Safety is your responsibility Make it your priority
Artists materials vary in toxicity from harmless (Titanium White is
used as a food coloring) to very toxic (Cremnitz White is only one of
several) As ready made paint most of these are safe to use so long as
the artist does not smoke or eat food while painting. When in powdered
form, however, pigments, gums and resins present extra hazards that
artist needs to understand so that the materials can be used and
in a safe manner.
In many places governments have codes in place to mandate certain
safety measures. Because this web site will be read and used all over
the world it is
not possible to take account of workplace regulations in every country
and state. So here I deal with the simple common sense things that
apply no matter whether there are particular laws where you may be or
not. It is the responsibility of the individual artist to determine if
artistic practice, including the making of paint from basic pigments
and binders has special regulations that need to be followed.
There is an erroneous assumption on the part of many artists that some
colors are particularly safe. This particularly applies to earth
colors. It is unfortunately not true. Umber for instance whether burnt
or raw always contains manganese, (up to 25%). It is the presence of
manganese that gives it the rich dark brown color. Manganese has long
been considered toxic.
As a general rule all powdered pigments should be treated as
potentially toxic and handled with care. The powdered nature of
pigments is the biggest hazard. The breathing in of any dust like
powders is harmful in itself, and for toxic pigments it is an easy way
for poisons to enter the blood stream. However taking a few simple
precautions will make paint making as safe as any other artists
Handle with care Wear a
dust mask or more
A dust mask should be worn at all times that a container of pigment is
open. The simple soft white dust masks bought in
hardware stores are adequate for most purposes except where very toxic
pigments are involved. I do not recommend making any art materials from
lead based pigments.
Always handle the pigments carefully and in such a manner as not to
raise dust into the air. Never leave the lid off a pigment container
once you are finished with it.
If handling very toxic pigments wear a long sleeved smock, latex
gloves, goggles, and a dust mask with mist filter. These should be worn
while the pigment is in powder form and can be dispensed with once the
wet paint has been produced (before grinding).
Get info first Knowledge
Even innocent looking colors can hold surprises. Genuine Naples Yellow
pigment is Lead Antimoniate, a highly toxic substance. The Naples
Yellow you just bought may well be a relatively harmless mixture of
Titanium White, Yellow Ochre, with a touch of a red. Or it could be one
of the most toxic pigments you will come across. Or it can be the white
and yellow mixture with the red being Cadmium Red, which makes the
mixture a medium toxicity pigment requiring greater care than normal.
You need to know which ingredients it really is, because the genuine
pigment can be life threatening if mishandled as being only low
toxicity. When the potential problems can be so serious knowledge is
not a luxury, but a necessity. With full knowledge of your materials
and their potential hazards you can avoid risks and safely use your
hand ground paints without any problems. Treat them lightly and your
health and life can be at risk.
Never heat pigments They
can give off toxic fumes
Some pigments can emit toxic fumes when heated, the Cadmium's for
example. This is true of made up paints as well. You should never
dispose of any artists materials in a fire or furnace.
Keep away from children Bright
colors are attractive
Pigments should never be stored in any place accessible by children. It
is also never wise to make paint with children present. Any substance
that is toxic to an adult is doubly so for small bodies, and also
children tend to run around in ways that can lead to accidents.
Do not smoke And do not eat
After breathing in dusty powders, ingestion via mouth is the second
most common method of consuming hazardous substances. Most often this
occurs when material on a workers fingers gets on a cigarette and is
transferred to the mouth this way. Nibbling on chocolates or other
sweets is another common practice which should always be avoided
whenever using artists materials of all types but particularly handling
pigments. For the same reason never eat any meal following handling of
artists materials without first thoroughly washing hands.
Never answer the phone Another
Handling a mobile or fixed line phone is another way to transfer
hazardous substances to the face and mouth or nose. Never touch
the phone until after your hands are washed. That call is never as
important as your health.
Protect open wounds Wear
Even small cuts on the hands or fingers can be an easy route for toxic
substances to enter the blood stream. cover all wounds and wear
protective gloves. This should apply to the use of all professional
artists materials at all times.
Clean up with care And be
careful with breakage's
Cleaning the slab and all tools should be done in such a way as to
enclose the pigment into paper towel or sponge as you wipe and then
dispose of into a plastic lined bin with a lid immediately, or rinse
the sponge under running water immediately. Never wipe or clean in any
way that would put powder or dust into the air. Damp sponge or damp
paper towel are to be preferred as they reduce dust. Make certain your
work area is perfectly clean, all equipment washed and pigment
containers returned to their correct locations with lids fully secured
before leaving the work area to do another job.
Be aware that many governments and local councils regulate the disposal
of highly toxic substances such as lead based products and those
containing heavy metals. Please inquire from the relevant authorities
before disposal as necessary.
Breakage's present special safety issues especially if you have just
dropped a glass jar of pigment that has smashed. First of all don't
breath and get out of there until any dust raised has had time to
settle. Never sweep up with a dry broom as this puts dust into the air.
Instead dampen the broom with water and then sweep. Use strong gloves
when handling the broken glass as a cut from a shard that has pigment
on it can introduce the pigment into the blood stream. Residue needs to
be put in a suitable safe container and then disposed of in that
Avoid lead based pigments It
is not worth the risk
White Lead, also known as Cremnitz White, Flake White, Silver White and
Lead Carbonate was at one time the only permanent opaque white known
and so was unavoidable in the studio. Nowadays there are excellent
non-toxic alternatives in Titanium White and Zinc White. There is no
need to make any paint with White Lead.
There are a number of other colors that are lead based such as the
Chrome reds and yellows and even genuine Naples Yellow. None of these
colors are necessary any more and should also be avoided at all times.
Lead is one of the most toxic substances used by artists over the
centuries. Once it is in the body it is cumulative in its effect and
can cause serious long term health problems. In extreme cases it can
cause irreversible brain damage, anemia, convulsions and death. In
pigment powder form it is in it's most dangerous form.
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