Artist Material Hazards while Pregnant

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Feb 2007

i'm thinking about getting pregnant and wonder if i can keep up my art making. i don't want to stop painting but i worry about the health of a fetus if it is exposed to the materials. i curently paint and do printmaking 1-2 times a week. i use oil paints and printmaking/etching paints along with solvents, paint thinners, matte medium, guache and acids for making plates. i'm curious if anyone out there continued their art while pregnant and felt safe about it. were there any alternative materials you used? my obgyn said that these materials don't stay in the blood so i don't have to worry about waiting to get pregnant if i'm not using them. she recommended not using them while pregnant just to be safe, but i wonder how much she knows about these materials. i'd love advice on how to safely continue using these materials if that's possible or any other references on toxicity of art materials. thanks! artist mom

I did printmaking activities all through my pregnancies and felt safe about pigments, solvents, etc. because I used a good barrier cream on my hands, nitrile -- not latex or vinyl -- gloves, and a personally-fitted respirator whenever it was time to be around solvents. ''Personally-fitted'' respirator because it has to make a good seal around your nose and mouth. A half-mask one is enough, and it's reasonably comfortable. You buy the mask and the filter cartridges separately; for mineral spirits, acetone etc., you want the Organic Vapors cartridge. They're color-coded, and the 3M Organic Vapors one is black. The barrier cream is especially nice (it's called Travabon and it's made by Stockhausen) because it keeps your hands underneath it wonderfully clean; you can get smudges of ink on your hands and then wash them off with water! But don't use it as a substitute for gloves, use it in addition to them. You can get all these things at Industrial Safety Supply, in Emeryville, corner of Hollis and 40th Streets.They appear to have an online store, but don't be fooled; it sucks. Go in during their walk-in hours, and you'll walk out with everything you need, and they will help you very capably and kindly. Good luck! Cory
When I got pregnant I totally changed my art materials -- I gave up oil painting and worked in acrylic for a while but when that wasn't entirely satisyfing, I researched a bit into water-soluble oil paints and ended up really liking the Winsor Newton ''Artisan'' paints -- no thinners or solvents, cleans and thins with water. There are MANY toxins that might be harmful to your baby -- why risk it? There are also waterbased printmaking inks, you might check those out.

Some further info on the web: ''Safety Concerns for Pregnant Painters'': ''Physical Hazards of Chemicals'': (Near the bottom of that page they talk specifically about reproductive toxins -- teratogens and embryotoxins.) Art Mama

Hi - Of possible interest: Art hazards, from Cal/EPA
As a long-time printmaker I know there are health hazards in some art materials. Yahoo has a pretty active printmakers group Sign up for the group; check their archives, & post your inquery. California Society of Printmakers (CSP) has a website also; don't know if you have to be a member to ask a question, but check it out. You could also call the Achenbach Foundation at the Legion of Honor Museum in SF & see if anyone there can help you. The book, Health Hazards in the Arts, published by the U. of Alberta Press, also contains much info. Good luck & keep creating. Lila
I don't have any references for you, but I suggest you do some research on your own. Your instincts are correct. Solvents are some of the most toxic (to the nervois system in particular) materials you can handle on a day to day basis. Absolutely contraindicated for pregnant and nursing women. environmental engineer