Sunday, January 1, 2012

Studio Safety

Disclaimer: This is taken from Gamblin Paints, and therefore promotes Gamblin Artists Materials.

GAMBLIN Studio Safety

Managing solvents is the key to studio safety. Oil painting studios are immediately safer when artists remove strong solvents, especially turpentine, from their painting processes.

Our goal is to advance oil painting by making oil colors with no or very low toxicity. We do not make paints that contain lead, arsenic or mercury. Because there are complete arrays of lightfast pigments available, we have no reason for making toxic paints. When we started to make oil painting mediums, we extended our philosophy of protecting our workers' health and our customers' health to making mediums. Because artists must use turpentine or other strong solvents to dissolve damar crystals, we decided not to base Gamblin painting mediums on natural resins. Odorless mineral spirit is not strong enough to dissolve natural resins or to extend natural resin varnishes. Using OMS will cause the varnish to cloud. Painters who choose to use natural resin varnish as a component of mediums must use turpentine.

Solvents in history.
Painters have been using turpentine for hundreds of years because it was commonly available. Pure 100% odorless mineral spirits (OMS) is an innovation of the late 20th century so it is no wonder that many painters are just beginning to understand how safe and available OMS is.

Too bad artists of 50 years ago did not know that before they created huge canvases of oil colors that were diluted with turpentine. It is not surprising that these artists experimented with, then later switched to water based media. Turpentine, a known respiratory irritant, has a fast evaporation rate and a low permissible exposure level. It causes nausea and lightheadedness, dermatitis, kidney and bladder disease, and asthma. Turpentine is the only solvent commonly available to painters that is absorbed through healthy, unbroken skin. Turpentine is toxic.

Rembrandt used no painting mediums. He did not need mediums because hand made paints are thin and very fluid. Since the 19th century and the invention of the three roll mill, oil colors have been made into stiff pastes. Using these luscious pastes lead to the dominance of direct painting in the 20th century. Painting mediums are used only to increase fluidity of oil colors when using this technique. Extending oil colors with only solvent can lead to failure of the paint film. Adding more than a small amount of linseed oil can increase the tendency of oil paint films to wrinkle. Recently more painters are interested in creating unusual surfaces and optical effects so there is more interest in different kinds of painting mediums.

Gamblin painting mediums are formulated for safety.
Once Robert Gamblin decided to formulate our painting mediums with 100% pure odorless mineral spirits, he chose alkyd resin to replace natural resins. First made in the early 1930's, alkyd resin is the polymerized oil of the 20th century. Like 19th century stand oil, alkyd resin is made by heating oil until it polymerizes. Alkyds have been formulated for use in artists' materials, most successfully as an oil painting medium because alkyd resin as a binder cannot hold the high pigment load of linseed oil.

Galkyd painting mediums speed the drying time of oil colors and increase their flexibility. Galkyds will not yellow over time. Galkyd painting mediums are formulated for different painting techniques. Galkyd is like a medium made from stand oil so use Galkyd to level brush strokes.

Galkyd Lite is like a linseed oil based medium so use Galkyd Lite for direct painting and techniques to leave brush marks.

Galkyd Slow Dry gives painters time to work wet into wet.

Galkyd Gel (G-Gel) creates transparent impasto. Most importantly using Galkyds means painters can remove turpentine entirely from their painting process.

Artists can now create huge canvases of oil colors diluted with Galkyds and Gamsol. Using Gamsol painters can work with pure odorless mineral spirits with a slow evaporation rate and a high permissible exposure level. See Gamsol MSDS.

Solvent alternatives.
We do not recommend painters use "alternative solvents" as ingredients in painting mediums. They are not 100% volatile and have not been tested by conservation scientists. Our Solvent Comparison Chart compares the properties and uses of several common solvents.

Once painters remove turpentine from their studios, good ventilation is the next issue. Good ventilation is essential for a safe studio. According to the recommendation of environmental hygienists, studio air should be changed ten times per hour. A certain percentage of this change is attained by natural diffusion through the building. Generally the older the building the greater the diffusion. The rest of the air exchange can be attained by opening the windows to increase diffusion and by inserting a fan in one window to blow air out. An excellent source of ventilation is a small box fan in a window. Robert Gamblin (in his studio) has blocked the window on both sides of the box fan so the air moves from his studio to the outside. The air moves between the painter and his painting table.

Painters who are using Gamsol and Galkyd do not need respirator masks or exhaust systems. Artists working in media requiring strong solvents or chemicals (printmaking or silk-screening for examples) or fixative sprays (pastels) should follow the recommendations of the manufacturers.

Recycling solvents
Gamsol can be reused until the solvent will not longer clear. Set up a simple system. After a painting session, pour dirty solvent into the first can. Let the solvent settle then pour off the clear solvent into the second clean can. Repeat the process and add another settling can if needed. Keep all settling cans completely closed. Once Gamsol will no longer settle, dispose with motor oil at a local recycling center.

Turpentine is toxic waste. Call the local recycling center for disposal instruction. Because Turpentine is a bio-hazard, DO NOT DUMP TURPENTINE INTO THE SOIL.

Sludge from recycling cans of OMS and artists' grade oil colors that do not have health warning labels on the packaging can be disposed of as normal household waste. Because linseed oil soaked rags can spontaneously combust, keep all rags, including paper towels, in closed metal containers.

To protect the watershed, no artists' materials, including acrylics, oil/water media and watercolors, should be washed down the drain.

Regarding toxic pigments, lead is the only toxic pigment still occasionally used in oil painting. As long as artists do not sand lead-based grounds or paints, the greatest risk to using lead-based paints (such as Flake White) or oil painting ground is quality. Lead pigments are no longer being made in Western Europe or North America. Currently, there are no reliable sources of pigment. Painters should not assume that they are buying genuine Flake White any more.

Do not sand lead-based paints because that releases the pigment from the binder. Dispose of solvent containing lead pigments with hazardous materials.


Regarding other pigments and oil paints, the art materials' industry is the second most regulated industry in America. If you do not see caution labels, the materials are not toxic. For more information on health warning labels, contact the The Art & Creative Materials Institute, Inc. (ACMI) 

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