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 Artsy.net 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.
“There is no blue without yellow and orange.” Vincent Van Gogh (from Brainyquote)
Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters preferred heavy applications of opaque paints. Among the favored paints of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists were the cadmium family of yellows, reds and oranges. The cadmiums make rich, strong dominant colors in any painting. Fears of toxicity with the cadmiums have limited their use for many artists. However, some minor precautions will prevent the harmful effects of the cadmiums allowing artists to make use of these paints without concern.
The cadmiums are toxic only if you eat them or inhale them. Chances of toxicity through the skin are limited but you probably wouldn’t want to paint yourself with them either. One source says a potential point of toxicity is smoking with cadmium paint on your fingers. The paint absorbs into the cigarette facilitating inhaling the paint into the lungs where it becomes carcinogenic. Best not smoke and paint at the same time. (Well, best not smoke at all but who’s lecturing!) If mixing dry paint pigments, wear an appropriate mask. If you are concerned with the toxicity, paint with colors labeled “hue” as in cadmium yellow hue. These are entirely free of the cadmium toxins. Listed below are links to safety sites with more information.
Taking proper precautions with the cadmiums will enable their use in myriad ways. Gary Bolyer on his website lists two important points to success with the cadmiums. First use only Cadmium Yellow Light and Cadmium Red Light. Secondly, refrain from mixing the cadmiums with white. Mixing with white will result in chalky, diluted colors. (Follow the link to Boyler’s site for more success with the cadmiums). Gamblin says cadmium yellow was preferred by Claude Monet because of its higher chroma and its greater purity of color. There is more at Gamblin’s site, as well.
Rumor has it that Vincent Van Gogh’s problems were the result of the use of the cadmiums. According to the rumor, Vincent had a habit of holding his cadmium paint saturated brushes in his mouth. So if you don’t want to go off the deep end and cut your ear off, keep the cadmiums out of your mouth. Don’t smoke them either. Otherwise, you can enjoy the regular use of these beautifully rich opaque reds, yellows and oranges profusely in all your paintings.
Princeton Artists Safety
Draw Mix Paint Forum
Vincent Van Gogh’s painting “Les Alyscamps” with lots of yellows, reds and oranges!