When Paint is Dangerous

Written by on November 30, 2012 in Art - No comments

A few years ago I became incoherent, unable to string a sentence together. The villain in this drama turned out to be paint. Oil paints are my preferred medium, but after a winter of painting inside and using oil paints exclusively, I encountered a terrifying condition. A fellow artist noticed my inability to communicate fluently and suspected what was probably causing my aphasia, as she had had the same experience. She suggested a naturopathic practitioner who ultimately prescribed mega-doses of vitamin C, Lipotropic Complex, and a suspension of painting with oils for a while. Within months I was back to myself. Nowadays when the weather turns cold, I paint primarily with acrylics or mineral coating. In creating a mural in public, particularly when children are involved, I have always used less toxic paints.

It was a great relief that my friend recognized my need for help. In my state of mind I had no idea where to turn or the strength to figure anything out. I was in my mid-forties when this occurred and it was frightening to think I perhaps had an early onset of Alzheimer’s, or perhaps a stroke? One might wonder why hadn’t anyone else noticed something was wrong with me? Well, I had kept this fearful state to myself as it had been progressing into a vague depression that didn’t lend itself to being with people. Also, remarkably, my clients were still getting their commissioned artwork in a timely manner. Since age three I’ve been drawing, so even when not in top form, as a creature of long-realized habit, I’m either in the studio working on a series or out in the field on a mural site. Certainly there are days when what I produce astounds and other days that are less inspired.

What likely added to my condition prior to diagnosis and cure is that the new home I’d design-built was being freshly painted that winter. Standard latex paint emits gasses for weeks after being applied; with windows closed the curing paint could certainly have contributed to making the air toxic. Presently on the market, water-based paints are made with considerably less VOC’s (volatile organic compounds), and many of the higher end brands report zero VOC’s. Having used the new “healthy” paint, I strongly recommend it over the old standard as well as to have all windows open, for maximum ventilation when applying paint and during the drying and curing process.

For the past 35 years of painting public murals, I’ve used acrylics exclusively. No oils as the fumes become an issue when working inside and too dangerous when working with children. Most recently I completed a 10 x 64 foot mural using mineral coating imported from Europe, known for never fading, peeling or outgassing, but, oh my, is it hard to paint with! Mineral coating has the consistency of ground-up chalk mixed with water. Using it won’t kill you, but it will surely try one’s patience because the colors change as they dry. However, the end results are beautiful, and happily, after many months of painting the 50th Anniversary Mural for Durham Tech, I experienced no fallout. To view a video about this mural, please follow this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2emnjs3cdx4

The safest way to use oils is of course, painting outside, en plein aire, communing with nature, landscape painting. In tribute to the pursuit of healthy practices, I teach my students to use vegetable oil to clean brushes, then wipe on old phone books, dip in Murphy Oil soap, rinse off before reshaping.

I can’t imagine a time when I won’t be painting, but after marrying at the young age of 54, wondering where my life had gone, I began my limited-edition 25-year Handmade Book Series. Each year I design a 6 x 6 inch structure encapsulating my year in art along with its most notable events, and then make no more than 75 signed and numbered copies. The first year focuses on all my art leading up to the wedding while the 2nd volume describes my actual creation of a mural from A to Z. My most recent project, the 3rd year, is a triptych with images of 60 works of art ranging from 3 x 3 inches to 3 x 3 feet. I will be 80 years old when this series is complete, and so far, since I’m determined that making my book series won’t poison me, I just might make my goal.

Visit my website at Weinsteinart.com. My most current painting series have not been posted yet, but my four art gift books are listed along with many landscapes and moon paintings. Please feel free to phone me with any questions or suggestions at 919-402-0160.

by Emily Eve Weinstein, Featured Artist

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