I am a big proponent of artist safety, especially practicing oil painting at home safety when your studio is actually your bedroom. Having taken too many dumb risks in my youth I put at risk my lungs and eyesight by experimenting with low-quality materials of dubious origins just to save some money (as most struggling artists do).
Another issue I have been dealing with is seeing a bunch of oil paint colors come off the market as they have been deemed too toxic and too dangerous and many of us older artists, we have been using these paints and chemicals for years, assuming most were safe. What I have learned over the years is that risking your health for art is not worth it if you can’t even paint anymore.
So whether you’re a beginner artist or a seasoned veteran, it’s important to understand the safety concerns that come with these oil paints, especially for those of us who like to paint at home and especially for those who oil paint in their bedrooms who will be breathing in all the fumes for 8 or more hours.
In this blog post, I’ll discuss how to practice oil painting at home safety, from using low-toxic supplies and ventilation to clean-up tips and more. So, if you’re ready to get your brush onto canvas and not have to worry if it is making you sick then let’s get started!
My recommended safety precautions for oil painting at home
Before we go into detail, here is a summary of my recommended safety precautions for oil painting at home:
- Wear proper clothing, including long-sleeved shirts and pants as well as gloves to protect your skin from the chemicals in paints and solvents, especially during clean up.
- Make sure you have adequate ventilation in your workspace to avoid breathing in any paint or solvent fumes. Wear a respirator if you know you will be exposed to high levels of fumes for long periods of time.
- Be extra careful when painting with non-oil paints that are classified as quick-drying alkyd colors because they usually contain flammable solvents mixed with a resin instead of low toxic linseed oils. Alkyd resins are potentially toxic to humans, especially if you are allergic to the chemical.
- Use odorless or low-odor materials when possible.
- Use low toxic and low flammable thinners, paints and pigments.
- Set up good natural and artificial lighting so that you can see what you’re doing clearly and put less strain on your eyes.
- Use an ergonomic stool or seat when painting to save your back.
- Use an easel to adjust the canvas or substrate to a suitable height to prevent slouching for long periods of time to save your neck and back.
- Lay down a drop cloth or plastic under your work area to catch any spills. Clean up any spills quickly using appropriate cleaning products for oil paints.
- Put all containers and lids back into their original containers after use to prevent spilling and accidents.
- Dispose of any old paintbrushes, paint cans and other materials responsibly when they are at end of life – do not store them indefinitely.
So let’s look into each bullet point in a little more detail to reinforce the risks that they pose on us as artists who paint using oils at home.
Wear proper attire, including long-sleeved shirts and pants as well as gloves to protect your skin from the chemicals in paints and solvents, especially during clean up
When it comes to oil painting at home safety, one of the most important steps is to ensure that you are wearing proper clothing. This doesn’t need to be a hazmat outfit, it should just include old clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and pants as well as cotton or nitrile gloves to protect your skin from the chemicals in paints and solvents, especially during clean-up.
Wearing these protective items will help keep your skin safe and prevent any harmful contact with these materials. I have actually had a chemical burn on my leg when I spilled a few drops of a solvent that was an industrial-strength turpentine (yes it also smelled really bad).
Make sure you also have a drop cloth laying down underneath your work area in case of any spills during the painting process.
Cleaning up paint can be time-consuming and difficult – so having this extra protection can be invaluable and also makes it easier for you to keep a clean and tidy studio space.
Make sure you have adequate ventilation in your workspace to avoid inhaling paint or solvent fumes. Wear a respirator if you know you will be exposed to high levels of fumes
Another important safety precaution to take when oil painting at home is to make sure you have adequate ventilation in your workspace. I open any windows I have and I always turn on a fan to move the air around.
The paints and solvents used for oil painting emit fumes that can be dangerous if inhaled for long periods of time.
If you know you will be exposed to high levels of fumes, then wearing a respirator is a must to protect yourself from hazardous chemicals.
Additionally, when possible, go for odorless or low-odor materials as these generally have lower concentrations of potentially harmful fumes. Gamblin and Winsor & Newton are leading the way in this field with their Gamsol and Sansodor solvents and other paint materials.
Taking these steps can help ensure that your workspace, eyes, and lungs remain safe and comfortable for years to come.
Be extra careful when painting with non-oil paints that are classified as alkyd quick-drying colors
This is because quick-drying alkyd colors usually contain flammable solvents mixed with a resin instead of low-toxic linseed oils. I actually never knew that until I started getting into resins and resin-based paints and did some research.
Alkyd resins are potentially toxic to humans, especially if you are allergic to the chemicals.
When it comes to oil painting at home safety, it is essential to be extra careful when painting with non-oil paints that are classified as alkyd quick-drying colors.
These paints usually contain flammable solvents mixed with a resin instead of the low-toxic linseed oils used for traditional types of paint. Alkyd resins often contain potentially toxic chemicals and can be hazardous to humans, especially if you are allergic to the chemical.
When using these types of materials, ensure that you are taking the necessary steps to protect yourself such as wearing protective gear and having proper ventilation in your workspace.
Use odorless or low-odor materials when possible.
For oil painting at home safety, it is recommended that you use odorless or low-odor materials whenever possible. These generally have lower concentrations of potentially harmful fumes, reducing the risks associated with long-term inhalation in a workspace without proper ventilation. Additionally, many manufacturers now provide odorless or low-odor alternatives for oil paints and other materials used for painting. Using these instead of traditional materials can provide better safety while promoting healthy air quality in your workspace. I have linked to a few products and articles below.
Use low-toxic and low-flammable thinners, paints and pigments.
To ensure oil painting at home safety, along with low-odor materials it is also important to use low-toxic and low-flammable thinners, paints, and pigments.
These materials are designed to be safer for both the environment and those working with them. Low-toxicity products have a reduced chance of harm from inhalation or ingestion, while low-flammability alternatives reduce the potential of fires in a workshop setting.
It is important to always practice safe habits when using any liquid or paint-like material in a confined workspace at home such as a home studio or bedroom studio, but using lower toxicity and flammability options can offer additional protection.
Set up good lighting so that you can see what you’re doing clearly.
When oil painting at home, it is important to set up good lighting so that you can see what you’re doing clearly. I am colorblind and have always relied on strong natural and artificial light to better see colors.
But good lighting can also help prevent unwanted mistakes by ensuring that the proper details are visible and easy to observe and it also helps to have more lighting in a workspace as it can help reduce the strain on your eyes as you focus on your project.
Consider using natural light sources or strategic positioning of artificial lights to evenly illuminate the area where you are working. I like white lights over warm lights.
I also like to place my lights up high as this will allow you to move smoothly through your project without tripping on misplaced cables, or wires, or making errors due to a lack of visibility.
Use an ergonomic stool or seat when painting.
To ensure maximum comfort while oil painting at home, it is important to use an ergonomic stool or seat. An ergonomic chair or stool can help reduce back strain as you paint and give your legs the support they need while working.
For years I worked off a cheap Ikea stool as I was young and had no back problems. These days I can’t work more than an hour using a stool and require a good quality drafting chair.
Look for chairs that have good lumbar support and adjustable height so that you can maintain a proper posture and work with ease.
Additionally, having a comfortable seat will make your painting sessions more enjoyable by allowing you to focus on the task at hand rather than worrying about sore muscles and aching joints.
When oil painting at home, there are several ways to reduce back strain.
Firstly, it is important to use an ergonomic stool or seat that has good lumbar support and adjustable height. This will help maintain proper posture and reduce muscle fatigue over extended periods of time.
Consider using an adjustable standing desk when working off a desk easel or on paper and taking regular breaks throughout your painting sessions. These used to be very expensive but I have seen them now sell for under $100.
Taking frequent stretching breaks can help stimulate circulation and alleviate strain on your body while also providing an opportunity to recharge your creative energy.
Furthermore, ensure that you are using the right materials with the appropriate reach so that you do not need to overextend yourself in any direction while working. Like an adjustable seat or stool, use an adjustable easel.
Use an easel to adjust the canvas or substrate to a suitable height to prevent slouching for long periods of time
To prevent slouching for extended periods of time when painting at home, an adjustable easel can be used to adjust the canvas or substrate to a comfortable height. This will help maintain proper posture and reduce stress on your back.
By standing or sitting in front of an easel, you can better focus on the work while also avoiding any potential neck strain from looking down at a tilted table or surface. Also, ensure that your easel is set up correctly so that it allows you to access all areas of your artwork without having to stretch too far.
Finding the best height for an easel to reduce strain on your back is largely dependent on your individual physique.
A Drafting Table Or Easel? What’s Best For Artists (article link)
In general, the common recommendation is to have the easel set up so that your elbows and wrists are roughly at a ninety-degree angle when painting. To determine the correct height, you may need to experiment with different positions and make further adjustments until you find the most comfortable setup. As mentioned earlier, an adjustable stool or chair can alleviate any potential strain while also providing additional lumbar support during painting sessions.
Lay down a drop cloth or plastic under your work area to catch any spills
While working with an easel, it is important to protect your work area from spills and messes. Laying down a drop cloth or plastic under the easel can help catch any paint that may fall when you are painting and make cleanup much easier.
Make sure the drop cloth or plastic is sufficiently large enough to cover the entire work area and can easily be packed away when not required.
Put all containers and lids back into their original containers after use to prevent spilling and accidents
It is important to put all containers and lids back into their original containers after use in order to prevent spilling and accidents. I keep all my paints and solvents in various toolboxes. These can be locked and have handles that allow me to carry them around. I have them labeled as “Oil painting”, another “Acrylics” and another labeled “Pencils and Pens”.
They also have various-sized compartments that help keep paints from mixing together, as well as help ensure that the leftover paint does not dry out if just left exposed to the air. Additionally, this will help you store your materials safely and make them easier to access for future projects.
Dispose of any old paintbrushes, paint cans, and other materials responsibly when they are at end of life – do not store them indefinitely
When paintbrushes, paint cans, and other materials have reached the end of their life and can no longer be used, it is essential to dispose of them responsibly. This includes disposing of old paint in designated waste containers or recycling centers, as well as properly storing old brushes and other materials so that they are not exposed to too much moisture or light.
Taking the time to dispose of these items in a responsible manner will help ensure that they do not cause any damage or harm to anyone else when they are no longer being used.
It is important to research local recycling centers that accept old paint in order to properly dispose of it. This can usually be done online, as many cities and towns have websites that provide information about their recycling programs.
Additionally, you may be able to find contact information for a nearby facility to ask questions and get more details. My local council has a designated chemical disposal drop-off where I can bring all the toxic materials and they will dispose of them in the correct manner.
Disposing of your old paint responsibly will help ensure that it does not end up in landfills or waterways, which would have an adverse effect on the environment.
The website address for your local recycling program can vary depending on where you live, just give it a Google and see what comes up.
However, most cities and towns have websites with information about their recycling programs, so it should be relatively easy to search and find the right website. Additionally, many municipalities also provide contact information so that people can get in touch with a facility to ask more detailed questions about their recycling services.
Keep out of reach of children
Lastly, as the old signs used to say on chemical bottles and sprays Keep Out of Reach of Children. I never paid much attention to that phrase until I had kids of my own. Now I make sure everything is stored out of reach and I teach my kids what is safe to use and touch and what is not and what they need to ask me for permission to use before using it.
I love having my kids learn all about art and painting with me but not at the risk of their health. This is probably the main reason why I limit what they can use to acrylic or watercolor paints and water.
Practice Oil Painting At Home Safety Now – Wrap up!
Practicing oil painting at home is an enjoyable and rewarding experience, but it’s important to ensure that you’re following all safety guidelines when doing so. Make sure to wear the right protective gear, keep your workspace well-ventilated, store materials properly, and dispose of hazardous liquids responsibly. Following these tips will help guarantee that you enjoy your painting experience with the peace of mind that comes from being safe.
Remember, oil painting is an activity that requires some patience, practice, and creativity but if done in a safe way, you can rest assured that you will be creating beautiful works of art for many years and in good health.
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Joseph Colella is a frustrated artist with over 40 years experience making art (who moonlights as a certified Business Analyst with over 20 years of experience in tech). While he holds a Diploma in Information Technology, in true wasted talent style he spent years trying to get into various Art degrees from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Napoli), and failed to get into the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) at the University of Western Sydney. His goal is to attend the Julian Ashton School of Art at The Rocks Sydney when he retires from full time work. In his spare time, he writes for the this blog, WastedTalentInc, where he shares practical advice on art, making art, and art materials. Joseph’s art has been sold to collectors all over the world from the USA, Europe and Australasia. He is a trusted source for reliable art and copyright/fair use advice and is committed to helping his readers make informed decisions about making them a better artist.
He also loves all things watches (ok it’s an addiction) so show him some love and visit his other website https://expertdivewatch.com