[A/H Index]  [^^Terms MASTER Index]

Dirty Jobs - Art-wise

See also: [Safety Issues] [Art Materials] [(art) concepts]

Dirty Jobs - Art-wise

(this page inspired by the ep on "Cleaning the Bells") "In order to clean something, something else must get dirty". -- attributed to "Murphy". Note: The ideas of dirtiness are organised based on the art area (eg, painting, sculpture, etc). Each area has its own ways.... On this page: {Intro} The "classics" {Drawing} {Painting} {Sculpture} And the rest: {Casting} {Ceramics} {Photography} {PrintMaking} {Welding} {Computers and such} {Assemblage} {Restoration and Preservation} {Installation} {Showing} {Links} {Refs}


A lot of learning art is leanring wht the materials are and how they are used. And of course that means the usual: Getting ready to do The doing of it Cleaning up afterwards A particular problem in all work is just keeping the art work itself clean. This is a special problem when many people may be using various art materials in the same room. Usually special areas are set asside for storing specific kinds of things. Paintings are almost always stored vertically, while drawings require so-called "flat files" cabinets to store them horizontally. In many cases the work on a particular project may span several days, weeks, or even months - necessitating the proper and safe storage of the art work in progress. Many art materials are actually fairly toxic (well at least some of them - especially the solvents used to clean up). And of course since when you are creating you usually get "lost in the moment", that's why it's important to have a good knowledge of the materials and their proper handling. As well as constantly practicing safe procedures. Almost all art classes begin early on with a "saftey lecture". Of course, the real thing IS to have fun - that motivation is one of the reasons why childrens art materials are specially designed to be non-toxic. Of course "non-toxic" doesn't mean that you can eat the materials - or stick them in your ear. The first experience we have is usually with finger paints - and we remember that experience so intensely becasue finger paints have such a unique (and mostly non-toxic) smell. ASTM ??toxicity?? specification The two most important sources of toxicity are the pigments used to colour things and the solvents used to clean up with. One of the most common pigments is "Cadmium Yellow" which has a cadmium metal salt as the source of that great yellow -- which is pretty toxic. And of course, lead is the worst one - it is absorbed fairly easily directly through the skin. THe main problem is long-term exposure of the various chemicals which either end up in the bones - and possibly causing cancer --or-- the effect the nervous system directly possibly causing blindness, insanity and of course in the worst case death. The least toxic solvent is water, but again the paint or other art material itself may be a source of toxicity. The worst toxins are paint-thinner, paint-remover, and various chemicals used in various ways; eg, drying agents, photographic salts, The other sources of danger arise from the tools and methods that are used in doing art; eg, wood chisels, electric or hand tools (saws, drills, etc), splattering chamicals and especially heated materials used in welding and printmaking which can cause burns in addition to any toxic effects. And of course these sorts of things end up not only being skin-contact toxins, but air-borne toxins as well; eg, spray paint and of course the fumes of solvents.


Preparing a clean work area is essential since residues from such things as charcoal, coloured pastels and chalks, and ink are easily picked up while you are working and deposited causing much grief. For example, it's not un-common to take a damp paper towel and wipe down a piece of paper before resuming drawing on it - especially when using permanent inks. Probably the most benign and common materials are things like pencils (of varying "harness"), coloured pencils and water-colours. The worst things are the coloured pastels (a kind of chalk) which can contain toxins just as dangeroous as paints - especially when they are *scraped down". Inhaling the dust is a particular problem even if the materials are not toxic; eg, powdered graphite, charcoal, plaster, etc. Markers also come in a variety of pigments and materials. The solvent used to disolve them is refered to as the vehicle. The range of things goes from vegatable dyes to the gold filagre pens which use toxic toluene as the vehicle.


Of all of the arts, painting is seen as *the* defining concept of art. And of course, that has been going on for thousands of years - it is only by coincidence and luck that we even found the painted caves, such as those at Lascaux. Painting probably presents the most contact with the most toxic of art materials and chemicals. In recent times there are available materials that are specifically designed to be non-toxic (or at least *less* toxic than traditional materials). If the paintings is to be done on a canvas, then the "stretchers" made out of wood must be purchased or built. A stretcher is simply a wooden frame onto which the canvas is stapled. Of course pre-built canvases are the most common for painters to use. Tecnically speaking a canvas or a piece of paper is refered to as the MATRIX. And obviously this could be wood panneling, glass, metal, stone, or cloth. In the case of the art of tatooing the matrix is the skin itself. Priming the surface is accomplished using "gesso" which is a well-designed primer for use with almost all art materials. The primer prevents the materials from bleeding into the matrix, making maintenance of the art work much easier. In some cases this bleeding is desirable - the most common example is in the dying of fabrics. As mentioned earler the pigments are toxic in many cases. Oddly enough their disposal is a real problem. If you try to wash them down the sink they will almost always stop it up. Special "traps" are designed so that the materials can be prevented from clogging the drains. Also, in recent times the idea of recovery and recycling of the waste materials has come to the forefront of concerns in working in art.


The two most common "classical" sculptural materials are plaster and marble. In theory, any kind of "rock" can be used in a similar manner. This is evidenced by studying ancient art when sculptors used a wide variety of naturally occuring minerals; eg, limestone, sandstone, Stacked brick or stone to make walls, mounds, or even teritorial demarcations are common throughout the world. Concrete and other aggregate means of "gluing" stone include things like tiling, in-laid metal and stone, metal and wood, stone and wood, etc. Metal sculpture ranges from working with iron and bronze - both in casting as well as molding and shaping it to so-called "small metals" sculptures most common in jewelry production. Another traditional material is of course wood. The only problem is that unless special precautions are taken it is likely to degernate over time. From rotting to being eaten by insects and of course burned are ways that the artworks can be lost. In most cases the *only* wooden art relics of wood that are present have been preserved in the most unusual of circumstnaces; eg, the extremely dry chambers in the pyramids preserved wooden objects. Wood can of course be nailed, glued, or even just stacked as part of the art work. Other common methods involve wood-burning and carving. Similarly rope, fabrics, vines, yarn, etc. can be used as art materials. Modern synthetics have of course opened the door to almost endless possibilites. In modern times the most common "new" material is "plastic" - or rather various plastics. These range from styrofoam to styrene to lucite, etc. They can be molded, cast, glued, carved - and in some cases even welded. All of these involving specific technologies, tools, and processes. And of course "large scale" sculpture extends to the concept of architecture as well as large carved objects; eg, Mount Rushmore, the Sphynx, etc. And in these cases the scafolding required to allow the work to be done approaches an art unto itself.


Castings can be made with "cold" materials such as plaster (which actually heats up as it sets), liquid plastic which is hardened with a catalytic agent, and gels. Heating a material until it is liquid ranges from traditional bronze and iron to waxes and of course various plastics. The production of the mold used to make the major *form* of the object is often complemented by an armature framework hidden inside the sculpture to lend it stength and structure.


If sculpture is the art of taking a found object - eg, a slab of marble or limestone - then ceramics is the next logical step: Build it from scratch. The most common form is to take clay (and there are a myriad number of different clay mixtures to choose from; eg, terra-cotta, porcelean, etc) and then mold it while wet, bake it in a kiln/oven. Once it has been "bisqued" in the first "firing", it can then be coloured with various "dyes" - refered to as glazes. In addition various clays have in themselves certain colours. And as with all pigments the problems of toxicity are ever-present.


In most cases there are two stages in the production of a photograph: The creation of a "negative" and then the subsequent transformation of that into the "positive" image that is usually considered to be the art. But, note the use of negative in films to simulate altered states of reality; eg, a drug trip, Dave Bowman's journey in the film "2001: A Space Odyssey", etc. The most common chemicals in "wet" photography are silver salts, acetic acid and sulfur salts - all in water solution. In most cases the "shelf life" of the chemicals is limited and they have to be discarded after a while (even if they haven't been used). Much of photography revolves about re-using the chemicals as much as possible as well as recovery of the silver salts. Silver is not particularly toxic, but it has the effect of killing bacteria (hence the use of a silver pitcher to store milk before the advent of refridgeration) - and as such is a definite hazard to the eco-system since bacteria are at the heart of the Earth's recycling system. The papers used are of course light-senesitive and need to be properly stored and opened only in a dark room. There are of course various kinds of film - from black and white to high-contrast to colour to infra-red, etc. Also, in recent times a return to "traditional" methods include things like Van Dyke and Cyanotype processes, etc.


Printmaking is essentially *merely* a differnt kind of painting/drawing. However the chemical processes are different from that of oil paints. And where-as linseed oil is the most common solvent for paint, so-called "burnt-plate" oil is used in much of printmaking. In addition, the process of aquatinting by which the intensity and tonality (light/dark values) of the image is altered invovles things like rosin as well as spray paint. And of course in the case of etching, acid (usually nitric acid) or a "mordant" (ferrous choloride) is usually invovled - both requiring extra caution in handling. Also, the inks used in etching or relief-printing need to be cleaned from the plates when printing is completed. Otherwise, they clog and thus "cloud" the image. And this involves some sort of solvent. In many cases cooking oil can be used to clean the plate. But, for *deep* cleaning paint thinner (mineral spirits) or even paint remover (extremely toxic toluene-based) solvents must be used. Again these present not only skin-contact issues, but inhalation as well as disposal issues.


One of the almost certain facts of welding is that you WILL be burnt at one time or another. Methane or propane gas can be used for welding, but most common is an oxy-acetylene mixture. These are *not* particularly dangerous to look at - despite movies showing people with darkened goggles. However, metal-feed and electric-welding ARE quite dangerious to the eyes as the produce intense ultra-violent in excess of even looking directly at the sun. Some sort of filtered glasses or visor is a requirement when doing this kind of welding.

Computers and such

The most common health issues of computers are eye strain and carpel-tunnel syndrome. One of the most important recent concerns is the idea of recycling the ink cartridges. There is every reason to do this. In many cases an artist or art department may want to look into re-inking the cartridges themselves - and of course almost every manufacturer has a recycling program.


Restoration and Preservation}