Pastel Safety

Many pastel artists are concerned about the safety of their medium because of the possible danger of inhaling the dust that all pastels produce. Many, too, are unaware that pastels containing soluble metal oxides pose a particular risk. So how do you know which pastels are the safest? The key is in the labeling. All pastels sold in the United States must conform to the American Society for Testing and Materials’ ASTM D-4236, “Standard Practice for Labeling Art Materials for Chronic Health Hazards,” but still you should check the labels to make sure. Look for labels that say “Conforms to ASTM D-4236.” (You can learn more about this standard from the ASTM’s Web site at If there are any specific hazards you ought to know about, there should be the word WARNING and instructions regarding the safe use of the pastels. Only about 10 percent of all art materials require a warning. If you have concerns about a particular product, don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturer. But most of the time the best assurance (along with the well-known precautions of ample ventilation and perhaps a breathing mask) is right there on the label.

“The ultimate high for me is the act of painting in God’s great outdoors,” says Jeanne Dobie. “Everything that happens afterward is appreciated but an anticlimax.” A lot has happened, however, in the form of numerous medals and awards from national exhibitions such as the American, National and Midwest Watercolor Society, a frequent juror and workshop instructor, and the author of Making Color Sing (Watson-Guptill). She lives and works in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, and Marathon Key, Florida.

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