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Solvents are very bad for you and you don’t need them for oil painting, period.
But, I do realize that the transition away from them is a process. And when I look back at my history I see that the transition process for me took some time as well.
More than a decade ago I used to use solvents when I painted. In fact I used to keep an open jar of solvents right in front of me during every painting session and would dip my brush into it and clean off all the paint constantly. I had no idea about the impact it could have on my health.
Ten years ago I started painting again and when I started back with solvents I realized right away that this is not sustainable. Especially because we were living in a small apartment. The whole place smelled like solvent fumes.
The next step was odorless mineral spirits for a while. Then Gamsol for a bit and still it was unsettling. I knew that just because I couldn’t smell it didn’t mean that it wasn’t harming me.
Eventually over a couple years I was able to come up with a solution that worked well for my daily painting goal and was as healthy as I could get it.
I’m still working today on making it better.
The point is that you have to find the right balance for you. One that keeps you painting every day and protects your health as much as possible.
I’m talking about progress, not perfection. Constant experimentation and getting better rather than all or nothing.
Recognize where you’re at today and start making small incremental changes to get better daily. Here are a few ideas to get you going.
- Proper ventilation with a window open and a fan
- No open containers
- Paint in a very large space if you have it
- Transition to the safest solvents you can
- Clean brushes with soap rather than solvents
- Wear gloves
- Paint cleaner
- Plein air painting
- Try doing a small painting with nothing but paint right out of the tubes
- See if acrylic is right for you
- Try gouache as well
Make progress for yourself and find the balance that works for you.