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.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Surrender to Healing - a Personal Detox Story

In my search for optional material to use for making art, I wanted to find out what other artists had experienced, and what solutions they had found. I knew Shayla Perreault Newcomb had experienced some ill health effects from art materials. I also knew she had found her way back to a place where she could paint without adverse effects on her health. So, being of inquiring mind, I asked Shayla if she would enlighten us all.

Here is part one of a two part interview with Shayla about her experience. 

"Desire Turns Concrete" 16x20" oil on canvas © Shayla Perreault Newcomb

Shayla, how did you determine that your art materials were a problem for you? What materials were you using that you now know were causing a problem?

I was an art supply junkie and loved the endless supplies and experiments in the mixed media world. Using resins, like Utee, heat guns, alcohol inks, embossing powders, glues, acylics and acrylic mediums and trying out anything new gave my creative practice a rush. The landlord bought us cheap paint from Walmart for my studio walls and that had a nasty impact too.

I wasn’t aware for a long time. I’ve a history of being hard on my body so even though there had been warnings like stomachaches, nausea, headaches, chest pains, sore throats and crankiness after experimenting with mixed media and acrylics, it wasn’t until  those symptoms intensified and were combined with a fatigue so great that I ended up weak, bed ridden, needing help to get up to the washroom, and at the worst of it only awake for
about 1 hour in 24.   My body was so badly in need of healing and detox
that even a pencil set me off once. I surrendered to healing at that point and took it as a cue to take a break from art. The fact that I fought it for so long made it worse.

When you first found out you had to switch materials, what process did you follow to find out what might be a better media for you to use?

After lots of TLC and healing, it was discovery time. I asked around on forums, searched the internet and even made it into the local art supply store and asked the artists there. It ends up being a personal journey because everyone’s body reacts differently. There are some materials that generally don’t cause reactions. Food grade materials, spices like tumeric, natural food coloring (like beets), egg tempera paint, conte crayons, some brands of children’s tempera paint. I would go slowly and not introduce more than one element every few weeks.  I researched ingredients, found all that formerly boring studio safety stuff to be fascinating reading, found that “non-toxic” is loosely defined, doesn’t necessarily mean “safe” and that I needed to be the one to decide that not a manufacturer.  The whole time I made sure my body was well rested to avoid a major setback

The most surprising part of my process was realizing that the whole time I’d had to stop painting, hadn’t been “unproductive.” Even while I thought I wasn’t working, part of me was gathering ideas. Once I got started again, my art blossomed into a whole new level and was stronger than before. It was at this point, that I started getting a lot more recognition as an artist.

Did you ever feel lost or worried that you would not be able to continue your calling as an artist? How did you support yourself in the process of letting go and finding a new path?

Yes, I did get lost and since I used to be a black and white kind of person, the thought of suicide crossed my mind. It never developed into a plan, but it was an unhealthy way to view my situation. I think I saw art as my purpose for living, my identity and was not grateful for even the incredible blessing of breath, the pleasure of breathing. I started a daily gratitude journal. I supported myself with green juices that tasted like life and sunshine, by sitting in nature in the sun with Jennifer Louden’s, “The Woman’s Retreat Book: A Guide to Restoring, Rediscovering, and Reawakening Your True Self — in a Moment, an Hour, a Day, or a Weekend  and investing any new energy into something that would increase my energy like gentle stretches. I’d always been inspired by stories of people pushing past limitations, like the amazing Frida, but unlike her story, I had the opportunity to heal and now was the time to listen to my boundaries. Thinking about other artists’ experiences with illness such as Matisse, and my friend Elaine Amyot and how they were able to find creative solutions to work within their limitations was the mindset I needed to find my path.

You can find Shayla’s blog here, called Shayla’s Art Diary. Shayla describes herself with the statement

I believe in freedom, imagination, and living a divine and expanding life with joy. My artistic style is 'meditative.' The rhythm of the three shapes prompts us to pause. I found out afterwards that this was also used by the ancient Greeks in a similar way to express what they call  'Kairos' or unmeasured time. When in 'Kairos' time, we're free of the daily rush and time stands still. 

Thank you Shayla! This is the end of Part One. Part Two will be published here next weekend. 


  1. Thank you Shayla, for sharing your story of healing.

    I can relate to your experience of the time you could not paint. Sometimes a break is very productive. The work goes on at a different level.

  2. I read about Shayla's struggle on her blog and have such admiration for her determination and patience. I'm so happy she has found a way to continue art in a way that satisfies her. She must give you such hope Leslie. The painting above is my favourite of all Shayla's pieces.

    1. Hi Robyn: Shayla's story is very inspirational. The fact that her art materials were a contributor to her health problem was the first time I really stopped to think about it. I could happily walk right in to the world she has created in her painting!

  3. Its wonderful that Shayla's art took a leap, even though she didn't think she was doing any. The psyche is always at work always perfecting.

    This issue isn't just for artists, its Life. We are dwelling in a chemically altered world and its mind set is sold to us as advancement. If we evolve and adapt, as per Darwin, we are not physically able to adapt fast enough to cleaning all the poisons in our air food water clothing walls minds... hearts. So much is thrown at us.

    Its a wonderful time to be alive, and we have a lot of power to make a lot of help for the future.

    Fasting is really a gift, too. I hope you feel better Leslie. Your work is lovely.

  4. I just wanted to pop by and wish you the happiest new year. May your 2013 be full of blessings, laughter, and happy surprises.

  5. This story reminds me of my recent allergic reaction to encaustic paint. I was gung ho to have at it! I bought many colors of paint/wax and a hot palette. Many brushes etc. I set it all up and almost as soon as I started I had to stop. My reaction was strong and immediate. My head filled up and I could barely breathe. I had 3 fans going but even that didn't help at all. I sold all the supplies immediately. I work in acrylics now and seem to be having no ill effects from it. So far so good. I can't paint in oils anymore either. The turpentine (even the so-called natural stuff) wreaked havoc on my lungs.


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