Oil painting is an artistic expression that has been incredibly popular with many painters and artists for centuries. Solvents have been the way to go for many artists when painting with oils; used as a medium to thin the oil paint and as a great way to clean brushes.
The use of solvents is your main source of toxicity when painting with oils, but you will also find that some of the metals used in the pigments of oil paints can be toxic as well.
It is important to note that many artists use toxic solvents and toxic metal paint without any health risks, especially with the modern oil paints and mediums found in art stores today. Oil paints with toxic metals in them are typically only bad for you if they are ingested or spend too long on bare skin. The usual toxic metals in some oil paints are lead, cobalt, and cadmium. If you oil paint for prolonged periods in a small room with little ventilation, and have young children and pets around you, then it may be a good idea to find ways to make oil painting to be less toxic.
There are a number of steps that can be taken to make oil painting less toxic, such as cutting out the use of solvents altogether. Whether you use a solvent as a medium or use it to clean brushes, there are many available alternatives that one can use.
The first and easiest way to make oil painting less toxic would be to use other means of brush cleaning. Mostly, this will be finding the method that works for you. Some people find that wiping the brush as they paint makes cleaning up at the end much easier, some people also find using several brushes throughout the painting session can make clean up easier.
If the paint has dried and hardened on the bristles, you could even opt to soak the brush in vinegar and then once the bristles have softened use soap and water. Safer and more natural oils can also be used to clean brushes, such as walnut or poppy oil if you want to clean while you paint. You could also use oils such as vegetable oil at the end of the painting session and then use regular soap and water.
If you still want to use solvents to clean brushes it is best to do this with less toxic or non-toxic solvents either in a well-ventilated location or outside.
There are many natural alternatives that can be used to thin oil paints that are typically less toxic. It is important to know that this is generally the case, it is always incredibly important to know the specific details surrounding the products you use. You can do this by reading the health info on the product itself or by contacting the manufacturer directly.
The most commonly used natural alternative is linseed oil. There are many benefits to using linseed oil, the main one is that it is non-toxic. It is also great for slowing down how long it takes for the paint to dry; when you have more control over the drying time it can be much easier to paint as you intend to without feeling like you have to rush, especially when painting in layers. One drawback of painting with linseed oil is that it is possible for it to yellow over time.
Another commonly used natural alternative is walnut oil. Again, the main benefit is that it is non-toxic. It typically dries slightly slower than linseed oil which might be a benefit to some and a hindrance to others. One great aspect of walnut oil is that it typically is much less likely to yellow over time compared to linseed oil.
You could also opt to use safflower oil again due to it being non-toxic. Safflower oil is great for working with lighter colours as it boosts the glossy and transparent looks if you are going for that. It is also much less likely to yellow. It also takes longer to dry than linseed oil.
Poppy oil is another non-toxic medium that you could use. It has the slowest drying time out of the ones mentioned here; due to this it is more commonly used when painting using the wet-on-wet technique. If you do intend to use poppy oil you should know that it isn’t fully understood yet how long term and durable it is.
You could also use oil paints without using a medium at all. Using a higher quality oil paint will also mean that it will be much easier to paint without one, such as water mixable oil paints.
Other Ways To Increase Safety & Lower Toxicity
Increasing the amount of ventilation in your space is really important when painting with solvents, it is even recommended to have good ventilation when you are painting without them too.
You can try to avoid using paints that contain the more dangerous heavy metals.
You could try wearing gloves or masks when working with more toxic elements such as solvents or toxic metals that you don’t want to breath in or get onto your skin.
Oil painting is a fantastic artistic expression and one that anyone with any kind of interest should at least dabble in at some point.
It is understandable that many people may be put off due to the idea that they would have to work with toxic elements, but that just isn’t the case anymore. It has rapidly become more and more popular in recent years to be more cognisant and safety conscious when working with toxic materials. It is also becoming not only more practical to paint with safer materials, but it is becoming just as good, if not better, from an artistic point too. If you do still intend to oil paint while using toxic materials, then following simple safety practices can mean that there are little to no health risks for you. Enjoy!