Is your art making you sick?

A question from the email bag:  "I am beginning a second painting class with (teacher)  and am hesitant to closet myself with 10 people painting in an unventilated room at (this school). 

During our last painting class (3 mos ago) I experienced headache, nausea and dizziness.  Eventually I began to have confusion and memory loss which I attributed to a very stressful time in my life.

I did not put these symptoms together with SOLVENTS until last Monday when I witnessed an oil painting demo and experienced headache and nausea.  I can find nearly NOTHING on line admitting that solvents are even TOXIC, muchless could possibly cause these symptoms--

can you possibly direct me to a site with health information about this subject?"


Here's my answer folks.  NEVER WORK IN AN UNVENTILATED ROOM.  I don't care if you are making paper collage or working in watercolor.  You need proper ventilation.  Period.  And ten people, painting in oil in an unventilated room? That is flat out irresponsible on the part of the instructor. 

The big problem here is not the solvents, per se.  It's the lack of ventilation in the working environment with the solvents. 

Can you tell I'm steamed over this?  Well I am.  I went through five years of art school as an undergrad, painting in horrible conditions without adequate ventilation and suffered the consequences.  I can never, ever use oil based solvents again. Sure, I can paint alla prima but I can never use turpentine or mineral spirits again. 

Luckily for me, I love acrylic paint and for the last 20 years it has been my medium of choice. But I still use ventilation in the studio.  In fact, I'm so keen on it, I made a video about it. 

They say in real estate, location, location.  In art studios it should be "ventilation, ventilation!"  Get lots of fresh air in your studio and DEMAND adequate ventilation in the studios where you attend classes or workshops. 

Also, visit Monona Rossol's website for information on safety in the studio.  She has great information that you can order. Go to "Data Sheets and Books" on her site. Lots of info there. Everyone should have a copy of The Artist's Complete Health and Safety Guide.  Read it.

What we do as artists can be harmful to our health if we don't use the proper safety precautions.  Remember, this is your industry and you should know the correct way to perform your job as an artist.  Those old fashioned notions of suffering for your art are sooooo 1990s.  Do you want to live a long and healthy life and make art into your old age? Then pay attention to the safety rules!

Stay healthy out there people!