A little while ago I received an inquiry from a potential customer, with a “regular name” not under a pseudonym, asking me whether painting x and painting y were still available and if I could tell “her” more details. “She” was expecting an urgent reply. So far everything seemed to be okay although I found the “urgent reply” a little bit pushy.

I wrote back that painting x was still available, painting y not. I also asked what details “she” wanted to know as I did not want to overwhelm  “her” with all kinds of stuff  “she” did not want to know. I don’t mind to deliver exactly what people want to know even if it takes several mails. “Her” email address was this time a different one but I did not get suspicious yet as most peole have several email accounts.

In the next email this person asked for confirmation of the price and size, expressed” her” intention to buy the painting and additionally “she” wanted to know what motivated me to create the painting. I wrote “her” the appropriate answer, asked “her” where “she” was located and offered “her” to waive the shipping costs in case “she” should be located in Europe. I also asked “her” to use my Etsy shop in case “she” wanted to purchase my painting.

The next email I received was telling me that “she” apparently did not receive my answer because of  “her”  having problems with “her” email account so I re-sent what I had answered before. In the meanwhile I became a little bit suspicious about all this being okay although I had no reason at all to doubt it yet but there was that little feeling in my gut…

The following email though fully arose my suspicions. With no word did “she” mention anything about what I had told  “her” about the painting. “She” did neither inquire about shipping costs and all that stuff you would like to know as a future customer. Instead  “she” told me a story about not being at home herself but visiting family in the UK, being in the middle of a big move and expecting a baby. “She” was supposed to be back in a few days.  “She” wanted me to send “her” my mailing address and telephone number so that “she” could inform “her” husband who was shutling between “her” home and South Africa and who apparently was organizing the move from the IT head office in Johannisburg in SA to New Jersey. “She” wanted then to forward my contact info to the shipping company who was supposed to move their belongings. The shipping company would send FedEx to my studio to pick up the painting and consolidate the whole move then.

Now I WAS sure that this all was false – a scam. I wrote back to “her” that if  “she” wanted to purchase my painting  “she” or “her” husband would have to do this via my Etsyshop only and that “she” would receive my address and phone number then and only then. I also told “her” that this was for “her” and my own safety because of all the scams out there. I would not let go of my work before the money was in my account.

I never received an answer back.

So what I am telling you here is that these scams are getting more and more perfidious. Using names and phrases like “FedEx” or “head office IT”   should make you feel safe. Telling you “personal things” like visiting family, husband and sister, expecting child etc. is appealing to your emotions and the personal tone should erase your doubts.

But YOUR COMMON SENSE SHOULD NEVER SLEEP!

Who on earth would buy art being in the middle of a move and short before giving birth? What sense does it make to add something to a shipment from one part of the world when stuff is shipped from a total different region of this planet to another? She did not react on my request to purchase through an official shop. Why? This should be much safer for the customer also. She did not mention how she was going to pay – or rather she did not even ask me about it. Apparently it adds to the trick to use a female name because somehow these people think that women are less supposed to be internet scammers. Well – we live in a male world – don’t we? But behind an email address anything could stand…

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