Suffering for Art
Being an oil painter used to be pretty hazardous work, what with toxic pigments like vermilion, lead white, and chrome yellow, as well as toxic solvents like turpentine. Things have improved a lot since then, but it pays to understand the risks and reduce them as much as possible. Also, as I become more environmentally conscious, I have worked to reduce waste and reduce my use of products that harm the earth.
A SAFER STUDIO
I use Gamsol as a solvent to thin paints and clean brushes. All mineral spirits give off toxic fumes, but Gamsol is the least volatile and is not absorbed through the skin like some others. Of course I could use water-soluble oil paints and eliminate solvents completely, but I tried them and I was not happy with the results.
So to minimize my risk of breathing Gamsol fumes I keep it in a small container with a tight fitting lid. I keep the jar capped when I'm painting and only open it to clean brushes. I also have an exhaust fan that is built into the ceiling of my studio and I place the solvent between me and the fan, so that the fumes are lifted up and away from me.
Traditional painting mediums (which make paint spread more easily) were mixtures of solvent, sunflower oil, and stand oil. I use a non-toxic medium from Gamblin: Solvent-Free Fluid. I thin it with a bit of Gamsol for the early layers and use it straight after that in order to maintain fat-over-lean.
Varnish for oil paintings is also toxic, so I always work in a well-ventilated area and wear gloves.
I prep my canvases with tinted gesso. Although gesso itself is not toxic, sanding it can produce particles that are hazardous to the lungs, so I do this in the garage and I always use a mask.
A few of today's oil paints come with warning labels because their ingredients are toxic when ingested or breathed. The Cadmium Red and Cadmium Yellow that I use have such a label and for that reason I don't eat in my studio and I make sure I wash my hands after every painting session. A good rule of thumb for all pigments: don't eat paint!
If you want more detail information on studio safety, Gamblin Colors has an excellent in-depth guide on the topic on their website.
A GREENER STUDIO
In the past ten years I have become increasingly concerned about how items from my daily life are harming the environment, including items that I use in the studio. So I have made the following changes:
Your turn: what are you doing to reduce toxins and pollutants in your home and work areas?