Studio Safety Tips


The most recent ArtsPay meetup was held on Wednesday March 13th at the cozy Queen St. Commons in downtown Kitchener. Attendees met over coffee and vegan brownies to discuss the topic at hand: environmentally friendly and safe studio practices.

This topic is very timely; ArtsPay is in the process of acquiring studio space for artists - more information on that HERE - and safety is crucial when sharing a space with mutliple artists. Andrea Filiatrault shares what she learned below:

The topic of the evening featured guests Tara Cooper (University of Waterloo) and Judy Major-Girardin (McMaster University). The focus was on putting personal safety first and environmentally ethical use of materials.

Tara developed a non-toxic practice because she "just felt bad" [sic] and wants to live a long life. Jody was motivated to clean up the studio at McMaster because of the time and effort to educate students on dealing with hazardous chemicals and the cost of hazardous waste disposal eating into studio budgets.

The printmaker (Tara) and painting-based artist (Judy) shared practical feedback in a question and answer format on multiple mediums. They emphasized that substitutions should be comparable in results to achieve ethical balance and respect the work but that you might be surprised at how effective some substitutes can be.

They advocated for:

  1. Choose the safest material available for you and the environment that will still achieve the desired result.

    Avoid volatile compounds when possible and be aware of potential combustion hazards and poisons.

    Scavenge found materials.

  2. Use your chosen material in the safest way possible.

    Read the MSDS sheets that are available for every product to understand the risks.

  3. Make safe and conscious disposal a part of the process, not an afterthought.

    It is better to put something in a landfill then down the drain so minimize water use

    Handouts provided a useful studio checklist and guidelines for a safe practice.

Other tips:

  • Citrus oil cleansers have concentrated pesticides in them so be wary

  • For oil paint Judy uses non-toxic (AP labelled)  Alkyd mediums. She prefer the gel brands in the tube such as Gamblin Solvent Free Gel Medium. M. Graham & Co. makes a walnut liquid alkyd and a walnut oil medium that is also AP approved.

  • Baby oil cleans paint off of skin and oil paint from brushes and is safer than some alternatives. Brush cleaning is done away from the sinks by wiping brushes off on old phone books first and then dipping into baby oil and wiping clean with a rag. Brushes can be left with baby oil on them or a final rinse with cool water and soap (once all paint is out). Small amounts of baby oil used for swishing brushes can be disposed of in regular trash.

  • Barrier cream can be protective if you don't want to wear gloves on hands for some applications

  • Keep a spray bottle handy in a pottery studio to keep dust down

  • You can make a hood for spraying varnish using an appliance box, some rubber gloves and piece of plexiglass (DIY!)

  • Estisol esters can replace most chemicals in printmaking and are plant-based

  • Lemon juice is an effective acid for some etching

  • Encuastic is more difficult without a fume hood as wax gives off acroleins which are harmful to breath. Some feel that melting only beeswax over a water bath at very low temperatures keeps it at a safe level but many people are sensitive to even small amounts of wax vapours so this becomes difficult in shared or close proximity spaces.


A huge thank you to Andrea Filiatrault for taking great notes, and to Judy and Tara for sharing their expertise. Want to catch us at our next meetup? Join our mailing list to keep up with ArtsPay events! Thinking of applying to an ArtsPay studio space and wondering if your practice fits our safety rules? Send us an email at