Monday, October 24, 2011

Oil painting and pregnancy

I realized that I haven't talked at all about the use of oil paints while pregnant or the precautions one should take. So, since I'm having a hard time working on actual paintings (this big ol' belly is starting to get in the way- like holding a beach ball in my lap while I sit at the easel), I thought I'd take this opportunity to share what I've learned. Don't despair, male readers. the pregnancy concerns may not be of much interest to you, but there are lots of things I've learned about making studio safety in general that could be of some use to everyone.

Keep in mind that I am clearly not a doctor. If you're pregnant and your doctor gives you any different advice, warnings, or limitations, listen to him/her!

First off, I make my own frames and when I found out I was pregnant I was in the middle of a massive framing project to get ready for a show. Therefore, my first question for my doc was, "Can I use spray paint when I'm pregnant?" She said spray paint shouldn't be a problem as long as I used it out in the open and as long as the smell didn't bother me. Awesome!

I've long heard stories about the dangers of oil paint, so that was my biggest concern. I just couldn't imagine giving up my beloved oil paints for 9 months! However, of course, I also wouldn't want to do anything to harm my baby. So, I started doing some research. I found that typically it's the mediums and cleaning products (turpentine, etc) associated with oil painting that pose the biggest threat. Usually I use Gamblin oil paints and Winsor and Newton's Liquin as my medium. I still love both of these products (and I use Liquin some- I'll get to how in a minute), but I made a few changes to be on the safe side. First off, I switched out some of my paints. Gamblin's paints are not particularly toxic, but I wanted to take all reasonable precautions. There's a wonderful company called M. Graham that makes beautiful oil paints with a walnut oil base. Their oil paints are a slightly thinner consistency, too, so unless you want your paint to be thicker, you may not even need medium. I paint in thin layers, so I rarely want my paint to be thicker. For times that I do use medium, in place of Liquin I began using Graham's walnut oil (again, this will make it thinner, so if you like bulky paints, I'm not sure how to advice you).

The one problem I had with the Graham oil paints is that I had a harder time finding alternatives for cadmium colors (for example, hansa yellow in place of cadmium yellow, etc.). I was worried about over-exposure to cadmium and other of the more toxic pigments, so for those colors I substituted the less toxic versions from other brands (namely, Gamblin).

To clean my brushes I've actually started using baby oil. Oil cleans oil. I admit, it is a bit harder to get them clean, but it's completely non-toxic. About once a week I'll give my brushes a more thorough cleaning with Master's brush cleaner.

Like I mentioned previously, I still use Liquin in a limited capacity. Since I paint on metal it's important that I have a sort of protective layer over my finished work to prevent scratches. That's where the Liquin comes in. After a piece is totally dry (I try to give it a good week or so) I put a thin coat of Liquin over the top. To be safe, though, I take the piece outside to apply the Liquin, I also try to maintain some distance from the piece so that I'm not right on top of it. Then I put it someplace where I won't be spending much time until it's completely dry (about a day).

Lastly (actually, this is the first thing I did) I put a ceiling fan in my studio. If you don't have or want a ceiling fan, use a stand fan or something to get the air circulating in there. That's an important point, I think, for ANY studio. I should have done it long ago.

I believe these precautions have served me well. I've managed to paint through most of my pregnancy and I believe my baby has been safe.

You can find all of the products I mentioned here at However, I recommend a local art supply store over an online store any day. Did you know that if you buy from a locally owned store 45% of what you spend goes back to the community, however if you shop online 0% goes back to your community. It may cost a little more in the short run, but think of it as an investment in your surroundings. Here in Birmingham my favorite art supply store is Forstall Art Supply. The same family actually owns one in New Orleans, too. If you go to the Birmingham location, tell Phillip and Annette that I sent you :)
Happy safe painting, everyone!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post, Erin. My asthma has been awful lately, so many of these tips will probably help me, too. I might try these paints you mentioned rather than sticking strictly to Gamblin. I might like them because they are thinner in consistency. I use so much Liquin anyway! I hope you are feeling well! :D

    Ricki Jill