I was actually able to open the rest of the Liquitex Acrylic Gouache pots, on the 12th. I kind of wish I had asked someone to photograph my hands, after I was done: it’s one of those things that will make you feel like you’re actually an artist, to have your hands covered in spots of paint which you’ve tried to wipe away, but have mostly just succeeded in smudging more spots of paint onto yourself from a dirty paper towel.

Yes, I did immediately wash my hands after opening all the pots (it wasn’t worth it to wash my hands after each pot, and I didn’t have the foresight to wear gloves). I also clipped all my nails today, including the ones which I just barely scraped the stains out of, as I’ve started regularly flossing again (thus putting my hands in my mouth).

Of course, I later got fountain pen ink all on my hands, which is usual for pen maintenance. But this post isn’t about that.

Toxicities and safety

As I have said before (not necessarily here), I am grateful to my past self for having thought ahead about toxicities. I have apparently succeeded in avoiding the use of paints with known toxicities, at least recently (with the Liquitex Acrylic Gouache). Liquitex seems to be good in this regard, as a brand…and I found I have some nice colors from them!

I was sure not to buy anything last time around that carried a Caution Label (as versus an ACMI AP Certification)…which eased my mind greatly. (Note that Golden Paints uses a different system, explained here. They state that the absence of known toxins does not equate to complete safety.) It’s fairly impossible to paint without getting your hand wet from the paintbrush — unless you use gloves, and then the gloves get wet, and God/dess forbid you get paintbrush rinse water under your glove…

Particularly, anything with cadmium or cobalt in it, I’m not using at this time (though I think I have a Cobalt Teal Blue and Cerulean Blue Chromium in my watercolor palette: nothing really compares); I’ve also tried to stay away from Chrome Oxide Green: chromium is another metal to watch for.

And yeah, sometimes a color, like Chrome Oxide Green, just isn’t to my mixing taste. Straight Cobalt Blue, is one of them. I may also be lucky that Aureolin isn’t one of them (this is Cobalt Yellow…which is also rumored to be fugitive [hit Ctrl+F on a Windows device to search for “PY40” on that page; the entry starts with, “potassium cobaltinitrite”]).

There are some other pigments which might just cause sensitization (like Nickel Azo Yellow, a.k.a. PY150 [to the best of my memory]) — although I’ve tried Nickel Azo Yellow (through a dot card from Daniel Smith), and it’s beautiful. In the category of beautiful and causing irritation, I also know about bismuth orthovanadate…or PY184. It’s gorgeous in the form of acrylic paint and has excellent mixing properties, but will apparently irritate any part of the body it comes into contact with.

I did have a very old acrylic tube which used bismuth orthovanadate: the specific paint is no longer being made. The only reason I know it works so well? I tested it before I discarded it. I just had to decide whether its prettiness and utility was worth my anxiety, in replacing it (I’ve had to replace almost all of the heavy-body acrylic paints I bought before 2016: they age when unused, and get gummy).

Hitting home

I pay attention to this stuff now after having had a bout with what I was told by an ophthalmologist was conjunctivitis (it felt like extra loose tissue in my sclera [the white of the eye] that would wrinkle and itch when I shifted my eyes) — which may have occurred because I was brazing a type of brass which could cause that response. (I found this out on inspecting the Material Safety Data Sheets [MSDS] at the location from which I had gotten the brass.) I’ve been told that “conjunctivitis” only refers to an infection called “pink eye” and can’t be caused by chemical fume irritation, but the Internet disagrees (there are too many supporting sites to list, here).

Anyhow, I haven’t had that issue in a very long time. If I hadn’t experienced it, I would likely know much more about silversmithing, now — but I decided that particular craft, wasn’t worth my health. There are a lot of chemical risks, and physical risks and hazards, in Silversmithing (even at core, there are sharp objects and fire). I actually didn’t feel safe in the class. This is the reason I left.

I’m a color nut, so Painting is a very…appropriate outlet, for me. Moreso than Smithing, and moreso than beadwork (the latter of which, in my specialization, is limited by what colors of glass beads can be made). I’ve also known most of my other Art instructors to be much more careful about pigments and Art materials, and the environment.

I think the problem lies more in my psyche than anything else. After all, all I have to do is use a glove and not wash paintbrushes out with my bare hands…or ever touch the surface of the painting.

God/dess, maybe it’s not.

Maybe sometime in the future, I’ll consider working with more hazardous materials…like when I know what I’m doing, better. 😛 Or accept the risk. Or wear a glove. Or when I get my tendency to worry, under control (something I read said that worry was anxiety projected into the future…ah, that was The Anxiety Audit: Seven Sneaky Ways Anxiety Takes Hold and How to Escape Them, by Lynn Lyons [2022]). The thing is: it may only be, “anxiety,” if it isn’t warranted. If it is warranted, and isn’t excessive, it might just be called, “caution.”


The problem I’m dealing with is, “baseline high sensitivity to anxiety,” + “risk factors that are real enough to be acknowledged by the Art community and the wider society.” That is: the risk isn’t all in my head. I just notice it more, because my brain is sensitive that way.

I know at least one Art teacher who had breast cancer and is still alive; I knew an artist who died from breast cancer at a very young age; and I’ve known Art teachers who have known artists who have had cancer (I don’t remember the types; only that the specific teacher I’m thinking of, admonished us not to blow pastel dust up into the air [it’s not good to inhale], and not to spray aerosol fixative inside the studio [ditto]. Both of those things happened, anyway — reminding me of high school Chemistry).

I’ve been warned about the case of Jay Defeo and “Deathrose”, where the artist — if I’m recalling correctly — died of lung cancer, which may have been caused by layering and repeatedly carving away white paint.

There are a number of things that could have gone wrong, here. The use and carving of plaster; the use of titanium dioxide as an opaque white pigment; or possibly (I hope not) Lead or Flake or Cremnitz White as a pigment; could all have been factors. So far as I know, lead-based pigments are mostly used in oils, these days. Toxicity in oils is a very large reason I opted to take painting classes using exclusively water-based media.

At this stage, Titanium White — or rather, the pigment titanium dioxide — is known to be a factor in the risk of lung cancer by route of inhalation. Although it isn’t toxic per se, airborne Titanium White — as a free dust — is an irritant to the lungs and is currently classified as a possible carcinogen.

“As a free dust,” meaning the stuff that the students were likely blowing up into the air from the pastels, in my Drawing class (see above).

“Wait,” you say. “Isn’t titanium dioxide used in cosmetics?”

Yes. Yes, it is. So is talc, when talcum powder is said to contribute to the development of cancer when it is contaminated with asbestos. (Of course, who tests the talcum powder before it is used, to see if it has asbestos in it? That would seem to be the crux of the matter, right? That nobody’s testing?) But that’s an entirely different rabbit hole…

Calculated risks

I’ve got to decide whether or not to take calculated risks; whether to make myself temporarily uncomfortable, in an effort to move forward. To keep myself safe, I realistically should have been wearing gloves, the other day. However, I feel relatively okay about it. The exposure is likely negligible, given how soon I washed my hands; the fact that there were no known toxins in my paints; and how rarely I would have done anything like that.

Sometimes, as well: wearing gloves can contribute to exposure by reducing one’s dexterity and making simple tasks, difficult. This is what happened when I got exposed to Cobalt Yellow during a watercolor painting class: I was trying to get a tube of Aureolin open with gloved hands.

The glove reduced my ability to feel and grip the tube, wrapping itself around the cap. I eventually took the glove off to try to open the tube with my bare hand. It wasn’t until I had done so that I realized that the paint had already oozed out of the tube (despite apparently being sealed shut) and spread all over the tube itself because of the glove: thus, all over my now-bare right hand.

I couldn’t feel it because the temperature of the paint was too close to the temperature of my hand; and at the time, all I had to get the stuff off of myself was my watercolor rinse cup, which was already dirty. To make it worse, I was out in the field and didn’t know the location of the nearest sink.

All I got was some mild itching (i.e. “dermatitis”), but that does mean I was exposed to the cobalt. You do not want this to happen: cobalt is toxic.

It’s essentially not easy, if it is even possible at all, to work with Art materials and avoid all health risk. The risk comes with the practice, just like I’d risk myopia, carpal tunnel, and spine issues, if I worked at a computer eight hours a day. Or, like I’d risk my near vision if I worked with tiny beads, a great amount of the time. Or how I’d increase my risk of adult-onset diabetes if I regularly ate a bunch of candies and sodas. Pretty much, life is risky.

The fact is that we can mitigate some of the known and avoidable risks, even if we can’t (or choose not to) avoid all of them.

Color mixing

In any case: Liquitex is fairly good about taking known toxins out of their paints. They also have a “Cadmium-Free” line which is designed to mimic the performance of cadmium pigments, without actually containing any cadmium. These are actually really nice paints! The drawback I can see is that the mixtures are proprietary, so you don’t really know what’s in them; but apparently they aren’t categorized as toxic. (At least this goes for the two I bought: Cadmium-Free Yellow Deep, and Cadmium-Free Red Light. They make a really warm, brilliant orange, together.)

I mentioned last time that I had an extremely difficult time getting the seals off of two of the Liquitex pots (one of which had the interior, donut-shaped seal [that’s supposed to stay there] somehow stuck onto the seal of the paint pot itself). Thankfully, most of the rest of them were nowhere near as much of a trial. I’m…fairly well impressed with the range of reds I was able to find: from Quinacridone Magenta, to a pinkish “Primary Red,” to an orange-pink “Cadmium-Free Red Light.” The middling, “Primary Red,” is not a lipstick red, to my relief.

Reds are one of those interesting color families that have more variation than expected…but then, that could probably eventually be said, for all colors.

I had actually started with a “Primaries” set for the Liquitex, then expanded because I could see that I was kind of past working with single primary colors. The “Primaries” set includes Primary Red, Primary Yellow, and Primary Blue, plus Emerald Green, and Black and White. The, “Primaries,” given here are more like, “Typical-Idea-Of,” though they do lean cool, for my taste. The Blue is close to a Sky or Cobalt Blue (neither of which I tend to enjoy using), while the Yellow is a basic…inoffensive, middling yellow. I love the Red, though; it does lean slightly violet, but not as much as Quinacridone Magenta. Their Emerald Green also leans bluish, which can be an issue if you’re looking for something that looks like chlorophyll.

If I really were at a beginning stage, this set would have worked; the thing is, I’ve been taught to use a split-primary palette. This includes a cool and a warm tone of each primary color. Because my definitions of “cool” and “warm” are a bit confused (apparently the color wheel is not evenly split between “cool” and “warm” colors, and I didn’t understand that violet was considered “warm” until several years after I must have been taught the definition), I’ll just explain the following in terms of color bias.

When you choose your primaries, the primaries chosen will really…affect everything. If you have an orange-leaning red and an orange-leaning yellow, they often make a warm orange (if they mix well, that is. I’ve been on the lookout for a nontoxic yellow pigment which is good at mixing yellow-leaning greens, for years…which I’ve mentioned in at least one past post). If you have a violet-leaning red and a violet-leaning blue (like Quinacridone Magenta and Ultramarine Blue), you get a relatively clean, strong violet. If you mix a green-leaning blue and a green-leaning yellow, they produce a relatively clean green.

If you then mix the colors with the colors directly opposite them on the color wheel, you should get first, muted colors; then, chromatic greys…which is what I’m looking forward to trying out, today. Yesterday, the 13th, I was only painting out the basic straight hues and simple mixes, as these paints are new to me.

Are you hesitating?

The thing is…and this is my analytical/fear-based mind speaking: I’m not sure how this is going to work out. I’ve tried to optimize for the most intense secondary colors…but the thing is, you don’t have to mix Ultramarine and Quinacridone Magenta to get violet. You can also mix Quinacridone Magenta and Deep Turquoise, and you get a redder purple: even with the green component of the Turquoise, the color isn’t strongly muted. Mixing a violet with a less-violet-leaning red, tends to turn out something closer to eggplant, in hue.

(I usually think of reddish violets as “purple” and bluish violets as “violet”…I don’t know how common that is.)

Muting, or the tempering of a color’s intensity, happens when you start to mix colors with biases other than the color you’re aiming toward, or when you intentionally mix a color with its complement (across the color wheel).

I even somehow got an ink blue out of mixing yesterday (close to an Indanthrone Blue color), though my mixes are somewhat of a mystery for me, as I don’t tend to write down what I’m mixing. When you can add upwards of five colors into one mix, and don’t remind yourself of their names as you’re continually adjusting that mix…trying to remember, gets tedious. Active experimentation is easier to manage — at least, in the moment.

The thing about getting paint colors is that each additional color you use, introduces a large number of new mixture possibilities, especially when you’re starting with a split-primary palette. This happens while everything you mix with your basic, chosen primaries, happens to coordinate and harmonize on some level. At a certain point…it becomes clear that using too many different pigments can actually be more of a problem, than a solution. The thing is, which colors you choose for your primaries, matters.

Principally, you can skew the selection in favor of either strong violets (involving blue and red) or strong oranges (involving yellow and red); but getting both at once? I’m not sure I’ve tried it…and I really don’t know what’s going to happen — particularly with complex mixes — when I do.

Of course, David Lloyd, interviewed in Creating a Life Worth Living: A Practical Course in Career Design for Artists, Innovators, and Others Aspiring to a Creative Life, by Carol Lloyd (1997), states that, “failure is built in.” (page 23) An artist has to be open to failure, in order to progress. So maybe today’s work, can be about embracing potential failure. 🙂

Kind of like the failure I got when trying to photograph yesterday’s work, in the intense blue light of early morning…

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the paint brands (or books) I’ve gone over here, today, nor have they compensated me. I purchased the materials I’ve written about in this post, with my own funds. I am not a medical professional, and nothing in this post should be taken as medical advice.

3 responses to “Mess”

  1. I’m afraid of toxicity too and I’m very anxious, however, since I live in the US, half of the stuff I use and consume probably have carcinogens in them. I steer away from ones that pile up. I do love cadmiums and nickel but sheesh. I avoid lead even though I REALLY want a vermillion or a cinnabar paint sooo bad. They’re beautiful. I also want lead white but I know I’m too messy. I’d accidentally harm everyone if I did.

    Now, for color mixing. I don’t have that primary dull color bad feeling anymore. It’s really childish, but I use any color that I feel is appropriate or do limited palettes of unlike colors, complimentary, or particular color zones.

    So, for example, I used a RYB complimentary color palette using PO73 (pyrrol orange), PG7 (phthalo green blue shade), and PV23 (dioxazine purple). It had the SAME problems as ordinary color palettes. Some colors appeared too muddy or a color was completely missing. For example, there’s no yellow that can be created, however it can be replicated with orange and green and white or balancing a gray with a blue (you can make a very nice deep blue with the green and purple I listed.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Feets!

      It is interesting how so many beautiful and high-performing colors are toxic! It kind of reminds me of brightly colored insects signaling to others that they taste bad or are poisonous (I’m thinking of butterflies).

      I love Pyrrol Orange! Do you mean that you’ve worked with those three complementary colors as your base palette? I wonder if the problems would appear the same if we had eyes like Mantis Shrimp and could see like 12 different basic hues instead of 3…

      …of course, Art would be worlds different in that case!

      I’ll have to try combining PG7 with PV23… 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • I know right. The toxic ones always stand out and look lovely. Could apply to any thing really.

        I’ve worked with them as a base palette! So sorry. I should’ve specified. It can make a bunch of pretty brown colors, but also a ton of pretty bright colors if you use white and black.

        I have no idea how much it would change but it would be cool to see how that works. I want to use a limited palette of 6, 9, and 12 to see how harmonious it could get. I sometimes wonder how art would be if we all had different primaries we used instead of the common RYB.

        Liked by 2 people

%d bloggers like this: