Art Materials Safety

How to Safely Handle Artist Materials and Pigments

A concise guide to handling pigments and artists’ materials

When following the prescribed precautions, the risk of exposure to potentially hazardous materials, such as the natural mineral pigment orpiment, is greatly minimized.


Care in Handling Artist's Materials

Making your own paints can be a rewarding experience. You must remember, however, that you are dealing with materials that may be harmful if not handled with care. It must not be assumed that the absence of a health warning indicates that a material is safe. All dust can be harmful if inhaled, and persistent exposure to them will at least cause irritation and possible harm to you. There is an increasing amount of information available regarding powdered pigments, but the safest way is to treat all materials as potentially harmful.

Do not let these warnings, however, deter you from making your paints and mediums since the minimum care needed for most materials is no more than good sound studio practice. Here are our recommendations:


Storing Pigments

We package bulk quantities of our pigments in plastic bags to simplify handling and prevent breakage and spillage during shipment. Small amounts of our pigments are packaged in plastic jars with screw top caps and PVC liners. Before using our pigments, we recommend that you transfer your pigments into plastic jars with screw-top caps. Please follow these safe handling procedures:

  • Always wear a NIOSH-approved dust mask and gloves. Work on a smooth surface.
  • Pick up the bag by one of its corners and shake it to collect the pigment into the opposite corner.
  • Using scissors, cut off about 3/4 of an inch of the corner you have been holding.
  • Slowly pour the pigment into the jar. Close the lid.
  • Wipe up any spilled pigment with a damp disposable towel. Properly dispose of the towel and empty bag.
  • Label the jar with the product number, description, and contents according to our online store. Transfer any warning stickers from the plastic bag onto your jar.
  • Always keep out of children's reach.

Safely Handling Artist's Materials

Always read the label. When transferring art materials to other containers, transfer the label from the original packaging onto the new container.

  • Keep products out of reach of children.
  • Never use our products for skin painting, food preparation, or other uses they were not intended for.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while using art materials.
  • If possible, work with pigments you have first wetted into a paste or liquid.
  • Store pigments in sealed, easy-to-open containers. Bags of pigment, when purchased, should be cut open and decanted into storage jars (see above).
  • Wash up after each use—clean yourself and your tools. Keep your work area clean. Wet mop to pick up dust.
  • Do not inhale the dust. Do not work near a draft or fan that will blow pigments and other dry powders, but keep your work area well ventilated. Wear a NIOSH-approved dust mask while handling pigments.
  • Wear dedicated work clothing with long sleeves.
  • Protect hands and skin from exposure. Wear gloves, especially if you have cuts or abrasions. Keep hands away from face and eyes.

Warning Labeling

Some of our products contain hazardous materials such as arsenic, lead, mercury, etc. These products are marked in the online store and carry special warning labels on the packaging. When precautions are taken, such as wearing gloves and NIOSH-approved dust masks, the risk of exposure to these potentially hazardous materials is greatly minimized.

Products carrying warning labels and cautions for safe use can be used safely by individuals who can read, understand and follow suggested precautions for handling those materials. Sometimes products cannot be made non-hazardous because they are necessary for certain creative activities. When used in properly supervised and controlled conditions, they can be employed with the risk of exposure to potentially hazardous materials greatly minimized.

We make the following information available to you to help evaluate the toxicity of pigments and other artists' materials offered by Natural Pigments and other manufacturers.


Hazardous Contents

Pigment Name or Material Hazardous Content
Alum Aluminum Sulfate
This material hydrolyzes in water to form sulfuric acid, which is responsible for the irritating effects given below:
Inhalation: Causes irritation to the respiratory tract. Symptoms may include coughing and shortness of breath.
Ingestion: Causes irritation to the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. There have been two cases of fatal human poisonings from ingesting 30 grams of alum.
Skin Contact: Causes irritation to the skin. Symptoms include redness, itching, and pain.
Eye Contact: Causes irritation, redness, and pain.
Chronic Exposure: No information found.
Aggravation of Pre-existing Conditions: No information found.
Read the Chemical Safety Card
Azurite Copper Carbonate
It can be absorbed into the body by inhalation of its dust and ingestion. Repeated or prolonged contact may cause skin sensitization.
Read the Chemical Safety Card
Cerussite and Lead White Lead Carbonate
It can be absorbed into the body by inhalation of its dust and ingestion.
Effects of long-term exposure: May have effects on the blood, bone marrow, central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, and kidneys, resulting in anemia, hemolysis, convulsions, peripheral nerve disease, and kidney impairment. Causes toxicity to human reproduction or development.
Read the Chemical Safety Card
Cinnabar and Vermilion Mercuric Sulfide
It can be absorbed into the body by inhalation of its dust, skin, and ingestion.
Effects of long-term exposure: It is corrosive to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract. Corrosive on ingestion. The substance may cause effects on the gastrointestinal tract and kidneys, resulting in tissue lesions and kidney damage.
Effects of Long-Term Exposure: It may affect the kidneys, central nervous system, and peripheral nervous system, resulting in ataxia, sensory and memory disturbances, tremors, muscle weakness, and kidney impairment.
Read the Chemical Safety Card
Goethite Iron Oxide
It can be absorbed into the body by inhalation of its dust.
Effects of Long-Term Exposure: May have effects on the lungs, resulting in siderosis.
Read the Chemical Safety Card
Hematite Iron Oxide
It can be absorbed into the body by inhalation of its dust.
Effects of Long-Term Exposure: May have effects on the lungs, resulting in siderosis.
Read the Chemical Safety Card
Japan Drier Petroleum Distillates
Warning: Combustible. It may be harmful to breathe the vapors. Exposure may result in nausea, headache, confusion, instability, or irritation of the eyes and chest.
Contains alkyd resin, mineral spirits, aromatic 350 solvent, and cobalt naphthenate.
Precautions: Avoid prolonged contact with skin. Use an exhaust fan to remove vapors and assure adequate ventilation. Do not use near heat or flame. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.
First Aid: If symptoms occur, move to fresh air. See a physician for further health information if symptoms persist and contact a poison control center. Labeling conforms to ASTM D4236.
Read the Material Safety Data Sheet
Linseed Oil Linseed Oil
Warning: Combustible. It may be harmful to breathe the vapors. Exposure may result in nausea, headache, confusion, instability, or irritation of the eyes and chest.
Contains linseed oil.
Precautions: Avoid prolonged contact with skin. Use an exhaust fan to remove vapors and assure adequate ventilation. Do not use near heat or flame. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.
First Aid: If symptoms occur, move to fresh air. See a physician for further health information if symptoms persist and contact a poison control center. Labeling conforms to ASTM D4236.
Read the Material Safety Data Sheet
Malachite Copper Carbonate
It can be absorbed into the body by inhalation of its dust and ingestion. Repeated or prolonged contact may cause skin sensitization.
Read the Chemical Safety Card
Minium (Red Lead) Lead Tetroxide
It can be absorbed into the body by inhalation of its dust and ingestion.
Effects of Long-Term or Repeated Exposure: The substance may affect the blood, bone marrow, central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, and kidneys, resulting in anemia, encephalopathy (e.g., convulsions), peripheral nerve disease, abdominal cramps, and kidney impairment. Causes toxicity to human reproduction or development.
Read the Chemical Safety Card
Orpiment Arsenic Sulfide
It can be absorbed into the body by inhalation of its dust and ingestion.
Effects of Short-Term Exposure: It is corrosive to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract. It may affect the blood, cardiovascular, nervous, and liver. Exposure may result in death. The effects may be delayed.
Effects of Long-Term Exposure: Cumulative contact with skin may cause dermatitis. It may affect the respiratory tract, skin, bone marrow, cardiovascular system, nervous system, and liver, resulting in anemia and impaired functions. This substance is carcinogenic to humans/
Read the Toxicology
Realgar Arsenic Sulfide
See Warnings for Orpiment.
Umber Manganese Oxide
It can be absorbed into the body by inhalation of its dust and ingestion.
Effects of Short-Term Exposure: The dust of this substance may irritate the respiratory tract. Inhalation of dust may cause bronchitis and pneumonitis. The effects may be delayed.
Effects of Long-Term Exposure: May have effects on the lungs and nervous system, resulting in bronchitis, pneumonitis, and neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders (manganism). Animal tests show that this substance possibly causes toxic effects on human reproduction.
Read the Chemical Safety Card
Volkonskoite Chromium Oxide
It can be absorbed into the body by inhalation of its dust and ingestion.
Effects of Long-Term Exposure: Repeated or prolonged contact may cause skin sensitization.
Read the Chemical Safety Card

 

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