Safety first when creating artwork

The art studio is a place where art is created. It’s usually inspirational and chosen as the area in which artistic work can be produced. The old Masters of art may not have considered their safety as being of paramount importance, although in this day and age, it really is. Those items labeled as safe may assume that the artist has knowledge of their use, though often artists just setting up have no idea of the hazards which may present themselves, having little experience of the use of such products.

Did you know for example that pointing the brush with the mouth or smoking while working with certain pigments and artistic materials can actually result in chronic poisoning? The answer to that is probably not. There is a great fact sheet on artist materials written by the Canadian Artists Representation. It will help artists worldwide to appreciate the dangers which may be lurking in a supposedly safe environment created as a studio.

They advise that good ventilation is essential since many artist materials contain formaldehyde and even suggest that fixatives for paintings should be performed outdoors, since these can be toxic. In any case, the kind of safety equipment to have in the art studio would include packs of face masks which can be grabbed at opportune moments to protect the lungs. When working with anything which is particularly strong, a respirator with appropriate filters should also be a standard safety item for all artists. It doesn’t sound that glamorous, but when working with any kind of solvent, the skin should also be protected and having disposable gloves available is also a wise precaution against skin irritants found in many artist materials.

Other things that cause respiratory problems

Mixing powders of any kind presents the hazard of breathing in that powder. From plaster casting to mixing powdered pigments, the respirator helps the artist to protect their lungs from potential harm. Often vermiculite and silica sand are a part of the products used by the artist and both of these are highly dangerous when breathed in. 

Anything that produces a dust while mixing should be considered as hazardous. Working with photographic chemicals can also cause breathing difficulties. In cases such as this, a respirator is essential. 

Working on a regular basis with stone would also give rise to the question of installing a dust extraction system, and knowing the content of those stones. Some stones have asbestos content and thus the artist should get supplies from a trusted source and avoid all use of stone with asbestos as this produces a fine powder which can easily be inhaled and is known to be extremely harmful to lungs. A Work Safe guide on stones is worthy of a read as there are many tips that can help artists starting to use stone as their main medium. Be particularly aware that avoiding the use of power tools is advised since the powders created are minute and can be breathed in. If these are used, then having protection in the way of a respirator is absolutely essential. 

Protecting the eyes

Although an artist needs their eyes to see their work, carving and sculpture work threaten those eyes and safety glasses are a very sensible precaution as splinters or stone fragments may hit the eyes during the work being done. It is essential therefore that the eyes be protected at all times with goggles which are of good quality, and these should form part and parcel of the artist’s equipment.

For the metalworker, a hand held shield is essential when using soldering or welding equipment. This protects the face area, but particularly the eyes and is made to be easily held while working. 

Fire safety

As an artist is likely to have valuable work within the studio, having a fire extinguisher available at all times is essential. The very nature of artist materials and the importance of protecting finished work is vital. 

As a recap

The safety items needed within the art studio include a respirator and suitable filters, face masks, disposable gloves and a hand held shield. They should also include a fire extinguisher. The most important thing is that artists understand the dangers that lurk in the art studio and makes themselves aware of the potential risks associated with the kind of work done. Potters, sculpters and painters need to familiarize themselves with the risks so that they can assess the kind of equipment essential to their given choice of art media. The guide linked to above will help artists to understand the nature of the products used and to respect the limitations and risks involved in their use.