While there really is no such thing as having a completely non-toxic studio (I’m sure there will be some who disagree with me, but just hear me out,) I continue to move in the direction of having a less toxic work environment. I’ve been working with minimal toxicity in my oil painting practice since I returned to oil painting 14 years ago. No more open jars of paint thinner or turpentine with handfuls of brushes sticking out, just waiting to be knocked over. (I use baby oil, kept in a jar with one of those coil things to help remove pigment from the brushes, then do a final rinse with soy solve. I f the brush needs a little extra TLC I might use Master’s brush soap or one of the waterless smooth hand cleaners: I like “Fast Orange” which is available at my local hardware store.)
The latest tip I have adopted was from a printmaker that I communicate with in a printmakers group on Linked-In. The last piece of getting solvent based materials out of my studio was a way to clean my brayers. These are large size hand brayers that Takach press makes. They work really great for polymer plate litho, but the recommendation was to clean them with roller wash, which is seriously evil. I definitely want to protect these rollers as they are not cheap. The tip I got was to clean them with baby oil (which I am already using to clean my brushes) so I thought it was worth a try. It works great, and you only need a very small amount. Hooray!
So why do I say that it’s difficult to be COMPLETELY non-toxic? Many pigments themselves are actually toxic. Cadmium is pretty nasty stuff, but I still use it. No synthetic color has yet equalled a really yummy cadmium vermillion red. Just don’t lick your brushes. And to those who think that “water-soluable oils” are any healthier to use, they are not. They are still bound with oil that has been hydrogenated to accept water molecules. They are not “water BASED.” I’m not saying don’t use them, I’m just saying know what they are. I do use small amounts of Gamblin’s NeoMeglip medium, which is not very stinky, and I only have a small dollop on my palette. I did try the water soluble oils when I went back to oil painting, but I found the texture was not to my liking. By using a high quality oil paint, the texture of the paint, and the experience of painting is much more pleasant. My favorite is Vasari Classic Oil Paint. They make small batches of paint, the old fashioned way. Check ’em out.