WCSU Covid-19 Information Fall 2021

School of Visual & Performing Arts

Department of Art : Art Studio Health & Safety

Painting & Drawing

Paints and Solvents
Oil paints use linseed oil as vehicles, although solvents are often used as a thinner and for cleanup. Turpentine and mineral spirits (paint thinner), for example, are used in oil painting mediums, for thinning, and for cleaning brushes. Alkyd paints use solvents as their vehicle. In addition many commercial paints used by artists also contain solvents.

Dry Drawing Media
This includes dust-creating media such as charcoal and pastels which are often fixed with aerosol spray fixatives, and media such as crayons and oil pastels which do not create dust.

For further information, review the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), for the products being used. The MSDS will provide data such as physical properties, toxicity, reactivity, etc. MSDS sheets are produced by the company that manufacture the product(s) and are available either in the classroom, through WCSU's Environmental Health and Safety website or they can be found online by searching for MSDS of the particular products.

Painting & Drawing Precautions for Students

  • Obtain MSDSs on your paints to find out what pigments you are using. Often the name that appears on the tube of color may or may not truly represent the pigments present. Manufacturers may keep the name of a color while reformulating the ingredients.
  • Use the least toxic pigments possible.
  • Do not use lead or carcinogenic pigments.
  • Avoid using dishes, containers or utensils from the kitchen to mix and store paints and pigments. If they are used, no longer use them to eat or store food.
  • Whenever possible replace turpentine or ordinary mineral spirits with the less toxic odorless mineral spirits. Mineral spirits is also less flammable than turpentine, since its flashpoint is over 100 F (38 C), while turpentine has a flashpoint of 95 F, (35 C).
  • Apply the same health and safety considerations for the use of "citrus" or "pine" solvents. These have been found to be quite irritating to the skin and eyes.
  • Techniques such as turpentine washes will require a lot of ventilation because they result in the evaporation of large amounts of solvents in a short period of time. Acrylic paint can be substituted for underpainting.
  • Ventilation only needs to be provided while the solvent is evaporating from the canvas, not during the time while the oil paint film is drying (oxidizing).
  • Wear neoprene gloves while cleaning brushes with mineral spirits or turpentine.
    Used solvent can be reclaimed by allowing the paint to settle and then pouring off the clear solvent.
  • Paint can be removed from your hands with baby oil, and then soap and water.
  • During pregnancy and nursing, switch to water-based paints to avoid exposure to solvents.
  • Use the least dusty types of pastels, chalks, etc. Asthmatics in particular might want to switch to oil pastels or similar non-dusty media.
  • Spray fixatives should be used with a spray booth that exhausts to the outside. If use of spray fixatives is occasional, you can use them outdoors with a NIOSH-approved respirator equipped with organic vapor cartridges and dust and mists filter for protection against inhalation of solvent vapors and particulates. 
  • Don't blow off excess pastel or charcoal dust with your mouth. Instead tap off the built up dust so it falls to the floor (or paper on floor).
  • Wet-mop and wet-wipe all surfaces clean of dusts.
  • If inhalation of dusts is a problem, a respirator may be appropriate. Ask your instructor or contact EHS for selection and fit-testing.
  • Use water-based markers and drawing inks if possible.
  • Alcohol-based markers are less toxic than aromatic solvent-based markers.
  • Solvent-based drawing inks and permanent markers should be used with good dilution ventilation (e.g. window exhaust fan).
  • Never paint on the body with markers or drawing inks. Body painting should be done with cosmetic paints only.

Painting & Drawing Hazards

  • All solvents can cause defatting of the skin and dermatitis from repeated exposure. Turpentine can also cause allergies and be absorbed through the skin.
  • Acute inhalation of mineral spirits, turpentine and other solvents can cause dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, nausea, intoxication, coma, and respiratory irritation.
  • Chronic inhalation of solvents can result in decreased coordination, behavioral changes and brain damage. Chronic inhalation of turpentine causes kidney damage, respiratory irritation and allergies. Odorless mineral spirits and turpenoids are less hazardous.
  • Ingestion of turpentine or mineral spirits can be fatal. In mineral spirits this is usually due to chemical pneumonia caused by breathing in the mineral spirits after vomiting.
  • Natural resins (copal, damar, rosin, Japanese Lacquer) may cause skin irritation or allergies. Rosin dust can cause asthma.
  • Epoxy paints consist of a resin component containing the pigment and a hardening component. The epoxy resin may contain diglycidyl ethers which are irritants, suspected carcinogens, and damges bone marrow. Epoxy causes skin and respiratory irritation.
  • Pencils are made with graphite and are not considered a hazard. Colored pencils have pigments added to the graphite, in amounts small so that there is no significant risk.
  • Charcoal is usually made from willow or vine sticks where wood cellulose has been heated without moisture to create the black color. Although charcoal is a nuisance dust, inhalation of large amounts of charcoal can create lung problems through clogging effects. A major source of inhalation is from blowing excess charcoal dust off a drawing.
  • Colored chalks are also considered nuisance dusts. Those with asthma sometimes have problems with chalk dust, but this is not a toxic reaction.
  • Pastel sticks and pencils consist of pigments bound into solid form by a resin. Inhalation of pastel dust is the major hazard. Pastels can contain toxic pigments such as chrome yellow (lead chromate) which can cause lung cancer, and cadmium pigments (which can cause kidney and lung damage and are suspect human carcinogens). Blowing excess pastel dust off the drawing is a source of inhalation of pigments.
  • Crayons and oil pastels do not present an inhalation hazard and are much safer than pastels. Some oil pastels can contain toxic pigments; only a hazard by ingestion.
  • Spray fixatives used to fix drawings contain toxic solvents. There is high exposure by inhalation to these solvents and the plastic particulates that comprise the fixative itself.
  • Never try to spray fixative by blowing air from your mouth through a tube.