Enamel Paint Safety

Most artists don’t usually take health and safety issues seriously until they get sick from being in the studio, so here’s a post from Hazel Dooney about enamel paint and turpentine.

“Enamel paint sets slowly as the chemical drying and hardening agents evaporate, creating a brittle, glossy finish. These toxic agents are inhaled, absorbed by clothing and settle on skin which, of course, also absorbs them. I use a respirator with chemical filter pads but it can’t scrub the air completely.” Read the rest of her post here.

I remember when I first discovered oil paints I used them in my bedroom, which is probably not recommended. I’m now much more cautious and aware, but I’m also comfortable with the health risks that come with using the materials we use to create art. A walk through most major cities around the world is probably a lot more dangerous than walking through an artist’s studio.

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. Dion,

    I don’t like solvents, so I keep my brushes in a box with linseed oil when I’m not using them. This is the traditional method (much great oil painting was done in the past before turpentine was available). It also keeps the brushes in good condition and saves a lot of cleaning time. I just am careful not to leave oil soaked rags laying around, because this is in theory a fire hazard.

    I have often gotten uptight about materials, especially in the old days when I used lead white. Artist materials are not dangerous compared to materials I used in my former work in a scientific laboratory (I worked with sodium cyanide almost every day, for example). It is important to get a good balance of feeling safe with materials, otherwise it is difficult to be creative. Now that I have kids, I usually wear latex gloves if I’m going to paint with cadmium colors in the studio, for example. Not necessary, probably, but it saves time washing hands over and over and worrying.

  2. It’s not only “oil soaked rags in theory” that are a fire hazard, it is linseed oiled rags specifically that are a spontaneous combustion hazard. If one inserts a hand in linseed oiled rags 48 hours after discarding they will already be hot – like baled green hay.

  3. Kurt,

    Of course your are right. What I should have said is that the rags that I use with a small amount of linseed are potentially (but not likely) a fire hazard. To be on the safe side, I always keep them in a sealed metal container. The danger of fire with rags really soaked in linseed oil and exposed to air is very real, or so I’ve seen on TV.

  4. Yes, artists certainly need to be aware of potential hazards in the studio. My great-uncle was one of U.K.’s minor Victorian artists, Herbert Blande Sparks. He painted in oils and had the habit of putting his paint brushes in his mouth …. this caused his early death by poisoning in 1916 at the age of 46.

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