Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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01/02/2007: "Non-Toxic?"

So, I've been working on "The Commission" again. For some reason, this one painting I can't finish is making me crazy with self-doubt and frustration. And I just keep working on it and working on it. The good thing is that I've been painting again, which is something I love even at its worst.

The weird thing is that right away after I started painting I began having respiratory problems again. First a very swollen and soar throat, now congestion and a cough. It could be totally unrelated, but something similar happened the last time I started painting after a bit of a break.

The thing is, I'm in a totally non-toxic studio now. I'm using only walnut oil paints and walnut oil as how is it possible for that to have this effect I wonder?

And on top of everything, my *very* expensive Air So Pure air purifier started making an unpleasant odor when I run it. I hadn't run it that much in the past, but I'd never noticed an accompanying odor. It has an ionizer setting which I don't use but I wonder if it could really be on after all? Does anyone have experience with air purifiers?

Anyway, I hope I haven't developed some strange chemical sensitivity to the paints themselves. That would be nightmarish!

On a personal note, I've been having a very relaxing break, I still don't go back to work until Wednesday. I've mostly been reading and eating a lot, plus spending time with Aaron which has been great. For New Years Eve he cleaned out and reorganized the horror that was my walk in pantry (shoved full of stuff to the point of not being able to enter) and also cleaned out the cabinets under my sink where I used the same organizational strategy as the pantry. Yeah aaron!

I really must be the least organized librarian on the planet.

Replies: 14 Comments

on Tuesday, January 2nd, greg said

Happy New Year! :) hope its a happy, healthy & productive one!

My semi-informed truthy opinion regarding air purifiers is simply needing to replace the filters regularly. And the kind you don't need to change - like the kind with the ionic plate yer just supposed to wipe clean - aren't worth it. Also, the ionizer isn't a bad thing to use a little, as it helps dust particles clump together making em easier to spot and clean in the room. I've heard only constant ionizer use is bad.

Also, I've heard of a metal artist in Seattle who developed an allergy to touching metal, so anythings possible, but I'd think the walnut oil would be ok ... gee u dont have a nut allergy do you ... like with peanuts?

I think youve mentioned you have good ventilation and a decent fresh air exchange (of course that kinda twarts the use of an air purifier). Still I think of this time of year bad with all the shut doors/windows, dry interior air, and furnace usage.

Have you changed furnace filters? ... or have a wood stove?

Hopefully what's causing the sniffz was under the sink and now disposed of properly :P
whataguy that aaron! :)

on Tuesday, January 2nd, Elise said

Hi Greg! So, did you set any New Years resolutions in terms of art this year? I'm still working on mine.

Anyway, maybe ozone is what I'm thinking of, that it smells weird...and I've heard that you should only run an ionizer thingermbob when you aren't at home, as the larger particulates can be bad for your lungs. furnace or wood stove and I can eat nuts ok so that's probably not it but thanks for the suggestions. Maybe it's psychosomatic?

Anyway, there were many mysterious things under that sink, perhaps you're right! And I couldn't agree more about aaron!

on Tuesday, January 2nd, greg said

" furnace or wood stove ...."

I have it!! You're just incredibly, constantly cold!!! :hehe:

... or wait, if the only alternative is baseboard electric heat, that drys up the air so much you could benefit from a humidifier. I don't believe ozone really smells, tho ...

resolutions? if you mean my getting my first pair of eye glasses (for working on computer), due to my aging retinas, than I guess so! lol

on Tuesday, January 2nd, Cousin Gary said

Hey Elise! This is your cousin Gary. I hear that you may be coming to Washington? Let me know, I live in the Olympia area.

on Tuesday, January 2nd, Amanda said

I'm a respiratory therapist, and I doubt your reactions are due to the paints (especially if they are made of walnut oil). If it was a reaction due to something environmental you more than likely would not have congestion. If your throat is swollen and you have a persistant cough it would be wise to see your physician.

on Tuesday, January 2nd, Kasia said

Happy New Year!!!
Don't worry about the "unorganised" element of yours:) It can be also a very creative one. I know that. :) Chaos is much more interesting than "Ordnung" (and much more nerve wracking, too, sure). :)

on Wednesday, January 3rd, Elise said

Hi Gary! Wow, great to hear from you!!! Unfortunately, it turns out I won't be moving to the Olympia area after all...I did take a job in Centralia, but then turned it down later when I realized that I couldn't leave alaska for all the money in the world. (good to know).

Still, if I'm ever visiting down that way, I'd love it if we could get together.

And Amanda, thanks for the advice. If it lasts much longer, I probably will go to a doctor (good to know).

I'm afraid that as creative as being unorganised can be, it can be inefficient as well. Being more efficient with the little things means more free time for the fun stuff, right?

on Wednesday, January 3rd, marja-leena said

I was very interested in Amanda's response to your symptoms, being puzzled by them and concerned about you. Glad to hear you are painting again. Happy Happy New Year, Elise!

on Wednesday, January 3rd, Elise said

Hi Marja-leena! I was interested in her comments as well, I have had persistent coughs in the past...but back when I was using solvents etc.

I am really concerned these days about the dreaded lung cancer, that's why I gave up my solvents and mediums even though I love them. Right now though, I do think it's probably only a chest cold and my throat hasn't been sore for days.

Thanks for your concern and Happy New Year to you as well!!!

on Wednesday, January 3rd, Paul said

My mother developed a weird form of asthma when she lived in Juneau. Apparently triggered by allergies it resulted in a persistent cough. I think dairy may exacerbate it.

on Wednesday, January 3rd, Elise said

Hey Paul, did your mom ever get over it or did she have to move? I've heard we get strange molds and mildews here from all the rain.


that would stink if I physically couldn't live in Juneau anymore...though I doubt that's the case as I don't *always* have the cough and it used to seem related to painting.

on Thursday, January 4th,"> said

Hiya -
Do a little detective work. Make a mini-journal and log every time you notice the symptoms and exactly what they are. Whatever you think might be related (use of paints, solvents, running the air purifier) also keep track of in the journal (ie when do you use them). After a month you should have some data to make guesses with. Once you have an idea try using everything else except that thing for a few weeks. If the symptoms persist then a doctor visit advised.

Another approach is to eliminate all possible causes and see if symptoms disappear. If so then bring items back into your life one at a time for a week or so until symptoms recur - that will point to a likely culprit.

Also note severity of symptoms. Try to find other sources - look for black mold esp. as it is notoriously bad news, and if you find it then have the apt manager remediate or MOVE as black mold causes serious health problems.

Good luck. :hehe:

on Thursday, January 4th,">Paul said

>did your mom ever get over it or did she have to move?
No she still lives with it. But it was one the motives for the family to move to sunny Oregon, that and her susceptibility to seasonal blues. She uses an inhaler it seems to help quite a bit. It took quite some time to get an accurate diagnosis because it was not the typical shallow breathing but more like a bronchial cough, sometimes resulting in a sneeze. Now that I know what to listen for I can hear her air ways constricting. Identifying all the triggers has eluded us but it is most likely allergies

on Thursday, January 11th, Kirsten said

Hi Elise-

I happened upon your page gotta tell you- your work is beautiful! I'm an alaskan artist myself, though I've drifted south. Far, far south...

Anyway, you may already know this, but it is not the oil in the paint that's toxic- it's the pigment. Only certain colors- cobalt, cadmium, lead white- many others. In the US the "bad" ones are required to have health labels. They are actually heavy metals that can absorb into your bloodstream, putting you at risk later in life for cancer...

Your current symptoms, though, don't sound like they have much to do with the paint.

I don't want to scare ya- just make sure to wear gloves and don't eat your paint :) Working with natural oils instead of solvents is much better for you- inhaling turps is baaaaad...

I've discovered a product that's incredible for cleaning brushes-
Winsor and Newton's Brush Cleaner and Restorer. It's completely non-toxic, non-flammable, and really does restore brushes that have dried paint stuck in the bristles...

K, I'll stop rambling. Hope that helped!