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Feature: Meeting in the Middle

Like the steel rail manufacturers and their customers who came together to form ASTM in a new spirit of cooperation over 100 years ago, artists’ paint manufacturers and their customers have made consensus—and much-needed standards— out of sometimes diametrically opposed opinions.

It’s not always an industry itself that sees the need for standards development, but often consumers can see a gaping hole in standardization and move to remedy the situation. According to Mark Gottsegen, chairman of ASTM Subcommittee D01.57 on Artist Paints and Related Materials, “It was more an artists’ need than an industry need” that drove the formation of that subcommittee in the late 1970s.

Prior to that time, the adequate labeling of ingredients on containers of artists’ paints had been almost nonexistent. The then-National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) had a standard to address this on the books, Commercial Standard 98 for Artists’ Oil Paints, but it hadn’t been revised since 1962, according to Gottsegen. With the NBS no longer writing standards, an alternative SDO needed to be found to promulgate much-needed standards for not only the labeling of artists’ paint ingredients, but for longevity of the paint content, for labeling for health hazards, and more. Shepherded by artists and artists’ paint industry leaders, the old standard for artists’ paints, as well as the whole issue of standardizing aspects of those materials, was about to find new life in a new ASTM subcommittee.

Market Positioning Meets Consumer Needs
Gottsegen explains that, in a competitive industry such as the artists’ paints industry, one company’s introduction of new materials “brings them about one year of market advantage before somebody’s copied it.” Consequently, naming paint ingredients right on the label, a practice not required by any federal legislation, was not considered a wise move by many of these manufacturers.
But artists saw it a different way. “If you compared a tube of artists’ oil paint to a pail of house paint, you could see every ingredient listed on the can of house paint,” Gottsegen explains, “but you were lucky to get a pigment name on the artists’ paint tube. Often something like ‘Joe’s Blue’ would be printed there, which is certainly not a pigment name.” But many artists knew what they needed from a paint, and “Joe’s Blue” was not enough information on which to base the purchase of a paint for an important project. “If I know what kind of oil is being used, for instance, then I can find out, via the work of conservation scientists, what the durability of that particular oil is. We have a much higher expectation of longevity from our artists’ paints than from commercial or automotive paints. Most artists expect their work to remain, unchanged, for more than 100 years.” With expectations like this, it was only a matter of time before the industry would have to take notice of the “chemical literacy” of their customers.

As with most standards development efforts, the activity required the consent of both manufacturers and users to meet in the middle. One manufacturer of the time, in particular, didn’t need a standard or a regulation to recognize the importance of listing the ingredients on their tubes. “When Henry Levison owned Permanent Pigments, they listed every ingredient on the tube of Liquitex brand watercolors,” Gottsegen says. “It was a tiny tube of paint with a lot of ingredients listed on it, including the pigment’s name and Colour Index number. No one had ever done thatbefore. Levison was responsible for bringing other paint manufacturers to the ASTM table because it was the right thing to do.” Gottsegen was one of several consumers who got involved at that time and today, he still sees the value of ASTM’s consensus process. When asked how ASTM’s process benefited their group, Gottsegen replies, “It allowed us to argue a lot! We’ve been around the table, with opinions 180 degrees from each other, and we’d talk ’til we met in the middle.”

Taking it to the Hill
But labeling ingredients is far from the only standards need in the artists’ paint industry. An especially important standard, and one that you’re likely to notice any time you buy an artists’ material for your hobbies or your children, is the Practice for Labeling Art Materials for Chronic Health Hazards (D 4236), first published in 1983. With largely anecdotal evidence presented to Congress regarding sickness due to use of inadequately labeled artists’ materials, the artists’ paint industry found itself, in the 1980s, under fire from a public supportive of the threat of state-by-state legislation. But once again, ASTM’s consensus process offered the way out of a quagmire. “People in the industry picked up right away on my suggestion that we use the ASTM committee to reach a consensus among users, public interest groups, toxicologists, state health representatives, and manufacturers on a program agreeable to everyone,” says Joy Turner Luke, an artist and founding member of the subcommittee who was its chair when the health labeling standard was written.

With virtually the whole industry turning out to develop this standard in ASTM, D01.57 found itself host to artists’ paint manufacturers from the United States, Europe, and Asia. Once the standard was complete, Luke says, “we were able to go to Congress and tell them we’d had representatives from public interest groups, from artists’ organizations and manufacturers, and we all agree this is what we want. And Congress passed the law. So instead of the manufacturers fighting the users groups, it was a way for them to come together in ASTM and settle a very controversial issue.” Consequently, the designation number of the resulting standard, D 4236, has been found on all artists’ materials since the introduction of the law (the Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act) requiring this in 1988. Compliance enforcement began in 1992.

Unlike the days of Henry Levison, when he was a maverick in his field for copiously labeling his tubes of paint and using his own money to conduct important lightfastness tests on his products, today almost every manufacturer has a lab on-site and strictly follows a set of formulae for the manufacture of their paints. And ASTM Subcommittee D01.57 has had a hand in this. Gottsegen says, “A lot of this development has to do with advances in science and the work of the ASTM subcommittee in standardizing the minimum performance and labeling requirements for some of their products.” //

Approved Standards Developed by Subcommittee on Artists’ Paints (D01.57)

D 4303, Test Methods for Lightfastness of Pigments Used in Artists’ Paints—Describes the ways in which pigments used in artists’ paints (any kind of artists’ paint) can be tested for relative lightfastness and details how the test results are to be evaluated in order to place products in one of five Lightfastness Categories.

D 4302, Specification for Artists’ Oil, Resin-Oil, and Alkyd Paints
D 5067, Specification for Artists’ Watercolor Paints
D 5098, Specification for Artists’ Acrylic Emulsion Paints
D 5724, Specification for Artists’ Gouache Paints

Standards for the labeling, composition, physical properties, and performance requirements for these types of paints. There are performance and property requirements for the various paints, which make it necessary to have separate standards for them. In addition, the different binders affect the lightfastness of pigments, and it is necessary to have separate tables of approved pigments.

D 4236, Practice for Labeling Art Materials for Chronic Health Hazards—This practice describes a procedure for developing cautionary labeling for chronic health hazards in art materials. All art materials sold in the United States are required by federal law (the Labeling of Art Materials Act of 1988, to conform to this standard, and to display on the container label a statement to that effect: “Conforms to ASTM D 4236.” Some labels then might have two conformance statements: “Conforms to ASTM D 4236 and D 4302,” for instance. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been charged by Congress to enforce this use of the standard.

D 5383, Practice for the Visual Determination of the Lightfastness of Art Materials by Art Technologists—This practice describes a method for testing the relative lightfastness of art materials not covered by D 4302, D 5067,
D 5098, and D 5724: non-traditional materials like colored markers, pastels, inks, colored pencils, and so on. The practice uses Blue Wool textile fading cards as controls to determine when the proper amount of natural daylight exposure has been reached.

D 5398, Practice for the Visual Determination of the Lightfastness of Art Materials by the User—This is a simplified version of D 5383, intended for individual artists to use to evaluate their own non-traditional materials for light permanence. It does not have as strict a set of controls as D 5383, nor is it as accurate.

D 5517, Test Method for Determining Extractability of Metals for Art Materials—This is a scientific technical method used in the evaluation of art materials for determining labeling according to ASTM D 4236.

D 4838, Test Method for Determining the Relative Tinting Strength of Chromatic Paints—This is a highly technical instrumental method for determining the tinting strength of a colored paint. It is more accurate, but also more complicated, than the traditional method of reducing comparative paints with a standard white and then drawing them down side-by-side for visual comparison.

D 4941, Practice for Preparing Drawdowns of Artists Paste Paints—
D 4941 is a relatively simple method that tells users how to prepare samples, using the proper equipment, for testing normally thicker artists’ paints for lightfastness according to D 4303. Industrial drawdown equipment is designed for more liquid paints—house paints, industrial paints—that flow slightly.

(Taken from subcommittee D01.57 Web site; click on Technical Committees/ Membership, search for D01 by Alphanumeric Listing.)