C is for Cadmium

Cadmium sulphide
Cadmium sulphide – image courtesy of Wikipedia

It’s yellow, it’s highly toxic, it is one of the core colours of an artist’s palette – Cadmium sulphide.

Cadmium is an element and a metal that was discovered in the early 1800s by two German scientists. It wasn’t developed for use as a pigment until the mid 1800s, but has since proven itself to be a strong vibrant and reliable source of yellow through to red pigments.

So how do you make this obviously yellow pigment turn red?

Cadmium selenide
Cadmium selenide – image courtesy of Wikipedia

You add Cadmium selenide.

So between these two cadmium compounds we have the spectrum of colours from yellow through to red and each of the cadmium pigments that have been developed are stunningly bright (apparently in some cases the pigment’s brightness actually has to be dulled because it is too bright for artistic requirements), opaque and with good lightfastness. I have a beautiful Cadmium Orange that definitely out shines my other oranges.

I had previously shunned the Cadmium colours, because they are one of the few remaining toxic colours and I figured I didn’t need exposure considering the vast range of other colours on the market. But I received Cadmium Orange for Christmas from my children (it was seriously cute, Hubby took both girls down to the art store and got them to choose colours out of the brand of paints I use, then he boxed them up in separate boxes so each had a present to give Mummy – I scored six new paints :D), and then I started an art class that required a core palette for colour mixing…and two of those core colours were Cadmium Red and Cadmium Yellow.

Don’t breathe or eat your Cadmium paints, they are seriously bad for you. Kidney damage, liver damage, lung damage and if the initial nasties don’t get you, the follow up cancer threat likely will. (Would  you believe that cadmium is one of the poisons in tobacco smoke?) And in any case, not good.  So why are they still on the market?

The core palette.

With Alizarin Crimson as a cool red and Cadmium Red as a warm red, Hansa Yellow as a cool yellow and Cadmium Yellow as a warm yellow, Cerulean Blue as a cool blue and Ultramarine Blue as a warm blue, plus black and white, you can mix just about any colour of the rainbow. (I’m actually doing such a project in class right now, hopefully I will be able to post a finished work next week.) And quite frankly there have not been any pigments to compete in these core roles. I suspect some of the new Azo Yellows might put up a front, but I have yet to see a red have that much impact. Do you know of any reds or oranges or yellows  that can replace the Cadmium pigments?

Red pastels

I didn’t like them, but now I’m converted. And I will now have to go scrub off that cadmium containing paint smudge on my left eyebrow (what can I say, it was itchy and I was painting at the time :D).

Remember to wash your hands thoroughly before eating after painting or otherwise arting, and don’t eat while using art materials at all. Because cadmium isn’t the only nasty pigment.

Best wishes,

See all my Blogging A to Z posts here!


8 responses to “C is for Cadmium”

  1. New follower here. I’m stopping by from the “A to Z challenge” and I look forward to visiting again!


  2. I never knew painting could be dangerous or that there were poisons in paint. Not that I planned on eating any.

    Dropping in from A to Z. This is my first year.

    Brett Minor
    Transformed Nonconformist

  3. Margaret Almon Avatar
    Margaret Almon

    I make glass mosaics and some of my favorite orange glass isn’t available because cadmium is a component and less is being used because of toxicity.

  4. At first I thought you were a science geek, but you are a painter/artist? Cool!

  5. I’m not an artist at all, but I had no idea some of the paints could be toxic.

  6. It’s interesting to learn something about those interesting paint names, and a good reminder that Cadmium has to be handled with care. Looking forward to seeing some of your creations with that wonderful Cadmium Orange.

  7. I just found out I have Cadmium poisoning. Will be starting a detox in a few days.

  8. […] like Pyrrole Orange and vermillion have their uses, none are as brilliant as Cadmium Orange. I have posted in the past specifically about cadmium and its origins, but I didn’t mention the orange so much, so here is my shout out for this gorgeous […]