Keeping artwork a safe pastime

Most people’s image of an art studio includes wooden floors, artist easel and a model lying languishly having her body painted. They may even think in terms of still life painting and cannot imagine anything toxic in a studio where a bouquet of flowers takes center stage. However, artwork goes further than that. If it involves pottery or sculpture, then certainly there are considerations which make it imperative to be aware of safety precautions. Dust masks and respirators are used to protect the lungs from harmful exposure caused by any such activity. Therefore, these should be considered as standard equipment for those wishing to be sure of safety in their studio environment.

Stone carving

This is an artist’s delight. Stone carved into sculptures that show the artist’s skills are getting more and more popular with the public. The University of Chicago has great guidelines for those working with stone and for good reason. 

“Wear a NIOSH-approved respirators with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters when carving all stones.”

They further state that all stone carvers should wear NIOSH-approved goggles to protect the eyes from stone which splinters as the carving is done. These safety measures are particularly relevant to stoneworkers, but respirators and dust masks are not just just used by stonework artists. Other artwork requires their use because of similar hazards to the lungs.

Working with plaster and plastic

Plaster of Paris is a common powder used in the art studio. For molding work, this powder mixes to the perfect material to cast. What happens though if you breathe in plaster dust? Don’t take chances on it because as well as being able to cause burns as the plaster sets, breathing it in is not worth the risk to the lungs. If mixing small quantities wear the mask while the powder is poured and once the liquid or creamy mixture is obtained, the mask can be taken off.

You may be shocked at just what is potentially toxic within the art studio and there is a very good safety leaflet that may be worthwhile printing and keeping within the studio to remind people using the studio of the potential risks. Produced by the Canadian Artists Representation, this leaflet is of value worldwide because the safely measures found in the leaflet cover all types of art. In this particular genre, they quote:

“Artists working with plastics such as acrylics, polyester resins, epoxy resins, polyurethane, polystyrene, and fiberglass need to be aware of the hazards arising from casting, laminating, and foam processes, and from overheating or burning plastics that can occur while sawing and machining. Toxic gases can be released during the formation process of plastics and from overheating finished plastics”

Thus these risks cannot be overemphasized. Having a respirator and appropriate filters and dust masks helps the artist to stay safe. 

Fixative used in the artist studio

The spray that is used as a fixative is highly toxic and should always be used outside. Even in the open air, wear a respirator to avoid any harm. This is of vital importance.

Paints and other artist materials

Whether working with photographic chemicals or with paints, the risks present themselves. When the artist gets accustomed to safe handling of all materials within the art studio, their natural reaction will be to reach for the dust mask or respirator when the need arises. 

For example, when mixing pigments in powder format, the risk of breathing these in is high. In a case such as this, a dust mask acts as protection to the lungs and is essential. Having a pack of these at all times is something which is relatively cheap, but will help the artist to get into the habit of using the masks rather than working with powders and ignoring the possibility of toxicity.

Similarly, when working with solvents and turpentine, use the respirator because this will cut down the risk of breathing in toxic substances. Photo printmaking and lithography also present hazards for the lungs since the process calls for the use of lead pigments. 

It’s easy to think that artwork is simply a matter of putting brush to canvas. It’s a lot more complex than that and having safety equipment available in the studio is essential. In this day and age, with the diversity of materials used by the artist, it makes sense to have a respirator and dust mask available at all times during work which would otherwise present a hazard to the lungs. Read the brochure linked to above, since it contains common sense guidelines and tips which will help the artist to develop their portfolio of art without risk to their health.