Solvents and Solutions

When I was studying at university, it was a time when health and safety was just beginning to be a big deal. We did wear our Mickey Mouse ears when using power tools and respirators when working with resins and solvents. However, this practice wasn’t generally carried out when one wasn’t working. Stories of spontaneous cumbustion in the print studio were told. Smoking was taboo! (Do people even smoke anymore?) No one really wanted to go up in flames. I do remember unusual food cravings …

The extent of the damage powders, solvents, acids, inks and photography chemicals could do was documented by a graduate printmaking student at the time. Some examples:

Exposures to high concentrations Methyl Hydrate (methanol) can cause headaches, nausea, eye irritation; very high concentrations can result in failure of vision. Lithotine, Mineral spirits, turpentine and varsol are all listed as central nervous system depressants.

Nowadays, environmental issues are also of great concern.

Still, I now have a new (old) lino printing press and my tests with water based block printing inks were anything but satisfying. Oil based inks came with the press but I couldn’t remember which of these deadly solvents we used all those decades ago so I googled “solvents for printmaking.”

To my delight and astonishment, I discovered that, “Vegetable oil, (canola or rapeseed oil, sunflower oil) has become on of the most commonly used cleaning agents in the print studio.” It really works and it’s cheap! If you haven’t tried it, I can highly recommend it. Here the link to find out more about safer solvents.

The link leads to a website that is a fabulous resource not only for printmakers but for any artist using solvents in their work.

Esther Boehm