 21st century) is photography. Artists have known for a long time that color prints have poor longevity, unless negatives and prints are stored in the dark and in humidity-free freezers. Collectors of photographs and of old films are also aware of the problem of longevity. With this in mind, D01.57 formed a task group to adapt ASTM D 4303 for these products, too.

As demonstrated by the successful completion of the Standard Specification for Artists’ Colored Pencils, the two task groups discussed above may have the following effect on producers of these products. Almost as soon as the attempt to write the colored pencil specification was announced, two small companies began working on sets of lightfast colored pencils, produced to meet the eventuality that a standard would be produced. These two sets were introduced to the market last year — just as the colored pencil standard was getting ready for balloting. The products are only a little more expensive than the non-artists’ products, and have the longevity of traditional artists’ paints as defined in their ASTM specifications. So, what could happen with digital printing inks, printers, papers, photographic film, emulsion papers, and film stock is that one or two small companies could see a potential fine art market, as distinguished from the consumer mass market, and do the research necessary to make a more durable product.

Protective Coatings

Finally, and related to the items already discussed, D01.57 formed a task group to write a specification for artists’ protective coatings. There are several types already on the market — for paints, there are varnishes, and for other materials there are gel coatings. The most popular of the varnishes now contain ingredients that inhibit the passage of ultraviolet light through the clear coating, thus protecting colors beneath it and delaying the fading or color change of the most vulnerable colors. The longevity of these ingredients remains uncertain, so more research must be done. However, it is probable that a specification can be written that will lead to the eventual production of better, more durable varnish and gel coating films.

All of this recent activity has drawn new members to the subcommittee, among them artists and writers (users), photographic and ink jet ink/paper/printer material researchers, and producers of protective coatings. The photographic artists in particular are very interested in this work, since they have a fiduciary responsibility to produce products (art) that conform to an implied warranty of merchantability — that the art they make and sell can be enjoyed by their clients and collectors for a long time. If the work fails because of their faulty craftsmanship or poor materials, then the artist can be held liable for the replacement of the failed art, or a refund of the purchase price.

ASTM Committee D01 next meets Jan. 11-14 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. For more information about the work of ASTM D01.57, contact the subcommittee chair, Mark Gottsegen (phone: 336/674-9195), or D01’s Staff Manager Tim Brooke (phone: 610/832-9729). //

Copyright 2003, ASTM