Thursday, January 19, 2017

Artists, art materials and allergies

As if having allergies is not frustrating enough, having allergies that interfere with one’s art can be doubly frustrating.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates that more than 50 million people in the US or roughly 15% of Americans suffer from allergies. According to researchers, allergies are on the rise affecting as many as 30% of adults and 40% of children. To further compound the issue, their families and work places are affected as well. Worldwide, allergic rhinitis affects between 10% and 30% of the population and rates are increasing.

In Sweden, it is estimated that over 30% or 3 million people suffer from allergies. Research shows that 33% of Swedish adults are sensitive to fragrances and chemicals. Products free from allergens, fragrance, and irritating substances are marked with the Swedish Asthma and Allergy Association's swallow logo.

In my own case, fragrances, scents, and smells are some of the worst culprits, in addition to airborne pollutants among other things.

Art materials and situations that may cause difficulties for an artist with allergies

  • Oil paints and solvents
  • Acrylic paints
  • Markers (such as Sharpie, Prismacolor, or Copic)
  • Some pens
  • Inks for dip pens
  • Pencils and colored pencils (made of wood)
  • Airborne particles, such as pastel dust
  • Glues, varnishes, sprays
  • Mediums, masking fluid or liquid frisket, etc.
  • Arches watercolor paper (due to the natural gelatin smell)
  • The jury, in my case, is still out on papers with added fungicides, but it does not seem like a good idea from an allergy standpoint to add fungicides to paper that is to be used in a wet condition, perhaps for hours at a time, at a relatively close distance
  • The same thing goes for any product with added biocides, such as some paints
  • In addition, many other papers and paints have a slight chemical odor that may pose a problem
  • Any scented product, such as scented pens, stickers, or erasers
  • Printer toner and inks
  • Some printed products, from magazines to folders or cards. Just because the ink (or paper) is more environmental does not mean that it does not cause problems from an allergy standpoint!

  • In terms of purchasing art supplies, any art supply store that carries scented products, such as florals, scented candles, oils, or potpourri, may pose a problem to visit for the allergic person
  • Recently, I have had problems ordering paper from stores selling scented products or using scented products within the store as the paper picks up scents of products stored nearby, including cleaning products and sprays, rendering the paper unusable for me!
  • Even products being shipped close to a perfumed item (in another package) may cause an otherwise unscented product to smell

    I have mostly focused on breathing related allergies here, but there are many other types of allergies, such as contact allergies, where skin contact with an allergen causes symptoms. Examples could be certain substances in paints or the nickel ferrule of a brush.

    Additional problematic situations for people with allergies

    There are many situations that affect not only artists but anyone with allergies or sensitivities. Here is a list of a few problematic situations that unfortunately shrink the world that a person with allergies may safely be exposed to:

    • Attending a public event, such as a class, lecture, exhibit, etc., where perfumes or scented personal products are used by some attendants
    • Going to any store or restaurant, class or other location, where incense, potpourri, room sprays, or air fresheners are used. Ditto scented soaps in public restrooms
    • Visiting the mall or any store where scent marketing is used, a marketing strategy where stores use fragrance to attract customers
    • Staying at hotels where room sprays, air fresheners, scented laundry detergent, cleaning products, and soaps are used. Once a hotel room has been sprayed with room sprays, the scent remains in the carpet, fabrics, and walls, similar to cigarette smoke, and renders the room unusable for a person with allergies (even if you ask for an allergen-free room that has not been sprayed, chances are it was sprayed prior to the last customer). This has become a big problem for me in recent years, making travel, especially in the US and Canada, very difficult.

        Additional problematic situations for people with allergies

        While these are situations that, at least in theory, could be fairly easily remedied, air pollution unfortunately has a longer way to go, affecting us everywhere as we go outside, for example, to sketch or paint.
        • You can check the Air Quality Index for your region here, as calculated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This index includes ground-level ozone, particle pollution, and a few other pollutants. According to the index, 0-50 indicates that conditions are good. 
        • The American Lung Association (ALA) publishes the State of the Air report, showing ozone and particle pollution and people at risk by state and county (link and pdf to the 2016 report). When comparing the 2016 numbers to the 2013 report (pdf), I was shocked to see that the high ozone days in my county had gone up from 4 to 27 per year over a three-year span.

        As if that is not enough, there are numerous other kinds of pollution that affect us, such as water, soil, radiation, light, noise, and many more. It is interesting to note the connection between the environment and our health.

        To return to the art materials, I think it is very individual and what works for one person may or may not work for another. Personally, I use mechanical pencils, Uniball Vision or Staedtler Pigment Liner pens, Winsor & Newton or Daniel Smith watercolors, and Strathmore papers, sometimes other materials but rarely for extended periods of time as I like to work quickly. Having a studio which permits cross-ventilation is also helpful.

        What are your experiences with allergies and art materials as an artist?

        Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Allergies. (Retrieved January 17 2017)
        US Population Clock. (Retrieved January 17 2017)
        Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). Allergies. (Retrieved January 18 2017)
        World Allergy Association (WAO). White Book on Allergy 2013 Update. (Retrieved January 18 2017)

        Astma och allergiförbundet Forskningsfonden. Allergifakta 2016. (Retrieved January 19 2017)
        Astma och allergiförbundet. Doftöverkänslighet. (Retrieved January 19 2017)
        Astma och allergiförbundet. Om Svalanmärkningen. (Retrieved January 19 2017)
        Wikipedia. Pollution. (Retrieved January 18 2017)

        Ett inlägg om konstnärer, konstmaterial och allergier och hur allt från olika material till situationer och miljö påverkar oss. Jag är själv speciellt känslig för dofter och har svårt för många material och produkter. Även parfymerade produkter som används i offentliga miljöer, på hotell, osv., kan göra tillvaron svår för den med andningsproblem.


        Annika said...

        Konstigt (eller kanske inte) att allergier blir vanligare och vanligare....
        Skönt att akvarellfärgerna i sig inte verkar vara upphov till allergier normalt sett. Arches papper har jag inte använt (tror jag inte).
        Det är svårt det där med allergier och att skapa en allergifri miljö - det blir ju svårare och svårare ju värre allergiproblemen blir och det blir till sist svårt om man inte vill leva i ett sterilt utrymme (fast självklart finns det saker man kan undvika som tung parfym eller rökning!). Jag är nog bara frustrerad att behöva leva med mina egna allergier och bli begränsad av dem och sen kanske behöva kräva av andra att de ska behöva anpassa sig också....

        Anna C. said...

        Själv tror jag att det har med flera olika faktorer att göra, som miljön, den ökade förekomsten av kemiska ämnen i mat/produkter/omgivning, samt ökad stress i samhället.
        Och visst blir man begränsad av allergier, i mitt fall speciellt vg vilka produkter jag kan använda men det finns ju även miljöer man drar sig för att besöka! Tycker dock att det blir allt vanligare med skyltar osv här om att inga parfymer får bäras i många lokaler, speciellt i hälsosammanhang men även på tex meditationscenter och retreat, vilket ju får ses som ett framsteg.
        Förhoppningsvis kan även allergier gå tillbaka: "whatever has the nature to arise has the nature to cease". Ett upplyftande citat från Buddha!