Safe Painting Guide

image: acrylic paint review

There are many health related aspects that are relevant to all three areas, Fine Art, Trade, and DIY Decorating, and these are discussed in pages such as Pigments, Solvent Toxicity and Safe Solvent Alternatives, Reproduction Risks, and Legal Aspects. Some of the information on solvent hazards and solvent safety is based on toxicological  research and writings originally published by Art Hazard News and the  Health in the Arts Program, University of Illinois at Chicago; additional advice on current research was given by Michael McCann.

The Fine Art Painting Section includes a comprehensive essay by Merle Spandorfer on all the painting media available to artists, including acrylic painting, oil painting, gouache, pigments, mediums, etc., which was first published in Making Art Safely by Van Nostrand Reinhold, NY.

Mark Rothko Seagram series, Tate Modern  / Jackson Pollock’s Studio (Namuth) / Roberto Parada: Amy Winehouse /  Francesco Clemente: Sun, 1980 

Safe Painting in Fine Art

Pick Your Poison – Art and Health

Solvents, Sickness, and Clean Air : the 21st Century

Paints for Art and DIY Decorating

Safe Spray Painting

Safe Solvent Alternatives

The Radium Girls

Safe Oil Painting – Goodbye to Turpentine

Making Art Safely – Painting

Robert Parada – staying well as an artist

Painting the Town Green

On Pigments

Rothko’s Methods at the Tate

Willy Richardson’s Art

Toxicity of Solvents – The Science

Hidden Exposures from Acrylics


Reproduction Risks

Intriguingly, contemporary artists from Jackson Pollock to Damien Hirst made conscious use of household or ‘trade’ paints (wanting to make less ‘academic’ artworks). 

As the paint industry makes chemical advances and changes these trickle down into the more refined, highly pigmented, and more lightfast artist paints, which share most of the base ingredients. Potential health issues from toxic pigments, VOCs, PAHs, thinners, and other ingredients are shared across both areas. Both ancient paint formulations, for instance the common lead paint, or high tech 21st century paint such as Anish Kapoor’s Vanta black may have significant health risks. 

So called ‘nontoxic’ materials and paints are currently gaining a strong foothold in the market, and often are not as safe as it seems, but artists and users of paint need some specialist knowledge to make informed choices; we are hoping to aid this process. For example, recent studies confirm that many of the world’s great artists suffered from lead poisoning (Caravaggio, or Rembrandt, among them).