Painting Safety Rules

Illustrated Safety Guidelines

Note: a dedicated solvent room was completed on each floor for use in Fall 2010.



An understanding of the potential toxicities of an artist’s chosen materials is part of the aesthetic of using them.

The primary means of toxic exposure are ingestion, inhalation, and absorption.

1)  Ingestion (eating it).
Have you ever laid your sandwich in titanium white and not noticed until you tasted it? (Don’t eat in your studio.) Did you ever accidentally rinse your brush in your coffee cup instead of your solvent? (Keep a lid on your beverages.) Do you smoke?  (Don’t do it while painting or before washing up.) Do you bite your nails?  (Put soap under your nails before you paint so that the paint washes out when you clean up.) Do you open your paint tubes with your teeth? (Buy some pliers.)

2)  Inhalation (breathing it).
Airborn particles:  Wear a dust mask for use of pastels or for tempering dry pigments.  Airborn particles you can see are less dangerous than the ones you can’t. Vacuum rather than sweep.
Solvents:   Do you like to make thin glazes and apply them to your large paintings?  (Buy an OSHA approved charcoal filter mask, several filters, and use it at the times when you are doing this.) With solvents, one filter lasts about 1/2 hour. Use the smallest possible tins for solvents. Cover the solvents when you are not in the studio. Use a fan and make sure the fan pulls or blows the air and fumes away from you rather than past you. Close the black liquid waste can lid tightly. Paint-tainted materials must be discarded in the red can, not the open garbage can. Use the provided Murphy’s oil soap to clean brushes.
Other: Acrylics also emit dangerous fumes due to formaldehyde, especially in high temperatures. Fixative and adhesive sprays should be used only outside, downwind, and the works should be allowed to sit outdoors for a few minutes before bringing them inside.

3)  Absorption (getting it on your skin).
Wash promptly between sessions. Like a sponge, your skin will absorb less when moist: apply a handcream, or better yet a barrier cream, such as Winsor and Newton’s Artguard, before painting. Gloves are another option.Try out several types for fit and comfort (dishwashing gloves have become available in less distracting colors, a wider range of sizes in recent times). Boxes of disposable latex gloves are available from hardware stores. Gloves are provided by the department in every painting classroom.

Other health pointers:
The following materials, if handled carelessly, are particular health risks through one or more means of
exposure outlined above:    lead (in flake white)     cadmium    barium     titanium         manganese
benzene*        toluene*         pure spirits of gum turpentine* *these solvents are not allowed in the painting classrooms due to fast evaporation and absorption through healthy skin.
Read labels of materials for information on their safe handling.
Bulk items that have been repackaged by the retailer are not required to carry the same warnings  as prepared ones (e.g., cadmium red dry pigment vs. a tube of cadmium red paint).
“Deadlines are dangerous.”  As a deadline approaches, and you work longer hours, your exposure intensifies, and you may get slack in some of your usual precautions.
The delicate tissues of the brain and liver are often among the first organs to be affected. If you feel dizzy, it means your brain is being affected. Move to fresh air.

Solvents can spontaneously combust at surprisingly low temperatures (95 degrees F). Keep an ABC fire extinguisher near the exit of your personal studio. There is a fire extinguisher in every classroom – know where it is. Do not keep solvents near the exit of your studio.

Auditory strain:  Loud sounds for extended periods don’t seem so loud after awhile because your hearing is fatigued.

Involve your family.  Ask for safety items at holidays, such as a fire extinguisher, a charcoal mask and filter, several tubes of barrier cream, an intake/exhaust fan, a box of 100 gloves, or a small hand vacuum.


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