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  1. #1
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    Question about oil paint fumes.

    I used to paint with no ventilation and I would get tired from the oil paint fumes. Now I paint in my garage, with the door fully open, and I'm feeling the effects of the fumes again.

    Now I really don't want cancer, and the fumes are making me exhausted. Could it be that I'm too close to my paints, or is an open garage somehow not good enough for ventilation? I'll even wear a mask if anybody has information about one.

    Or is there something else I'm doing wrong that I don't know about? If anybody has information it'd be very appreciated. I need to paint, but I can't at this rate.


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  3. #2
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    I'm kind of in the same position. I just started to work in oils, and even working outside I feel fine, but later I feel lightheaded and weak for a little while.

  4. #3
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    I personally have never noticed any kind of ill feelings from any fumes, even working in fairly poor ventilation, though in school I knew a student who couldn't even go into rooms where people had been painting. Apparently, some people are really sensitive/allergic. I've heard that some work with a mask and latex gloves and it minimizes their discomfort.
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    I used to get a headache from the turpentine, but for some reason it doesn't happen anymore and I paint in a kinda poor ventilated space (my room). Had a friend in school who's hands started itching from either the paint fumes or the turpentine.

    Seems like people respond very differently to the fumes.

  6. #5
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    I don't mind the fumes personally, though I understand they can be very distracting for some people. I knew a person at art school who used his open hand instead of a palette - he had a great big pool of different coloured oil paint in his hand that he'd just dab his brush into... now that can't be very healthy for you.

  7. #6
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    It's probably not the paint, it's more likely the mediums/thinners/varnishes/brush cleaners that you're using with the paint.

  8. #7
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    What Flake said. I am *very* allergic to turpentine and most traditional varnishes (which often contain turpentine plus something that I'm apparently *more* allergic to). To the point that I had to leave a class with a migraine once after a person near me put a drop of damar varnish in her medium. I am mildly allergic to turpenoid and only mineral spirits, but they only bother me if I'm exposed for a while without ventilation. With ventilation I'm fine.

    If turpenoid or OMS don't work for you, you can paint without a solvent. Use some form of oil (walnut or linseed) to thin paint when needed, and just use the turpenoid, OMS, or one of the natural replacements (citrus solvents) to clean up.

    Good luck!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Condottiere View Post
    ...Could it be that I'm too close to my paints, or is an open garage somehow not good enough for ventilation?...
    Although a large open door is a good idea, it can still take a bit of time for the air to circulate out on its own if there's no air flow pulling it out. Even if you painted outside, you can still inhale the fumes. They need to be drawn or blown away from you and out of the work area. If you don't have a proper cross-circulation setup, then the air slowly lingers. If you test it out with some smoke you can see it visually. A proper ventilation system pulls all the air out and replaces it with fresh air. Consider getting a fan to blow the air away from you, and out the door. Caution: that can kick up a bit of dust, but the fan doesn't need to be a like a jet engine.

    Also, it could be that you're using more turpentine than you need. Are you keeping the container covered? Odorless mineral spirits, while still as hazardous as turpentine, you may find easier for you to handle, at least when it comes to clean up; then you can just use a little turp for mixing, or using OMS as a complete replacement.
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  10. #9
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    Try painting without thinners. The "fat over lean" rule still has to be taken into account, but what you can do is this:

    Use a non-toxic alkyd medium (eg walnut alkyd, Galkyd, etc) for the first layers to speed up the drying time. Use a fluid alkyd medium if possible. DO NOT use Liquin or anything with harmful vapours.

    If necessary, add some oil medium to thin the paint. However, add as little as possible to keep with the fat-over-lean rule.

    To clean your brush, wipe off as much excess paint. Swish it around in vegetable oil (this removes most of the remaining pigment). Wipe this off, and repeat if necessary. When you're finished, clean your brushes in vegetable oil. Then you can just use soap and water.

  11. #10
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    oddly real turps don't bother me at all but i can get stinker headaches for "Odorless Turp"
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  12. #11
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    This morning, I went out to paint plein air. Only after I had set up in the middle of a field some miles from home did I realize I had left the jar of turpenoid at home. I said "fuck it" and went ahead with the painting. It turned out fine; I just need to remember to clean my brushed thoroughly after work.

    The thinners aren't necessary, except to clean your brushes thoroughly. Designate brushes for light colors and dark colors, and wipe them off between uses. Use a rag to get really thin effects on your painting surface, by wiping off the paint.

    Try working solvent-free for a while, or out-doors. If you find that you are still getting exhausted, then go talk to your doctor, because it isn't the paints doing it.

    Latex gloves are also a good idea, but for different reasons.
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    Quote Originally Posted by lordofthebling View Post
    ...To clean your brush, wipe off as much excess paint. Swish it around in vegetable oil ...
    You're inviting complications if you use a non-drying oil or cooking oil while your painting. You could use a painting oil medium instead, but would likely end up forcing the oil inside the brush ferrule and make it harder to clean plus be an expensive practice. It's acceptable to use vegetable oil for cleaning if necessary, but you only need a small amount, and be certain to clean it out completely.
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  14. #13
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    Thanks for all the info guys. I don't think it's my turpenoid, and all I use is linseed oil and turp. I couldn't imagine doing imprematura w/ out turp anyways.

    I got an extension cable and a fan and I can really feel the air circulate in my garage. I'm gonna get some latex gloves, too. If this doesn't work, I'll try some of the other methods in here. I think it'll work though. Kind of dumb of me not to think about it before, but I learned a lot in this thread. Anyways, thanks again.

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    oddly real turps don't bother me at all but i can get stinker headaches for "Odorless Turp"
    It's just the opposite for me. In my oil painting class, I had to periodically go outside when I used real turpentine because the fumes would get to me. Once I switched to odorless turp I was fine. Which is odd, since the odorless stuff still gives off fumes, or so I've been told.

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    If you use turps, put out as little as possible. You can buy barrier cream to protect your hands. You can get a mask. This is especially important if you grind your own paints. When you paint, be careful with lead based paints and cadmiums. Don't leave them on your skin. You definitely need ventilation and you should not use oils in the room you sleep in! You can use olive oil to clean your skin and some people use it to clean brushes, but I don't like the way my brushes feel afterwards. You can buy non-toxic brush cleaner. I'm a purist and I try to keep it simple. When you paint in layers, the under-layers must be leaner than the top layers, but if you are painting directly,you don't need to worry about that. A fellow artist told me he's now using walnut oil. He likes his paint more fluid and walnut oil makes it fluid without turps. I haven't tried it yet, but I will.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Condottiere View Post
    Thanks for all the info guys. I don't think it's my turpenoid, and all I use is linseed oil and turp. I couldn't imagine doing imprematura w/ out turp anyways.

    I got an extension cable and a fan and I can really feel the air circulate in my garage. I'm gonna get some latex gloves, too. If this doesn't work, I'll try some of the other methods in here. I think it'll work though. Kind of dumb of me not to think about it before, but I learned a lot in this thread. Anyways, thanks again.
    Okay, it's definitely the turp that's causing the problem. Try Gamsol (an odourless solvent made by Gamblin) if you can get it; it has the lowest vapour rate on the market.

  18. #17
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    Also, they make water soluble oils (which, I know, seems contradictory). I've never used them and don't know how they compare (supposedly they're ok), but you wouldn't need any toxic solvents at all, just clean up with soap and water.
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    I've started using them, and they seem very promising. I still prefer acrylics, but the water-mixable oils are great.

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    Sorry, I am new, but I find that acrylic is the preferable alternative to oil...my grandmother has been painting her entire life and gets bad headaches when using oil paints so she now uses acrylic most of the time...is there that much of a difference?

  21. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by cmoreland View Post
    Sorry, I am new, but I find that acrylic is the preferable alternative to oil...my grandmother has been painting her entire life and gets bad headaches when using oil paints so she now uses acrylic most of the time...is there that much of a difference?
    There are many differences. The most noticeable difference is that acrylics dry very fast. They are great if you want to put down a mark and then layer over it; they suck if you need to work wet-into-wet.

    I fought with acrylics for years, and have finally given in to the fact that there are certain things that oils do which acrylics canít; so, Iím learning oils.
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  22. #21
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    Well, first of all, the binder is different. Oil paint is made with oil (obviously) as the painting medium. Acrylic uses acrylic polymer emulsion, which is essentially a plastic resin suspended in water. Because of the different mediums being used, they behave in different ways:

    1) Acrylic, being water-based, dries much faster than oil. Once applied, it begins to evaporate, and the speed at which it dries depends on the thickness of the paint (thin films can dry in less than 15 or 20 minutes). Also, because of its plastic-like adhesive quality, it becomes tackier as it dries (harder to blend; produces more friction). Because of this, there is not much of an opportunity for wet-on-wet blending. The best blending methods are scumbling, drybrushing, and glazing. However, you can improve the flow by adding water. Also, some mediums such as Golden's Acrylic Glazing Liquid, or retarders, extend the drying time. In addition, a stay-wet pallette is reccommended for keeping the paints wet.

    Oil, on the other hand, takes a long time to dry (up to a week, depending on the amount of oil or solvent being used. Because it contains no water, it doesn't dry by evaporation, but rather a hardening process as it is exposed to air and dryness. Adding solvent or alkyd medium speeds up the drying time. It's also more fragile than acrylic (ie more prone to cracking, lifting, warping, etc), so it is vital to follow the "Fat Over Lean" rule when applying multiple layers (Maxine pointed out that this is not necessary for direct a la prima painting, which is usually only done in a few sittings). Because of this, it is necessary not to add any oil medium to the first layer(s); otherwise the top layers may dry faster than the bottom layers, causing the paint to crack. Solvent or alkyd medium may be added to the first layers to accelerate the drying time and increase flow, but it is not necessary. As you add more layers, you can add more oil medium to the paint.

    Because oil dries extremely slowly, it is ideal for sustained paintings if you want to paint something in multiple sittings, but still want it to remain wet. Also, its greasy consistency allows for easy wet-on-wet blending. However, as with acrylics, its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Oils are not suited for glazing, because you'll have to wait several days for each layer of glaze to dry before proceeding with the next. Acrylics, on the other hand, dry within 15 or 20 minutes, so you can lay down as many glazes as you want in a single session.

    2) Oil paint, for the most part, has a higher pigment load than acrylic. The very reason oil paint is thick is because of the amount of pigment added; whereas acrylic has a thickening agent added to the emulsion. Also, certain pigments (especially organic ones) backfire if to much is added to the acrylic medium. This isn't an issue with oil, so you can add as much as you want. Another problem with acrylics is that the medium is milky white and translucent while it's wet. It clarifies when it dries, and the pigment reveals its true colour, which is darker than the wet paint. This never happens with oil; what you see is what you get.

    It really makes no difference which one you use; it all depends on how you work, what methods you use, and what style you're going for.

  23. #22
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    I personally get the same reaction in regards to headaches and drowsiness when using oils.. one option I find that works however is using Windsor and Newton water soluble oils. the fumes are reduced to the point were I have to have my brush up to my nose to be able to smell it properly. Many people are wary about water soluble oils but i find these particular ones act very very similar to regular oils... plus id rather be using these than not using anything

  24. #23
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    I asked my grandmother, a long time painter, and she said she usually paints her base color (background) in acrylic and finish the subject in oil. I think this is a good idea because you have a quick fast-drying base to work with.
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    i always kinda liked the smell of oils.
    best thing to clean your oils thats not a paint thiner is baby oil. does a good job and cleans out of the brush with soap and water. stuff like dish soap works good too. they take a little more work to clean then the thinners but not toxic and leave your hands nice and soft like. basicly rub the brush in a little dab of oil and rub it around the wash out the oil with soap then reapeat.
    that should elp ya get past the problems thiners might cause. those water oils dave mentioned might have less or differant fumes but ive never used them either. might just need gloves and a mask.
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  26. #25
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    Wait, as an oil user, I'm not aware of any fumes. I think what's affecting you is the turpentine (or whatever else you clean your brushes with). See, the linseed oil in the tubes could perhaps cause an allergic reaction, but I'm not aware of it causing cancer. While there are dangerous elements in many paints (don't eat them) the elements can't evaporate because they are usually heavy metals, and because they're sealed in oil.

    As for turpentine, while there is odorless turpentine, I highly recommend using walnut oil. It's a little more expensive, but safe, natural, and just about odorless.

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