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My guest today is Leah Fanning Mebane, founder of Natural Earth Paints. We’ll be talking about some of the toxic exposures from art paints, and safer paints to use. Leah began using all natural earth paints about five years ago, after being an oil painter for more than eighteen years. She eliminated all solvents and toxins from her studio and then began collecting her own pigments from nature. This transition away from toxic, modern paints gave her the joy of doing no harm to the environment and the freedom to express her art and passion in partnership with the earth. Her constant allergies and headaches cleared up with the removal of solvents and toxins in the studio. She also developed a deeper connection with the natural world as she spent more time outside the studio directly connecting with the origins of her paints. In 2010 she launched the business, Natural Earth Paint, with her husband Drew and now creates and sells natural art supplies all over the world. Their products include Children’s Earth Paints, Natural Face Paints, Natural Egg Dye Kits for Easter, Earth Oil Paint Kits and also professional, non-toxic supplies for artists. See her beautiful earth paintings at





Natural Art Supplies

Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: Leah Fanning Mebane

Date of Broadcast: September 03, 2013

DEBRA: Hi, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and this Toxic Free Talk Radio where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world. It really is necessary for us to talk about this because there are many toxic chemicals out in the world.

Yet, there are also many things that are not toxic and what this show is about is helping us identify what’s toxic so that we can avoid it, but also to identify what are the good safe things that we can use and do so that we can have good health and be happy and productive and help the lives that we want to live without being encumbered by the dangers of toxic chemicals. That’s why we’re here.

Today is Tuesday, September 2nd, 2013. We just had the Labor Day weekend. I hope you had a great weekend. I had a great weekend because I was redesigning my website. It’s not completely done, but a lot of the new designs are up. So if you want, go take a look at, I’m really happy with the way it looks and I’m excited to finish that project this afternoon.

I also wanted to tell you about something that I realized this weekend. Some of you who have been listening on a regular basis know that recently, my husband in 26 years and I are no longer together. We actually were divorced a couple of years ago, but we still were friends and housemates. I know that sounds strange. Anyway, he is now off living in California after he was in an accident where he broke his back.

So I’m on my own for the first time in 26 years and I’m just noticing how many things he used to do for me that I don’t know how to do.

One of them that came up for me this weekend was checking the air in my tires on my car. I think probably before I met him 26 years ago, I knew how to do that, but I haven’t done it in 26 years because he always did it for me. I’m wondering how many pounds of pressures is supposed to be in a tire? How do I use the tire gauge? And where do I go to put new air in my tire, more air in the tires?

I realized that if you’re going to go do something, if you’re going to move into a better life, like with toxics, if you are going to remove toxic chemicals in your life, there are just going to be things that you’re going to need to learn. You’re going to need new information, you’re going to need new skills. You’re not going to be doing things in the same way as you have been accustomed to doing them.

That’s another reason why I’m doing this show. It’s because I’ve been living without toxic chemicals for more than 30 years. I know something about those, but I realized that most people in the world don’t. They don’t have that kind of experience.

By listening to the show, by bringing my guest on, you can see what the possibilities are. But you are going to have to learn a new way of doing things and that’s going to require a little bit of trial and error and finding out where to go to buy these products, how to choose them, all those things. Just like I need to learn where to go put air in my tire, you’re going to need to learn where you can go to buy an organic cotton sheet or whatever it is that you wanting to buy.

All of that kind of information is on my website. It’s on the show. It’s on the website of other people. It really is all out there for you. It’s just you taking those steps to decide that you’re going to live in a toxic free way and learn how to do that. I’ll try to make it as easy and fun and interesting as possible. But it all comes down to you taking those steps.

And I do want to just encourage you by saying that every time, in the past 30 years that I have decided to give up something familiar and toxic for something unfamiliar and safer, I’ve always been happy with that choice. It’s always more pleasurable to use and more interesting and more beautiful and more compatible with me.

So take a chance. Do something different. Learn a new skill. Get familiar with something new. It’s going to be worth it, believe me.

So today, we’re going to talk about art. We’re going to talk about paint and about toxic chemicals in paint and about safe paints that you can use that are made from earth pigments and other natural ingredients.

My guest today is Leah Fanning Mebane. I want to make sure I said that right, Leah Fanning Mebane. She has a website called where she sells paints that she has developed made out of natural materials. She’s also an incredible artist and you can go to her artist website, which is and see her gorgeous paintings. She was an oil painter for many years until she got sick. And then she developed some natural paints.

Leah, thanks for being with me today.

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: Thank you so much for inviting me, Debra.

DEBRA: You’re welcome. So tell us your story instead of me telling your story.

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: Oh, yes. I started out way back in art school back when I was first learning how to paint with oil paints for the first time. And my teachers there all pretty much taught all the standard way of teaching oil paint with all the toxins involved. And they were all really wonderful teachers, but they just all taught the same thing. So I just assumed that all of the toxins were just a necessary evil to painting really high quality art.

So I just accepted it back then. Even from the beginning in my studio, as soon as I started to paint, I would have really bad headaches and allergy reactions and sneezing. It’s pretty immediate right when I started.

But then after that, I moved to Boulder, Colorado and met my husband. We started getting into all natural earth-friendly everything and I became a fulltime artist. I just continued to use all of these super toxic supplies just because that was my art and I felt like I couldn’t sacrifice quality to make any changes. So I just continued suffering all of my crazy symptoms for quite a while.

And then we had a shift. We moved to Oregon and we got even more into just trying to have a zero footprint on the earth. we built a natural earth and home and we’re there for many years, off the grid, with composting toilets and stoves and just a very natural non-toxic lifestyle.

But I was still using all these toxic paints in my studio down the road, which is crazy. I just didn’t know of any alternatives at the time. I didn’t know that anything could be high quality and eco-friendly.

DEBRA: What kind of symptoms did you have?

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: Mainly just really severe headaches and sneezing and fatigue and just various allergic reactions.

DEBRA: I think a lot of people are having those kinds of symptoms, but they don’t know that it’s toxic chemicals.

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: Yeah, absolutely.

DEBRA: So tell us about when you got to a point where you have decided that was enough and you found the paints that you use now.

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: Well, something happened, I guess it was five years ago, which completely was a huge catalyst to get me to make a huge change. I got pregnant for the first time with my baby. Literally, about a week later, I also got accepted for a really huge solo show, art exhibit, which would happen the week before my child was due, which meant that I would paint about 25 huge oil paintings throughout my entire pregnancy.

DEBRA: And before you tell us the rest of it, we need to take a short commercial break.


DEBRA: I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. My guest today is Leah Fanning Mebane. She does beautiful artwork. You should go to her website and see her paintings at And she’s going to be telling us more about the all-natural toxic free earth paints that she developed when we come back.


DEBRA: I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. My guest today is Leah Fanning Mebane. She’s an artist who has developed some totally toxic free natural earth paints and we’re going to learn more about them now.

So Leah, tell us about your inspiration. You had a big show, you needed to paint a lot of paintings and you were pregnant all at the same time. So then what happened next?

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: Well, when that happened, it just launched me into figuring out how to get rid of all of my toxins immediately. I couldn’t wait at all anymore and I just did tons of research and experimentations. I just figured it out pretty quickly how to get rid of all the toxins in the oil painting process. So that was basically how the earth paint came about.

And then about a year after my son was born, I had that idea to make children’s paint too out of the natural earth pigments that I used in the oil paints. So that’s how that happened.

DEBRA: Tell us about some of the toxic chemicals that are in paints. I know that you’re a professional artist, so the paints you are using might be different from the paints that people are using at home. But what kind of toxic chemicals should people be concerned about in paints?

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: In typical oil paints, there are lots of different toxins. There are really bad heavy metal toxins like cadmium and cobalt. And then the pigments and oil paints are usually petroleum-based synthetic pigments and then there are usually some toxic preservatives too and also fillers. So there were lots of pretty nasty things in typical oil paints.

And then you also use turpentine and mineral spirits in oil painting to clean your brushes and thin your paint. Those have VOCs and they offgas. Actually, after you paint your paintings, they continue to offgass. Your paintings off-gas into your room.

DEBRA: I remember my grandmother, my mother’s mother was an oil painter and she was always painting. I remember that smell of the paint and the thinner and all that and the pictures continuing to have that smell. I used to spend my summers with her, so I was exposed to a lot of that day in and day out. As a child, she had me painting with those paints right next to her. So that’s I think an exposure that I had that I hadn’t really thought about before.

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: Yeah. Yes. That’s amazing.

DEBRA: Mineral spirits, for people who don’t know exactly what that is, are a mixture of different solvents that are VOCs volatile organic chemicals. And so, they evaporate and volatilize into the air and then you breathe them and they go into your lungs. And immediately, they go into your blood stream.

They have a lot of different names for this, but the thing about it is that you never know exactly what’s in it or how toxic it might be because there’s no standard formula for making mineral spirits. They just take all the solvents that are around, whatever is cheapest and they throw them altogether. One batch of mineral spirit might be very different from another batch of mineral spirits. So you could be exposed to some very toxic things if you’re using mineral spirits for anything.


DEBRA: Are there toxic chemicals in paints that people might be buying at a hobby store, art supply store?

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: Yes. Yeah, a more common paint actually is acrylic paint just for crafting. And that’s generally more eco-friendly since it’s water-based, but acrylic paint is basically just liquid plastics with petroleum-based pigments.

DEBRA: Acrylic is a plastic.

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: Yeah. It’s just 100% petroleum. You can definitely smell it when you’re painting with it and it’s not great for water supply when you wash it down the drain.

Also, just regular children’s paints in any art supplies store have lots of toxins in them too, which is really shocking when I had my child and I did a little research. Even though most of them say “nontoxic” on the label or “certified nontoxic,” it really doesn’t mean much of anything.

There are very, very little regulations on ingredients in kids’ paints and they never list them on the package.

So lots of times, kids’ paints have heavy metals like cadmium. And the most common preservative in kids’ paints is formaldehyde (which is a carcinogen). There are lots of other petrochemicals and petroleum-based pigments. So all of that is in kids’ paints, which is very shocking and it’s something that every parent should know when they’re letting their kids paint.

DEBRA: Could you explain to us about the labels that are on paint that write the “AP nontoxic?” What does that actually mean?

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: It just basically means that they passed the US regulation standard for nontoxic, but there’s really not much required to pass that. You just send in your information about what’s in your paint and no one does any testing on it. So they just trust the people.

DEBRA: I didn’t know that. Because I’m not an artist and I am not using these paints all the time, I haven’t done as much research on art supplies as other things that I’ve researched that I’m using myself all the time. But I thought that the Arts and Crafts Materials Institute – is that what it’s called? I’m trying to remember the name.


DEBRA: They are the ones that run that program and I thought that they have toxicologists on their staff and that they were testing for those things.


DEBRA: But I don’t know that for a fact. You probably know more about it than I do. Anyway, we need to take another break. When we come back, we’re going to learn all about Leah’s natural earth paints. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and this is Toxic Free Talk Radio.


DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and my guest today is Leah Fanning Mebane. She’s an artist who developed a line of earth paints, eco-friendly and toxic free.

Before the break, we were talking about the little symbol on packages of art supplies, the AP and CL – I’m actually now looking at the website for this organization. It’s the Art and Creative Materials Institute. I think their little emblems used to say “Nontoxic” on them, but they don’t anymore. But they conform to a certain standard and I guess what I need to do is I need to find out what that standard is and I’ll talk to them and I will cover that on another show.

Let’s go back to what you’re doing, Leah. I wanted to ask you a question about your paints just from an artistic viewpoint. I know that for myself, sometimes I run into things like I’m pretty familiar with natural dyes because I used to know somebody who would dye fabric using only plant-based dyes. And I know that sometimes there are limitations on what you can do with the colors when you are taking the natural route whereas in the synthetic dyes and pigments and everything, in such an array of colors, you could have actually any color you want.

Do you find that you have any limitations as an artist by using the natural pigments? Are you able to mix up pretty much any color you want?

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: That’s a good question. The earth pigments definitely don’t come in every single color. It means that our paints are made with just pure natural earth and minerals. So you can’t get a very bright purple with natural earth I found and you can’t get bright cadmium reds or yellows with natural earth. But what are even good are the really beautiful radiant natural hues, which actually I think are even more beautiful than the really, really bright and more fluorescent colors and they probably – oh, go ahead.

DEBRA: Go ahead. No, go ahead. I don’t want to interrupt you.

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: I was going to say they come in surprisingly huge array of colors. In natural earth, you can get a really great red, orange, yellow, green, a very bright blue from minerals, brown, different browns of course, black or white. And we do have a violet, but it’s more of an earthy violet.

DEBRA: I’ve worked with milk paint. I’ve painted walls with milk paint. When I remodeled my bathroom, we used colored clay plaster. So when you’re working with those paints and plasters, it’s all earth pigments. So the only colors that you can use are the ones that are there, but I found that there was a tremendous variety and I had no disappointment in the colors at all or no feeling that there wasn’t enough choice. It was just really beautiful.

Could you tell me? I don’t have an idea of where these earth pigments come from. Can you tell me how they exist in the earth and how they are processed and things like that?

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: Sure. Yes. They’re just natural clay and they’re colored with different natural iron oxides and minerals in the earth.

DEBRA: Do they occur in nature that way? Are they being mined from someplace?

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: Yes. They’re dug straight from the ground. You can synthetically make iron oxide (basically rust), but these are just natural clays straight from the earth.

When I first started the business, I was actually collecting them myself and going out in the woods and digging them out and grinding and sifting and seething them into a very, very fine powder. So that’s basically the processing part. It’s just the grinding part into a very, very fine powder.

DEBRA: And then how does it turn into paint? You just mix something in it and it goes on. I’m not an artist. I don’t know how this works.

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: Yes. It’s extremely easy to make paint. Anyone can do it. Basically just add pigments to a binder and there are many, many different types of binders. Throughout history, since the cavemen, people have used tree stuff or blood or milk or eggs.

There are lots of different things you can add. That’s basically the glue to mix in with the pigment and so that it will attach to the surface. The Egyptians and Etruscans and Medieval Monks all used natural earth pigments and binders.



DEBRA: There’s a huge history of people using natural earth pigments for paints because I guess the first synthetic color wasn’t developed until the 1800s. So prior to that, any color that you see on a wall in the ancient building – and the artists like Leonardo da Vinci, they had to mix up their own paints. They couldn’t just go down to the art store and buy them in a tube.

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: That’s right. Yeah. It’s interesting.

DEBRA: All those paintings, all those pre-industrial paintings by those great masters were all from completely natural paints.

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: And you can see how long they have lasted.

DEBRA: Very long.


DEBRA: Some of those paints are hundreds and hundreds of years old.

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: Yeah. If you think of the cave paintings, they’re at least 40,000 years old. They’re natural earth pigments on those walls.

DEBRA: That’s incredible.


DEBRA: I’m looking at all your beautiful paintings on your website. Are all these recent natural paintings or some of them are synthetic paints from before?

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: You can tell on the colors if you go to my Abstracts page. There’s one section called Art from the Earth and they’re all paintings with the natural earth paints, natural earth oil paints. And those were all pretty much everything I painted in the last three years since I’ve been only recently using the natural paint. So the ones before that, you can see in my other paintings, they have a little bit more bright and young colors.

DEBRA: They’re a little bit more bright, but I just naturally gravitate towards the softer colors. I was just working on redesigning my website and I’m always picking the soft colors that look like these earth colors rather than the bright colors that look so synthetic.


DEBRA: We will be back after this break. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. We’re here today with my guest, Leah Fanning Mebane and we’re talking about art and paints and toxic chemicals and how to not have toxic chemicals in your paint. We’ll be right back.


DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and my guest today is Leah Fanning Mebane. I’m so careful about pronouncing your name because I like it when people pronounce my name correctly.


DEBRA: Leah Fanning Mebane. I’ll get it before the end of the show. I’ve just been enjoying looking through both of her websites during the break or during the breaks, I should say. That’s what I do during the break, I sit here and I look at people’s websites.

Let me give you the URLs. One is and her artist’s site is On, you can find her professional artist oil paints, which are simply earth pigments and walnut oil. And there’s also the children’s earth paint. And there’s also a face painting kit and there’s a book that she had painted all the pictures for. It is just a lovely, lovely site. If I felt that I had any aptitude for painting, anything, I would buy all these paintings and paint away because I just think that it looks like a wonderful thing to do. And especially if I had a child, I would get the children’s paints just right away and let them go for it.

When you put things on your skin, the toxic chemicals can be absorbed right through your skin. So if your children are finger painting, you don’t want to buy the toxic finger paint. You would want to buy something like this. Wouldn’t you agree?

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: Absolutely, yes. Yeah. Our children’s paints are just simply natural earth and organic milk proteins. So it’s very pure and completely natural, only two ingredients.

DEBRA: It sounds like even if they accidentally put their fingers on their mouth, it wouldn’t harm them at all.

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: Yes, not basically and it will probably taste very good.

DEBRA: Yeah. Do you find as an artist that you have a different experience working with natural materials than the synthetic materials? Does it feel different to you?

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: The natural paints or the natural pigments, the particles of the pigments are irregular sizes since they’re natural and the synthetic pigments are just very uniformed since they are made synthetically. So when light bounces through the pigment, it bounces off of all these irregular edges and makes the paint a lot more luminous and radiant. So that’s another good side of the earth pigment as opposed to synthetic.

DEBRA: I like that idea. I like that idea. You have an article on your website called Why is Earth Paint Sacred?. Can you tell us about that?

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: Yeah. That was about the aboriginal cultures in Australia and how creating with natural earth was a very sacred process for them. And all of their ochre sites, they call them ochre natural earth sites where they would harvest the clay, were very sacred and private. It was the process of painting their bodies and spiritual rituals are very big for their culture. Most indigenous cultures all over the world use natural earth pigments and they use them in religion and spiritual reasons.

DEBRA: And a lot of tribal cultures did paint their bodies, painted their faces. So this whole modern idea of face painting isn’t such a strange thing.

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: Yeah, absolutely. Ever since the cavemen, we’ve been painting our bodies with pigment and bear fat or oil or whatever [inaudible 00:43:39] that they wanted to use. And it wasn’t until very recent times that our face paints are now super toxic and filled with synthetics and toxins and heavy metals and lots of nasty things. So it’s been very crazy that you would create something to put on your skin that’s filled with toxins.

DEBRA: But there are many, many products that are exactly like that. Many beautiful lotions and shampoos and all those things are full of toxic chemicals. We put them on our bodies. They get absorbed through our skin immediately. You don’t want to put heavy metals on your children’s faces. It’s just not a good thing to do. So this is really great that you have an alternative for that.

So did I miss anything? Is there anything else that you want to talk about your work?

LEAH FANNING MEBANE: I don’t think so. And on our website, we have lots of different articles and resources and nature-based craft and art [inaudible 00:44:49] and natural paint recipes to make different types of paints with our pigments. So there are lots of stuff on the website if you want to check it out and see what’s there.

DEBRA: Yeah. So you sell the pigments separate and you also sell them made into paint, right?


DEBRA: So people can make their own paints. Okay, good. That’s a good thing to know. Okay. I’m so glad that you came to talk to us today about this because it’s such an important subject and I think that art is an important thing for people to experience.

I know that even though I’m not a painter, I’m an artist in my writing and doing my graphic design for my website and as a writer and I’m also a musician. I know that art comes from within and it’s something that needs to be expressed. So it’s so good to have a way that we can be creating colorful art, visual art, painting, painting our bodies, painting paper, painting canvass, painting our walls, whatever and to do it in a way that connects us with the earth instead of doing in a way that’s toxic.

You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. You can go to my website and find out more about Toxic Free Talk Radio by going to And if you go to – particularly you want to go today because I just put up my new artistic expression of my new banner across the top. I haven’t redesigned the whole entire site, but I put up a new banner because I wanted to communicate more what the site is about in a way that it wasn’t before. I’m very excited – you can see my artistic expression – to be able to play with the colors and do all these things.

So when you go to, first of all, you will find the upcoming shows for the current week. And so today, we had Leah and tomorrow, we’re going to be talking about gluten-free skin products and on Thursday, my friend, Annie B. Bond, author of many books is going to be here. We are going to be talking about toxic free cleaning basics. We have both been doing this for a long time, so we both know a lot about how you can clean your house in very simple and natural ways without buying toxic cleaning products.

And on Friday of this week is show number 100. I can’t believe that the time has gone by so fast. I can’t believe that I have already done a hundred shows, but Friday will be show number 100 and I am working on planning something special to celebrate because 100 is a lot, doing this for five days a week. But I have to say that I really love doing these shows, that when it gets to be 11:45 and I know that I’m going to go on at 12:00, that’s the highlight of my day actually. I have a pretty wonderful life, but I just love talking about things that are better for life, things that are better for health and I love talking to people who are doing better things for our lives and for our planet.

So in addition to finding out who’s going to be on this week, I also have all the shows archived. You can listen to all 100 shows, except for show number one. It didn’t get recorded. But you go to the Archives and you can see all the other guests that have been on. You could listen to today’s show again if you want to. And you can listen to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week anywhere in the world on any device that picks up the internet and you can share them with your friends and you can download them, whatever it is that you want. Just listen and get the information because if you apply the information that is in these shows, you’ll have a less toxic life and will have a less toxic world.

Across the top of the page, right under my picture of me holding my book, Toxic Free, you‘ll see there’s a navigation bar where you can go to different parts of my website. If you can click on Shop, that will take you to Debra’s List and you will be able to find hundreds of links to all kinds of toxic free products. Some of the businesses that are listed there have been guests and many more will be guests in the future, but you’ll find almost anything that you need right there.

I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’ll be back tomorrow.


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