Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rules for Artists - Safety First

First and foremost, you must school yourself in clay safety.

Sure, you will hear people say, "I've been spraying glaze/looking in the kiln/sweeping out the studio/ for years and it hasn't affected me." Or something else of that ilk.

Maybe it hasn't affected them..............yet.
How would they know until it is too late? Hazardous materials have a way of building up in your body. You may not have symptoms for years. But when and if you do, it could be devastating.

How many times have you walked into a pottery supply place where classes are going on and a kiln is firing in the back? You can smell it the minute you walk in!

Or have you known someone who lets their toddler play in the studio while they are working? I even had an instructor (internationally known artist and author who shall be nameless) say when she was a child, she played with a box of powdered asbestos her clay-artist father (also famous and nameless) had in the studio when she was a child. "And it didn't bother her." (!!)

Always take care of yourself and be mindful of others' safety when working with materials and firing. There are no prosecutable laws governing material content of clay, glazes, colorants, or handling. It's up to you to school yourself. If you can't find the information, proceed with judgement.

Safety of materials is not usually a part of the arts curriculum, but in my opinion, it should be the FIRST thing covered in any program.

For instance, I never handle glaze, underglaze or any material that could possibly be hazardous without wearing surgical gloves. As a matter of fact, surgical gloves can actually help in handling freshly-glazed pots because the glaze doesn't come off or smear. The gloves are cheap, disposable, easy to use once you get accustomed to them. (There is an ad that runs in clay magazines showing a young girl with a paintbrush in her mouth and hands covered with colorant that just sets my teeth on edge.)

I never mix powdered substances or clean the studio without a respirator on.

I never fire lead or other hazardous glazes in the kiln because I know the residue can stick to the walls and affect future firings.

I never eat or drink in my studio or invite others to do so. (I can't tell you how many classes and workshops I've attended where food and drink is available. I even went to a class where I wondered if it was for clay or eating!)

Here are some resources:

The Artist's Complete Health and Safety Guide - Monona Russell - available at

Artist Beware: The Hazards of Working with All Art and Craft Materials and Precautions Every Artist/Craftperson Should Take - Michael McCann - also available at

You can review both books by sourcing them on Google Books)


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