The Oil Painter's Guide to Protecting Yourself and The Environment
Not always the first priority for artists but an awareness of health and safety practises is really important to protect yourself and the environment. Bones recently discovered in Tuscany are almost certainly thought to be Caravaggio’s due to the alarming levels of lead they contain. Clearly we’ve moved on since then and are much more aware of harmful materials. Their use is either much diminished or vanished altogether. Artists are rarely exposed to the inspections and procedures that keep other businesses mindful of the hazards of toxic materials, so here is an overview on what you should be doing to protect yourself, others, and the environment.
Whilst at work in the studio
- Avoid eating, drinking and smoking whilst in the studio as you risk ingesting toxic materials.
- Avoid excessive skin contact with materials, particularly solvents.
- Do not allow solvents to evaporate as when inhaled they can cause dizziness, nausea and worse. Only use the least amount necessary for the job in hand.
- Always allow good ventilation of the studio for the reasons above.
- Clean up spills immediately.
- Wear an approved mask when dealing with dry pigments to avoid inhalation
|oily rags should be kept in an airtight metal container
Clean up and disposal
It’s very important that nothing goes down the sink. Solvents and heavy metals are toxic and must be disposed of responsibly. Have a good clean-up and disposal system that is as ethically responsible as possible.
- Palette cleaning. Clean up by scraping your palette into newspaper, then into a sealed bag for disposal.
- Brush cleaning. Wipe and scrape excess paint off the brush into a rag or newspaper. Soak the suspended brush in a suitable paint thinner, preferably a low odour solvent such as Winsor & Newton Sansodor. Over time the pigments will settle at the bottom. Decant the excess thinner to be used again. Dispose of the residue as responsibly as possible. You can finish cleaning your brush with a product such as Winsor & Newton brush cleaner.
- Oil rags. Rags are a key element in any oil painters’ practise and as the oil is drying on the rag, it produces heat and air gets trapped in the folds. The rag is usually made of a combustible cloth that can become a source of fuel. Heat, oxygen and fuel are all that is needed to create a fire, which is why oily rags when not disposed of properly can spontaneously burst into flames! Oily rags should be kept in an airtight metal container, and then transferred into an airtight sealed plastic bag for disposal.
- Disposal of hazardous waste. Oil paints, solvents and rags that have been soaked in these constitute hazardous waste. Hazardous waste should not normally be disposed of in the mixed municipal waste collection (such as household and garden waste). In some cases, your local council may be able to collect the waste from you. There may be a charge for this. Alternatively, you may be able to deliver it to a household recycling or civic amenity site free-of-charge. Your local council will be able to advise you on where to take all types of hazardous waste in your area.
Looking for more professional advice? Visit our Tips & Techniques section to learn more.