New Mexico Art League
                  Art School ∙ Gallery 



Safety First in the Studio



At the New Mexico Art League we believe that art shouldn’t be a hazard to your health. We’ve compiled the following guidelines for staying safe while making art!

We have acquired 2 industrial strength air purifiers that are rated to remove all air born particulates within 20 minutes if turned on high. These are running 24/7 in our studios.


Please read the precautions below on drawing dusts and refer to the section on solvents and fixative sprays if you use them.

Drawing Dusts: Pencils, graphite, charcoal and chalks (especially pastels) should be collected at the bottom of the easel with dampened newspaper or paper towel. TAP, don’t BLOW dust away from canvas or paper. For full protection, use nitrile gloves when handling pastels, charcoals, and inks. An N-95 mask will insure no dust ends up in your lungs.

Follow the safety directions when using Gum Arabic or Gum Tragacanth. Use water- based drawing gums rather than solvent-based types.

Oil Pastels, Oil Sticks, and Crayons: Check labels and avoid crayons, oil pastels, or oil sticks containing lead chromate. See section on solvents if you are using varnishes, lacquers, or mediums.

For your safety:

Spray fixatives contain a wide variety of solvents, including acetone, ethyl alcohol, heptane, n-hexane and toluene. They are highly toxic by inhalation, extremely flammable, and can hang in the air inside and outside for hours.

FIXATIVE SPRAYS and SPRAY PAINT are not allowed inside of the Art League premises. DO NOT spray fixatives or spray paint near outside windows or doors that are open. Recommend to students that it is most safe to use a respirator and when using these materials.


As a painter, you use many different pigments, vehicles, solvents, and varnishes. You must be concerned with: the safe handling of solvents; breathing in powdered pigment; getting paint in cuts and sores or accidental ingestion.

Inhalation can be a potential hazard if you grind your own pigments. Some pigments can cause skin irritation and allergies. Artists who mix their own paints from powders are at a higher risk because of a chance of inhaling the pigment powder. Please remember to use a mask.

Pigments: Students are not allowed to mix powdered pigments on the premises of the New Mexico Art League. Instructors who mix their own paint from powders must use a glove box for mixing and wear a mask of NIOSH approved N95 dust respirator or N100 for known carcinogens (See list at the end of this section).

Be aware of the dangers of lead pigments. Handling them in powder form is dangerous because of the possibility of inhaling the dust. Even ready-to-use lead paints are very dangerous to handle and such precautions as carefully washing hands and fingernails after using them are crucial to avoid accidentally carrying the lead paint to the mouth and ingesting it. Clean up any spilled pigment powders with a wet paper towel.

Some cases of poisoning can occur by getting pigments or paint In cuts or sores.

Most artists who buy ready to use tube paints are not exposed to powdered pigments.

Watch for the following substances in your paints (especially if they are old):

Many inorganic pigments which are no longer used. Flake white (which contains lead) and vermilion (which contains mercuric sulfides) are toxic. Also, cadmium and chrome pigments are dangerous.

Examples of chronically toxic pigments include compounds of cadmium, cobalt, lead, manganese, and mercury.

Some pigments such as chrome yellow, zinc yellow, strontium yellow, and cadmium, are known as human carcinogens and may cause lung cancer.

Some pigments can cause skin irritation and allergies, such as chromate-containing pigments such as chrome yellow and zinc yellow and cobalt pigments.

For your safety:

  1. Buy paints that list the Color Index Names on the labels
  2. Obtain and READ Material Safety Data Sheets on your paints.
  3. Do not eat, drink, or smoke in the studio. Do not touch your paintbrush to your lips.
  4. Wash your hands carefully, including under your fingernails.
  5. Students are not allowed to mix powdered pigments at the New Mexico Art League. 
  6. Keep the studio well-ventilated. Open two windows and keep a fan going. Many acrylic paints contain ammonia and formaldehyde, which can cause irritation.
  7. Do not use fixative sprays and spray paints in the New Mexico Art League. (see Drawing section for warnings on fixatives).
  8. Keep your students informed of all safety warnings on each product they use. Check the full list of hazards of pigments by color from the book Artist Beware by Michael McCann:

It is difficult to find the chemical components of ALL paint and in most cases, adequate research has not been done.

Solvents: All organic solvents are poisonous. Banned substances include:

  • Benzene and carbon tetracholoride
  • Alcohols: methanol wood or methyl alcohol
  • Aromatic Hydrocarbons (resin solvent, paint and varnish remover; common silk screen wash-up, lacquer thinners, aerosol spray cans): Benzene, Toluene Xylene
  • Chlorinated hydrocarbons (wax, oil, resin, grease and plastic solvents, paint strippers): bad combination with alcohol.
  • Petroleum distillates: n-Hezane is banned; it is found in rubber cement and thinners and in some aerosol spray adhesives.
  • Gasoline, benzene (VM&P Naphta), Mineral spirits
  • Esters (lacquers, resin plastic solvents)
  • Glycol ethers and acetates (lacquer thinners, paints, aerosol sprays)
  • Ketones: Acetones are safest solvents except for flammability
  • Turpentine
  • Aerosol Sprays
  • Other banned substances are found in paint and varnish remover, lacquer, ink, and plastic solvents

For your safety:

  1. Follow the safety instructions on all SOLVENTS: alcohols, paint and varnish removers, paint thinners, lacquers, such as solvent-based acrylic paints. NEVER USE SOLVENTS TO CLEAN YOUR HANDS. Use Ethanol (denatured alcohol) which is a safer solvent.
  2. Open two windows in the classroom and keep a fan going.
  3. Wipe up small spills with rags from the student supply list. Take home all solvent-soaked rags. They are not allowed to pile up in the classroom.

Mineral Spirits (paint thinners, white spirits, turpenoid, odorless paint thinners, Stoddard solvent) are moderately toxic by skin contact, inhalation and ingestion. They can cause dizziness, headaches, and nausea.

Procedures for Mineral Spirits: Mineral Spirits should not be poured down the drains. Bring only what you will use to class in a labeled glass container and cap on when not in use.

There is no solvent storage in the painting classrooms. Do not leave your solvent containers in the building. Bring an extra glass gar with a lid to collect used mineral spirits and take this home with you.

NEVER USE SOLVENTS TO CLEAN YOUR HANDS. Wash your hands with baby oil or vegetable oil, then soap and water.

FOR SMALL SOLVENT SPILLS, use your rags from your supply list to clean up. We no longer have a rag service. TAKE your wipe-up rags, or paper towels with solvents on them home with you.

Encaustic Painting: Wax fumes are more harmful at higher temperatures. Limit class to 8 students. Keep the melting wax under 240 F at all times by using a thermometer and by monitoring at regular intervals. Cross-ventilation is important. Keep two windows open and the fans going.

Signs of high temperatures are odor and smoking. Follow the precautions for mixing powdered pigments. Heating tools and hot wax can cause burns. Use aprons and make sure you have a burn kit in the classroom. Avoid heating solvents of any kind.


See Painting section on Pigments and Solvents.

Use ready-made inks whenever possible. Use water-based silkscreen and relief printing inks whenever possible to avoid exposure to solvents.

Read the Material Data Safety Sheet on all solvents. Minimize solvent use by cleaning excess ink off with safety-edged razor blades. Clean presses and inking slabs with vegetable oil and dishwashing liquid (such as Joy).

Wear appropriate gloves to avoid skin contact when cleaning up.

Avoid spreading inks on plates or wiping plates with your bare hands whenever possible. Wear 

gloves and ink the plates with tarlatan, cardboard, or soft pieces of plastic. For a process in which you must hand wipe, apply a barrier cream.

Instruct students to wash hands carefully with hand soap and water and to not wait until the ink dries on their hands. Baby oil or vegetable oil and then soap and water will remove inks from the skin.

Replace talcs and French chalk of unknown composition with cornstarch and baby powder.

Gallery Hours: 10 am to 4 pm Tuesday - Saturday  505-293-5034

3409 Juan Tabo Boulevard NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87111     Map It  

Mailing address: P.O. Box 16554, Albuquerque, NM 87191                              

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