Q. Lately Ive been hearing a lot about the health hazards involved with making art, and Im worried that I might be painting in a way that may have physical repercussions a little farther down the road. Can you give me some safe alternatives to regular painting practices?
A. There are some potential health risks associated with painting, but they have more to do with how you use the materials than whats in them.
Of course you should start by reading all the labels of the materials youre using, and following any precautions provided by the manufacturer. Youll discover that there are few cautions on labels, but that doesnt mean that there are few hazards. Golden Artist Colors Web site has really set a new standard in honest disclosure about the risks of using art materials. For instance, they explain that art materials are chemicals, and potentially toxic chemicals are likely present at some level regardless of risk assessment. They also explain that it is inappropriate to assume that all possible chronic hazards of chemicals are currently known [and] personal exposure should be prevented when using the product.
Beyond reading labels and following their instructions, there are a few other basic rules you can follow. One solution is to limit your exposure to solvent vapors by using only water-based paints. If you want to paint using oils, you can lessen your risk of health problems by ensuring that your studio is well-ventilated and by using only odorless mineral spirits. Avoid regular mineral spirits and the more hazardous gum turpentine. You can also do simple things like remember not to eat in your studio, keep your studio activities well separated from your living space (if this is possible) and wash up thoroughly after each painting session.
Space limitations here prevent me from going into great detail about all the cautionary advice out there, so let me recommend that you visit the Web sites of the companies whose products you use and see what they have to say about the materials. You could also consult a book like Monona Rossols The Artists Complete Health and Safety Guide (Allworth Press, 2001) for good information.