Cleanup: An Ounce of Prevention…

Colorussia 1 Detail SmallI have heard some people actually be less willing to do something because of the mess involved. However, the old axiom holds true that an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure – while perhaps not a literal ton, at least it does save much frustration and extra toil.

Let’s give some examples of what I mean.

Art time is no time to wear a prom formal or your favorite shoes. Have some old sweats and an old work shirt or smock available for painting days. I’ve used old shirts of my dad’s, shop aprons, or whatever I could find depending on the job being done and the temperature in which it is done (sometimes I paint outdoors). I have designated “paint socks”, since shoes aren’t really necessary in the studio, but I don’t care to stick to the floor in my bare feet either. Of course, if you’re working with heavier things than paint, old flip-flops or steel-toed boots may be appropriate.

I realize that many who wish to paint or sculpt or carve (or whatever) have neither an appropriate room at home to convert to a studio, nor the budget to rent a dedicated space elsewhere. I have made a temporary studio out of my living room in the past, and been able to protect everything there. In my current home I have a studio in the basement, and I added better lighting as well as a couple of large scraps of linoleum to protect the existing floor.

Large, clear plastic drop “cloths” are incredibly cheap at the hardware store, and can be re-used over and over. Even the plastic that is shrink-wrapped over your canvases can be used to cover smaller work surfaces, although this stuff is flimsy and will likely last only one or two uses, if you’re careful not to tear it while removing it from the canvas to begin with.

If you’re particular about preserving your nail work, stock up on latex gloves – there are plenty of sizes available and you can get them either powdered to facilitate putting them on, or non-powdered, for those whose skin is susceptible to rashes arising from clogged pores when the powder mixes with sweat (they’re not really that much harder to don). I prefer function to form as far as my hands go, so I just use gloves to avoid painful chapping if I’m doing a painting marathon or using something that requires lye soap and steel wool to scrub off.

Having long hair is a definite problem when working on anything messy, so I have an arsenal of implements to pull it back, up, and away from my face and work. It’s long enough to sit on if I don’t, so it usually takes more than one tool to handle it all. I sometimes finish it off with a bandana over it, especially if I do any spray-painting.

Safety equipment is essential while spraying anything, as well as if you’re cutting anything. I always have in stock safety goggles, dust masks, work gloves, and knee pads (to ease working on large pieces on the studio/garage floors). Always understand directions to use any equipment you employ in making art, and make sure it is in good working order.

Colorussia 3 Detail SmallIf you’re painting in a medium that will require brush cleaner to get it out of your brushes, by all means, make sure you have ample supply ready, along with some jars and a good sink handy – before you start working. Wash your brushes right after finishing your work – or even if you plan to come back later – so they’re not ruined (leaving them in there bends the hairs). It’s so much cheaper than replacing them.

If you’re working in a clay that needs to dry slowly and evenly, make sure first that you have some plastic to wrap your work-in-progress or finished work awaiting the kiln, so that it doesn’t crack and then explode in the kiln. If you’re sculpting in plaster but can’t finish building up the form in one session, be sure you have a vessel large enough to soak the entire piece in before you add more plaster to it, or the existing dry plaster will suck all the water out of the second coat and prevent adhesion. If your sculpture needs an armature to give it strength, make sure it’s not made of metal that will rust from the plaster’s moisture or wood that will rot of it, or use a tested method of sealing the skeleton first, lest your sculpture stain or fail.

You know…stuff like that.

Being prepared also means avoiding health issues while working in many media: understand the dangers of whatever you’re using. If you want to airbrush, never use acrylic without a full respirator and a strong ventilation system near the application site. Sprayed acrylic is the only form in which it is toxic – this is because it breaks down into polymers that are so fine that when they are inhaled they clog up the lungs – forever – like black lung disease suffered by miners. It is far preferable to use gouache or enamels, and still with the respirator and the ventilation, by the way. If you’re using some form of permanent glue, be prepared with a solvent just in case some of your own parts take an unexpected liking to each other. If you’re working in oils you need ventilation, too, because things like turpentine are very bad things to breathe. Spray paint should obviously be used with the same precautions as airbrushing. Read all cautions with each product and tool you utilize.

I have actually seen a coworker drill a hole through his own thumb because he thought a few seconds was too long to clamp his work down instead of holding it. As much as the image sticks in my mind, I’m sure the victim has a daily reminder the rest of his life. Always secure/guide your work when using tools! Never put yourself in harm’s way; the price you pay may be permanent. Sometimes the ounce of prevention is preferable because there IS no cure.

Feel free to use the Contact form if you have other specific questions, or do a few detailed searches online or consult with qualified experts. Your best tool is common sense. If you don’t know about something, then knowing how to find out – and using that information properly – is the key to success.

Be careful out there!

– Eilee






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