Studio Safety and Intoxication

December 8, 2007

A few days ago I stumbled upon various blog posts which talk about the issue of intoxication and studio safety.

Being allergic to a couple of common things such as herbal pollen and a few tree pollen and suffering from a strong allergy against NI and appropriate metal combinations (which makes me a candidate for expensive and precious jewellery only – ha – and not for that fashion stuff ) – I am always quite sensible using materials that potentially stink, create all sorts of vapors or irritate the skin. I try to avoid all kinds of plastics and if necessary I am only using that kind of non-toxic stuff such as PE’s that are biologically degradable and/or designated for food.

I hardly wear any poly stuff – I simply don’t like the feel of that kind of fabric and try to do my laundry with best care, which means no softeners and only the lowest recommended quantity of washing powder in order to avoid any remaining stuff in the clothes or anything that comes into contact with the skin. So no extra bleach or stuff like that. My skin is just more valuable than a t-shirt that still has a stain.

So this all belongs to my every-day-life and does not require any special care about how I handle things. How shocked I was to hear about lethal incidences where painters intoxicated themselves and died an unnecessary early death because they did not care enough about their health, continuously using oils and solvents such as turpentine in a manner that only can be hazardous.

Even if I could work in a studio with proper ventilation etc. I consider the potential negative influence on my health as a no-no. Nothing on earth is worth the risk of your health! Because if you lose your health anything else does not work or count any more! Not for all the money you might ever own.

manet.jpg
After Manet, oil on board,
©1967Petra Voegtle

Perhaps my decision to paint solely with non-toxic, watersoluble paints, using solvents such as pure alcohol only for deep cleaning of my brushes happened by instinct. I used oils in my teens when I started painting as a pure hobby and leisure activity. Little did I know about the toxins that are hidden in those paints and solvents such as turpentine. But I always hated the smell which caused me some headaches when I used them too long.
.
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Little did I know about painting in general. When I started to paint again half a decade ago I started from scratch with watersoluble silk paints and acrylics. I was happy to be able to use water for cleaning brushes and everything else and did not think about that terribly smelling stuff any more.

madonna.jpg
After ?? , oil on board,
©1968Petra Voegtle

Today I am well aware of the danger that lies in various materials. Working in a “studio” that is a living room at the same time and that lies adjacent to the bedroom where the doors are never closed, forces me to think well about the materials I use. So I am exclusively using fixatives only on the balcony or in the large corridor in front of our lift where the door can be opened to the staircases when the weather is too cold for spraying or too windy.

All these things I do naturally without thinking about it too much. So I am quite shocked to realize that many people are using all that dangerous stuff without even thinking for a second what they are doing to their precious health. It is similar to the modern attitude to take a pill whenever something is a bit inconvenient, be it a little headache, or not enough sleep or when the dinner was too heavy. The pharma industry offers a pill for any inconvenience. Hurray to the pharma people! And no-one seems to think about the potential consequences this might have on the body in the future. I am always amazed again and again about the body’s own capabilities of healing itself and repairing the things we do to it but there is a limit: one day it might say it’s enough now and shut down all the wonderful settings. I think there is a call out there to be aware of this.

The argument that only oils can offer that luminosity and deep colour is not valid any more. Modern acrylics with a high percentage of pigments can be equally beautiful. Also there is the possibility of producing your own paints if you like. You can have the choice of total control. No compromise is acceptable in exchange for your health.

Here are a couple of links which you might look into – including some controversial commentary.

ACMI (Art & Creative Materials Institute)
AF checklist (Artist Foundation)
Liquitex – Health & Safety
Toxins in My Studio (June 6, 2006), by Tracy Helgeson
Studio safety and oil painting by David Rourke (Aug 10, 2006)
VEHS-Vanderbilt Safety links
Studio Safety-Ventilation and Design Ideas by Susan L.Moyer
Poisoned by Painting (Aug 2001) by Theresa Blackburn

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