Art can be bad for your health

Research into the effects of "art" on artists has been fairly sparse. Very often, studies into health issues concerning industrial painters and craftsmen have been the most useful sources of relevant information. Being largely self-employed rather than a cohesive group with its own representation, artists have had their health issues overlooked.

Many artists don't question their favorite methods and materials and if no one is checking up on their behalf or enforcing good health and safety practices, they are often quite happy to carry on regardless. It is perhaps only when a physical symptom is personally experienced that an artist stops to consider whether his or her working practices and workplace may be responsible.

"Artists are a very strange breed of people," Rickard says. "They tend to be quite anti-establishment, anti-authority. If the rules say do this, they'll do the opposite quite deliberately."

Or perhaps artists feel that "it's a risk you're willing to take because you're excited by the materials and their potential," Barazani says. Or maybe "these artists are not casual with the materials they're working with because they feel they know them so well that they don't have to worry about them," Conibear says, "but rather they're mostly just ignorant and just haven't thought of it in that context."

The most compelling explanation may be a combination of a dangerous attitude and ignorance of dire consequences.

"The self-employed artist may be socialized to be above such mundane concerns. They're thinking on a higher plane. They're creators," says Fuortes. "But once someone has health problems, they're extremely attentive."

Read the entire article here.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

An On-going Search for the Perfect Adhesive

In the beginnings of my search for safer art supplies, I am using things I already have to make small collage, up to about 12 by 12 inches. This means papers already altered with acrylic (quite dry and probably not off gassing, so I assume.) I am also revisiting water color and working on small collage mounted on water color/print making paper.

I have a large supply of art materials and I can only imagine that it will take some time to look into all of them to see what can be found out. You are welcome to join me on my journey. 

Please remember I am only a consumer and an artist, trying my best to continue to make art and feel better! It has become very clear to me that using acrylics has made me ill. I hope I can return to using them, but at this point I just don't know. I know they don’t bother many people so I consider myself a canary in the coal mine so to speak. 


Glue Sticks

I have often used glue sticks for small collage which incorporates delicate tissue papers, washi papers and some found papers such as book pages. I use these in our house, where I never use things like acrylic. And all in all I am pretty pleased with them. They don’t smell. They work well. I don’t get a headache from using them. They don’t last long, so I tend to buy them in quantities at a discount retail outlet like Costco. I also hope to get them in my Christmas Stocking, which I often do.

I have used Elmer’s Extra Strength which claims to “go on smooth, acid free, photo safe and non-toxic.”

Elmer’s claims:

  • Washable
  • Acid-Free
  • Photo Safe
  • Goes on Smooth
  • Safe, Non-Toxic
  • Dries Clear
  • Dries Fast
  • Adjustable Before Setting

The glue stick that seems most appropriate is Elmer’s CraftBond Extra Strength Glue Stick.

The crafter’s choice for an extra strong glue stick bond. This acid free glue stick goes on blue for easy application but dries clear. Recommended for: Photos, Paper Crafting, Art Projects, Scrapbooking, Memorabilia, and Vellum.

From the Frequently asked questions on Elmer's website:

How is glue made?

Elmer's Glues are chemical based. They are made or formulated from chemicals which are synthesized (created by Man). These chemicals were originally obtained or manufactured from petroleum, natural gas and other raw materials found in Nature. The exact formula and specific ingredients used in making Elmer's products are considered proprietary information, therefore, we cannot share those with you.

Doesn't that sound like a cozy relationship between Man and Nature going on over at Elmer's? Sounds Natural, doesn't it? Well, if it's petroleum based, it must off gas.  

I would prefer some straight forward answers, not capitalized buzz words like "Man, Nature and Natural."

In order to find out more I went to the Material Safety Data Sheet. You can find that here

Since this glue is a synthetic polymer mixture, its plastic. Like acrylics.

Scotch has a glue stick they call wrinkle free. They state it is non-toxic. I got it at my local art store. It goes on a bit gummy I think. (Maybe the one I have is old?) I prefer the Scotch glue stick labeled “permanent”. On this glue stick it claims to be “Non-Toxic as defined in the FHSA."

Scotch also has a purple glue stick that I have liked very much. Of that glue stick they say 

A clean, easy-to-use permanent adhesive that goes on purple and dries clear. Purple color makes it easy to see where applied. Sticks to paper, cardboard and fabric. Non-toxic and washable.”

I could not get to the Material Safety Data Sheet for this glue. I will have to call the company. They are on line, but the product code is so small on the package, I can not read it. In that very small print I did read the product is made in Mexico.

Now take a look at the safety messages the manufactures have placed on the labels or their web sites.

First off, FHSA stands for Federal Hazardous Substances Act, undoubtedly this is a USA standard. I found a discussion of what this means at a consumer report Greener Choices web site. (I don’t know this organization. I will have to research that too!)

This is what they had to say, in part:

“Toxic” is defined by the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, which regulates hazardous household products. A product is toxic if it can produce personal injury or illness to humans when it is inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin. 

In addition, a product is toxic if it can cause long term chronic effects like cancer birth defects, or neurotoxicity (adverse effects on the nervous system). The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is the federal agency responsible for administering the Federal Hazardous Substances Act. 

While neither the Act nor the CPSC define non-toxic, some manufacturers might assume that a product or chemical is non- toxic if it does not meet the definition of toxic under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act.


There is no organization that verifies the use of “non-toxic” other than the company manufacturing or marketing the product. While CPSC requires some products to display hazard labeling, it conducts no oversight or enforcement of the use of the term "non-toxic."  

How meaningful is the label?

“Non-toxic” is not meaningful and can be misleading. There is no definition or standard used for judging whether a consumer product or its ingredients are “non-toxic,” and no assurance that such a claim has been independently verified. A product that does not meet the definition of “toxic” according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission should not necessarily be considered non-toxic.

I learned further that a label can claim to be non-toxic and still have to have the California warning.

Moreover, a consumer could see both a "non-toxic" label and a "This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer" label on the same product since the threshold for what CPSC considers to be toxic is lower than that for the State of California.

Please go here to read the entire article. What an eye opener! 

Its going to take a lot of time to look at all the materials I have in my studio. And of course, I would rather be making art. 

On the lighter side I hope for this blog to be a mix of healthy ways to de-tox, interviews with other artists and the answers they have found that work for them. 

Also please note that as I find resources I am posting links on the side bar of this blog. If you have any recommendations to make I am all ears!

As I have begun this journey I am hearing from individual artists about the steps they have taken or will be taking to make their own art practice. This seems a worth while endeavor.


  1. I used to use a glue called "Yes" stikflat when I made and sold copious quantities of handmade cards. I searched last night to see what I could find out about it and didn't find a lot. It is called "non toxic" but as you have found that doesn't necessarily mean much. I recall it as odourless and water based.

    There are also the wheat pastes they use with some of the Japanese papers, but I don't know much about them.

    Thanks for sharing your many hours of research with us. After looking around on the internet a bit last night I can see it is a tangled and long string to chase!

  2. hi, thanks for all the hard work you are putting in here...are you aware of shayla perreault's blog tracking the effects of acrylics etc?
    i used oilbars and rags,with a thick barrier cream of sudocrem on my hands for 10 years as i am allergic to turps and couldn't use brushes but now have fibromyalgia and haven't the strength needed to spread paint with the kinetic heat of my hands. fibro catalysed by a neck injury probably, though i have the typical ptsd profile...
    i now make stitch/textile/mixed media collage work, so your findings on glue sticks shocked me!
    dee @ birds sing artblog


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