Plein Air Painting Health & Safety Tips

Plein Air painting is much different than painting in the security and comfort of our studios for many reasons. We get to experience extremes of heat and cold, wind, bugs, poisonous plants, interacting with humans and animals as we stand out in the landscape.

Additionally we also need to pay attention to the way we use our art materials so as to minimize our exposure to toxic substances. After all, we want to be around for a long time to enjoy our passion for landscape painting in good health.

Minimizing Exposure to Toxics while Plein Air Painting

Some of us use paints that contain lead, cadmium and substances that have been shown to be toxic to humans and animals. These substances must be treated with great care and respect. The good news is, as plein air painters we are actually safer than studio painters because we use our materials outdoors where the wind and fresh air dilute fumes from mediums so as to render them less harmful.

Always Use Gloves or a Barrier Creme

I always make a priority to use thin latex gloves on both my painting and non-painting hands to create a barrier between skin and the accidental application of paint or solvents. Some people have allergies to latex – in that case you may want to use ultra thin gardening gloves (a brand called Foxgloves fit really well) in lieu of latex gloves. If you absolutely can't stand gloves of any kind then use some kind of barrier crème for your hands. Many different brands are available in most art supply stores.

Some additional tips from California Artist Rhett Regina Owings *Always wear gloves when painting with oils! Many pigments are toxic and can cause cancer. I like Atlas gardening gloves. They are warm when it is cold and cool when it is hot, as well as very flexible.

* Always keep your brush washer covered when not using it. Stay up wind of it too. Don't get turp. on your skin.

* Wear gloves when using pastels too. Don't breath the dust!

* Consider water mixable oils. They are great and most are non-toxic."

Please, No Paint Brushes Between Our Teeth!

Yes, some of us do this – just for a second of course – but it is a big NO NO for obvious reasons. Don't even think about it.

Dispose of Mineral Spirits/Turp. Or Other Toxics Safely

We love the landscape and nature and of course want to preserve it for all to enjoy in the future. Part of what we do as artists is to make sure that we dispose of the toxic by-products of our art making in a safe and responsible manner. NEVER dump anything out onto the ground while painting. We need to always carry out all our trash including oil rags, paper towels or oil paint tubes. Make sure they are disposed of in the proper manner.

Tips for Dealing with Heat and Wind

Dealing with Heat

Many of us plein air painters live in parts of the world where the heat and/or humidity make it especially challenging to stand out in the landscape for hours on end. We tend to get so engrossed in our art making that we forget to take care of ourselves as we should.

Keep Well Hydrated

Dehydration is the number one cause of artists swooning at their easels during the heat of the day - drink lots of water or other non-caffeinated liquids. One of the visitors to this site (who lives in Tucson, Arizona) recommends freezing your water bottles the night before going out on a plein air painting expedition. You will have plenty of chilled water for a few hours of painting in the heat.

We also recommend a cotton bandana soaked in chilled water and tied around your neck - a great cooling trick that really works.

Wear a big sunhat or use an umbrella

Also, lots of sunscreen (30 SPF at least) on all exposed parts.


Out plein air painting we often encounter strong wind gusts that can upset our gear - here is one solution if you use a tripod with a pochade box - hang your painting backpack on the bottom of the tripod - it works great as ballast!  See photo of this set-up below.   Alternately, you can purchase a leather "apron" that straps onto the tripod legs - rocks or your bag of heavy paint can be used to anchor your easel in windy situations.

Poison Ivy, Poison Sumac and Poison Oak

As a California resident I am well aware of, and can readily identify, the Poison Oak plant that is ubiquitous in most parts of the State. On a recent trip to New England, I was not so well prepared to identify and avoid the Poison Ivy and Poison Sumac plants that one can encounter while out plein air painting. I am providing links to sites that help with identification of these 3 poison plants to keep you safe from exposure and avoid very nasty rashes and blisters.

Poison Ivy - Click here to learn about it.

Poison Sumac - Click here to learn about it

Poison Oak - Click here to learn about it

Plein Air Painting Equipment
How To Make Your Own Painting Panels
Print Out This Checklist for Oils - Forget Nothing
Print Out This Checklist for Watercolor - Forget Nothing
Pastels Checklist - Handy Printout

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