Saturday, September 6, 2008

let's talk about toxicity


If you are a printmaker, or almost any kind of artist for that matter, I'm pretty sure that your liver, kidneys, and other vital organs are on their way to being destroyed due to all of the toxic and terrible things used in your practice. You probably use mineral spirits, lithotene, acetone, all varieties of acid, turpentine, and many others, on an almost daily basis. Sometimes these chemicals are essential for the process in which you are working, but often times, these materials are used for cleaning up greasy piles of inky mess. Is that entirely neccessary? No. Are you destroying your body? Yes. I used to be the person who would pour puddles of paint thinner down on my mess only to sop it up with thin, crappy paper towels. The chemicals easily seeped through the towels to my hands, and for a few minutes they would glisten with the oily residue of chemicals slowly seeping through my skin and into my body. I didn't really worry about it for a while. It's the way everyone rolled. We were all too hip to wear gloves, or even begin to think about alternatives to these deadly cleaning concoctions. It like, made printmaking totally cool, man. We were invincible! Jokes were loosely tossed around about "art cancer" and how "we all have to die somehow". One faithful day, about five years into my relationship with these toxic goodies, when I was in the shop, rubbing a very large litho plate with sickening amounts of some horrible chemical (acetone maybe?), I wasn't wearing gloves. I did not drop dead, however the person by my side explained how ridiculous my apathetic attitude towards these procedures was. Now, due to my relationship with said person (which happened to be romantic), this statement actually had some weight. He suggested I wear gloves, and maybe try to do things with a little less disregard for my health. "Silly guy", thought I, "he's a painter, not even a printmaker, and an overreactor". Nevertheless, we all do plenty of stupid things for the people we care about, so I decided to promise to wear gloves. After a while, I decided it was probably even a good idea after all. More than wearing gloves, I began to speak with some folks about alternative methods to de-messing an area. Oil based products break down with other oils, so, to clean up a font of ink why not use baby oil? It picks the ink up and leaves your hands smelling like you have been around babies for hours, minus the poop and the headache from all the ambient crying. You can even use it on rubber brayers and rollers, and I feel that this may keep them healthier and not crackly, but I'm not sure about this. The surface will still be greasy, so use something like Simple Green, or rubbing alcohol to degrease. Both are ok for your hands, and Simple Green smells quite pleasant. An unseen bonus to these methods is that all of these products are environmentally friendly! I guess it's cool, or trendy, or something, to be into the preservation of this planet...I guess. Finally, instead of cleaning off your hands with a gently flowing stream of turpentine, or other solvent, try some Gojo, or other hand cleaning product. My advice is that if you can buy it in the automotive section at the store, it means business. Mechanics are the only people in the world whose hands get as dirty as printmaker's. You will still inevitably encounter solvents, acids, and other chemicals during your process, but use them minimally. Heck, throw on a pair of solvent resistant gloves. One box of gloves lasts forever, especially if you reuse the gloves a few times (note: obsessive reuse of gloves may cause athlete's hand. no joke). If you're worried about headaches, or not breathing this stuff in, buy yourself a nice respirator! I however, still refuse to wear one, because I feel they are still too dorky. Maybe someday...

Then there's always that story, which I've heard everywhere I go, so I've decided that it's a sort of art urban legend. Once upon a time, there's this woman, an oil painter, who accumulates solvents on her hands while painting. She frequently steps back to look at her work, and when she does so, she always contemplatively places one hand casually behind her neck. One day, the woman drops dead! The autopsy revealed holes in the veins, arteries, blood vessels, and all that circulatory system stuff, on the back of her neck!!! duh duh duh...

Moral of the story: BE SAFE, FOOLS!!

1 comment:

Beki said...

Hmmm, yeah, I have a few comments. First, I thought this blog was dead, and I am quite pleased to see it alive!

Next, I believe I may have told you this before. But, all those toxic solvents I poured on myself cured some kind of hand disease I had since I was a tyke. Gross? Yes. One point for using toxic chemicals on ungloved hands? Yes, but only if you are trying to kill something that is already wrong with you.

Last, is it really true that inhaling magnesium (or whatever that white powder in the studio was) stops an asthma attack? Because I was THIS CLOSE to trying that on many lonely nights in there, dude.