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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 the artist needs to understand so that the materials can be used and handled 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 activity.

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 prevents problems
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 while working
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 risky practice
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 gloves
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 container.

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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