Friday, February 5, 2010

Making ART Without Making Ourselves Sick - Part I

Lately I have been getting a bit obsessed with studio safety and making sure I am using the chemicals I need to work with in the safest ways possible for me and my family.

Many of us have worked with the materials used in our art for many years. Sometimes this is a good thing because we are familiar with the safety precautions required, but sometimes it also allows us to get a little bit lax especially as our businesses get busier.

My studio is in my house (a converted garage) and I also use a corner of my hubby's shop for drilling and soldering. In his shop (a very large space with 16' ceilings) I use a respirator and a barrier cream on my hands, but I always felt the highly toxic flux fumes from soldering followed me around for the rest of the day - and they did. I recently began wearing coveralls when soldering

(there are pictures of me doing this which hubby holds hostage while threatening Facebook blackmail)

and showering when I get home. I have also limited the days and hours that I do this- I am trying to get stocked up during the slow months to prepare for the busy ones, but we will see how this works out. I am committed to not exposing myself for more than a few hours a week and plan on hiring an extra person for this as my business grows and requires it (fingers crossed I have this problem).

My home studio is even more complicated because it is right off the laundry area and kitchen. One thing I do in my work is image transfers that require spraying krylon clear gloss onto paper to lift the images. I almost always do this outside, but there were a few cold, rainy days during the busy holiday season that I brought this into a bathroom. Even when working very fast with a hair dryer, wearing a respirator, opening a window and using a ceiling ventilation fan - I brought the vapors out of the room with me and into my studio and living spaces. I am now committed to only spraying outside.

We have also just installed a new hood style ventilator in the studio for working with resin- which gives me a tiny headache as soon as the bottle is opened. I also never eat in my studio space anymore

(maybe I will finally lose that 5 pounds ... maybe)

or drink out of an open top container. Frequent handwashing is super important, too. And not putting things in your mouth like paintbrushes and pens that lie around your studio. Don't leave your cell phone lying on your work table.

Two good, immediately available sources of health and safety information are your product’s label and its Material Safety Data Sheet(MSDS) which you can request from the manufacturer.

Artists are most likely to be exposed to toxic materials by either skin contact or
the inhalation of vapors, fumes, mists, or dusts. Exposure can also occur through ingestion. Airborne contaminants in art studios include those emitted from photographic development solutions, polyester, epoxy, or urethane resins, and fumes from welding, wood dusts and chemicals from woodworking, gaseous emissions from kilns, mold and chemicals in fibers and many other chemicals and materials used in other mediums.

I guess the bottom line is that we all need to be familiar with what goes into the materials we are using in our art and how those materials are used and stored in our studios. We want (and need) to create - it is what we do - and we need to create safely for our current health and our future health.

Part II (Next Month) Making ART Without Making Ourselves Sick - Repetitive Movements


  1. I couldn't agree with you more! Over the years, I certainly slipped in the studio safety department. With a child around now, I am super careful to lock away chemicals and vent the studio when noxious fumes are floating about.

  2. Excellent first article, Catherine.. We've just moved into a new OLD house (which I love) and I have my own "photography" room. This room is used more for making the wearable art out of my photographs - resin, etc. I also have my computer and my storage of photographs already printed, with a space for a shrink-wrap machine, etc.

    The resin is low odor and the best I've found - I have no trouble in the winter with windows closed. I find my biggest problem is dust. I keep my two animals (dog and cat) locked out of my room and try to keep a semblance of order to it.

    Lots of good points here.. I do agree that keeping my food and open-top drinks in a room while I'm resining probably isn't too smart.. will take advice and get rid of those last TEN pounds .. lol

  3. oh, by the way, VERY cute studio - love the rug with the colors of the walls in it. I think I it's important to have a place to go that is visually appealing to us, too, since we spend so much time there.

  4. I LOVE your studio colors as well! My studio needs a make over....thanks for the reminder and some inspiration :)

  5. Super first post and what a beautiful studio!

    Over the years I have had to rule out so many forms of art due to my sensitivity to the materials. I shudder to think of the photography chemicals I had to handle years ago in art school... the black room was in an unventilated basement and by the time I would be done exposing and developing, my cloths, (and I am sure lungs and cells) were saturated with the toxic smells. My last year there, a new professor took over the department and was horrified to see the unsafe conditions we all had been working in... apparently photography chemicals are linked to Parkinson's disease. Lovely.

  6. great post!

    don't relate to a lot of the chemical/toxicity awareness points, but i think it's very important to keep an eye on everything that goes in and comes out of the studio.

    yours, by the way, is absolutely adorable.

    mine's a disaster. looks like the day after mardi gras.... everyday! if my kids (when they grow up) ever throw a party upstairs, i would never know!

    thanks for the info, and looking forward to more of your posts!


  7. Great Article! One of the reasons I started using organic fabrics is because I would get headaches after working with commercial fabrics for hours day after day. I thought - if it is making me sick, it can't be good for the my customers, the poor manufacturers, and the earth!

  8. nice looking studio!

  9. This is a very good post! Sheila, I can relate. This is partly why I work mainly with recycled vintage fabrics too.