Accidental Artistic Assistance

Safety in artistic practice is vital. Are we paying attention?

The dangers of cadmiums and other paints are one of those topics artists don’t always pay attention to. Recently the issue became front and center for me when my  5 month old puppy decided to give me a hand with the painting by licking the paint off of a wet oil painting of cardinals. Safety in artistic practice should be our first priority but is it always?  If you’re like me you can get in the zone and forget what’s going on around you. I set this painting on a side table to go to something else and was not looking when my puppy decided she liked the taste of oil paint! Thankfully, she suffered no ill effects.

There is a wealth of information out there on the dangers of artist’s materials.  A teacher I had in school was adamant that no solvents be used with oil paint.  But its not just the solvents. It’s also the paint pigments themselves. Renee Phillips, in her blog, says Rubens and Renoir suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and Paul Klee from scleroderma that could possibly be linked to heavy metals, such as cadmium in the their paint.

Many artists have taken up acrylic paint for a number of reasons but one is that acrylics don’t require solvents.  However has a great article on this subject and says acrylics release chemicals into the air as they dry, such as propylene glycol and ammonia.  And for those who use acrylic medium with their paints, they could also be releasing formaldehyde.

Art-Is-Fun lists some of the known toxic chemicals in paint as cadmium, cobalt, manganese, chromium and lead.  All accounts say the main harm is inhalation or ingesting large amounts.  Minimal safety procedures can eliminate or reduce the risk of most of these dangers.  Read labels and follow all precautions.  Adequate ventilation is a must.

Consider Plein-Air painting if you must use solvents. Don’t eat your paint and keep it out of the reach of helpful wanna be artists. 

Author: MaryGwyn

Artist-Art Educator-Art in Healthcare

6 thoughts on “Accidental Artistic Assistance”

  1. It seems as if everything is out to get us lately. I have used acrylics for years and never thought they were dangerous. My fault. It’s getting to the point where we have to research everything we eat, use, or play with. Sigh. I use water color pencils a lot…I can’t imagine what they are doing. We need to be informed but why does everything have to make people and animals sick? Thank you for the information…appreciate it.

    1. Watercolor pencils are safe! I chose long ago to stick with oil, just not to use any solvents. I use paint only or may occasionally thin with linseed oil. It’s worked for me all these years and doesn’t need any ventilation. I wash my brushes with Dawn dishwashing liquid. I never liked the smell of acrylics.

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