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May 27, 2011


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THANK YOU on so many levels for this.

My motto has always been that in order to break the rules, you first have to learn what they are before you can do so. ;)

Terri Kahrs

Yes, yes, YES!!!! You've eloquently expressed what many of us feel about taking on-line classes in general. Classes where you've paid money to watch an instructor hmmmm and hawww through, spending time looking for supplied or finished demo pieces. Thank you for speaking out!!! Hope you enjoy a relaxing weekend!!! Hugs, Terri xoxo

Barbara Hagerty

I appreciate your comments. I took a really big breath and gritted my teeth before posting this, and I asked my daughter to read it first and tell me if she thought anyone would think I was flaming them. She said, "No, except perhaps in the imaginations of those with very guilty consciences". So I clicked "publish".

But I worry that some sensitive souls who are truly genuine will think I'm aiming at them, and that couldn't be further from the truth. It helps to know that there are others out there who see how much of a service the good teachers bring to the plate, and how much of a disservice -- a waste of time and money, and sometimes even harm, that the wannabes inflict upon the hopeful who are hungry to learn.

There will always be those who devalue art, seeing it as easy child's play, and something they can do to make a name and some money teaching. I don't think there's anything to be done about this. Just a wake-up call to watch out for the phonies. We know they're out there, and they're not fooling everyone.


Yes, yes, yes! I went to art school in Northern California and while some materials were boycotted due to political beliefs, we towed the line when it came to safety. We worked with dyes, pigment powders, silk screen chemicals, etc. Precautions were always used. Fiber artists from the 70's have developed cancers and other sicknesses, perhaps from dye chemicals they took few precautions against.
Just because you can use it doesn't mean it's always safe and I have encountered this in local workshops. Pigment powders are used and end up all over the place. These are toxic and shouldn't be inhaled and they can't be flushed out your system. the thing is, no gives a rat's rear end...


I think it took immense courage to write about this and post it to your blog Barbara, but then part of why we're such good friends is that honesty and integrity that we share.
If it hadn't been for you sharing your knowledge a few years ago when I first asked you about gel mediums, I probably wouldn't have taken the layer love course - which turned out to be valuable on so many levels.
I applaud you telling it how it is. It's too confusing this year - there are too many classes by people with too few credentials and people have even been asking ME whether I think a class will be "right" for them?!
I would happily take a class with you & Kelly any day and would also love to go see Roz Stendahl teach (I so enjoyed and learned from the Strathmore ladies) and my Aussie mate, Linda Baldock. I'd probably take a Julie Prichard/Chris Cozens class too, because they're authentic, but as for the rest...
Looking forward to having fun at Summer Camp with Marit Barentson though - I like the European slant on things too. Oh and thank you for being amazed by my Haiku!! xoxoxo
Keep on keeping it real, GF! =)


Good heavens - I forgot to say what a great page that is - LOVE that waterfall illusion! <3

Terry Garrett

This is a very important post and from the heart- thank you. I am new to your blog but went her from Kelly's blog. I just recently retired after being an art educator for 36 year. You comments about teachers was dead on correct. Sad isn't it that people can cause people harm both in health and the creative process. While much of my work was with elementary children (talk about learning from raw creative minds!) The last 8 years I was at a small university teaching art ed courses for future art teachers and taught mixed media bookmaking and visual journaling classes. I see teaching as a rich exchange-I always learn from my students no matter the age and I feel everyone has something to offer- a quality teacher lights the spark that lives in everyone-starts the action. But as you said with a knowledge base that provides a safe foundation. There are quality people out there- but yes there are many that have no business "teaching"! Thanks for oyur thoughtful post and I was pleased to see you mention Roz- she's a pal of mine and I have taken classes from her- yes- teachers take classes too!


Hello, jumped over here from Kelly's.
This needed to be voiced. I've seen a new "trend" of using paint thinner to blend color pencils. Disquieting.

Cathy Graves

As a newbie, I have to admit that I haven't spent any time thinking about the safety issues involved with all the art supplies I use. No art school background--you are the first person I have seen broach this subject in such a forthright, professional manner. Your blog posting was very well done and I sincerely thank you for opening my eyes to this issue. Short of purchasing the text book, any suggestions how I can educate myself such as a good on-line article?


Barbara Hagerty

Thank you all for your comments!

Before you read the rest of my comment, I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to scare or panic anyone into thinking that art is dangerous. But there are aspects of mixed-media that are currently being taught on the web which can be, and before you delve into the unknown, it's wise to prepare yourself with qualified guides.

Cathy, I'd love to be able to point you in the direction of an online article or two that could answer your questions, but the problem is that there really isn't a way I know of to acquire this knowledge instantly. The book I mentioned is reference material. It's a textbook because in most schools, much of what's in it is taught, but it's also like an encyclopedia. You learn it in general, then you go back to it and digest what you need, when you need it. That's why it's so very important, crucial even, that teachers relate the hazards of the media you're using in terms of the way it's being used at the time.

The hazards are not always cut and dried. Just because a material is non-toxic in one application does not mean it won't hurt you when used in combination with another (even another non-toxic) item. Think chemical reactions. Some things are activated by heat, cold, sunlight, incandescent light, fluorescent light, water, oil, salt, etc.

Some examples: 1. I don't know the recipe, but it is possible to make a bomb using household chemicals, including dish liquid. None of the ingredients are hazardous by themselves, it's the combination and method of combination that make this dangerous. 2. Many harmful, sometimes deadly, gasses are odorless. Natural gas is one. Gas companies add the offensive odor so that people will be able to detect leaks. 3. Some art materials or combinations of art materials emit dangerous gasses that are odorless. Sometimes they don't even make you dizzy, but they stay in your system and are cumulative. 4. There are many, many more.

Mixed-media in and of itself is not dangerous. Before this art form attained mass-popularity, most artists bought their products in art stores, from qualified staff, and knew their materials as well, if not even better than, their subject. Now that mixed-media has achieved mass-popularity, a lot of people who are clueless to the hazards, or think that it must be safe since they didn't (or maybe they did and didn't know it..) get hurt when they did the process, think that the ability to assemble something appealing is all they need to know to teach a process and make a few bucks, and maybe get people to think of them as an artist in the process. The increasing number of products on the market in hobby and discount stores makes it seem safe, especially when so many are labeled "non-toxic".

Adults who have discovered art, particularly after a long absence from it, or maybe for the first time after having been told as a child that art was a waste of time and shouldn't be taken seriously, are wonderful, hungry, and innocent. They often feel like they finally have permission to play and express themselves. Some of them have therapists who are encouraging them to explore. But they are, for all practical purposes, children and neophytes, to the materials and processes. When working with children, a teacher has a responsibility to keep them safe, without killing their creative spirit. That's a huge challenge to those of us who have legitimately taught.

What I have seen so often, too many times lately, are teacher wannabes, who perhaps without even meaning to do so, are exploiting the new, creative hunger in adults by encouraging them to experiment wildly with any materials they can find, without knowing themselves what the dangers are. Especially when it comes to metals and solvents, and so many art products are solvents, or contain them, and so many people couldn't detect a metal from it's latin name, nor have any idea which are threats by themselves, or in combination with other things. Products manufactured outside the U.S. are sometimes labeled incorrectly. Case in point: The non-toxic crayons from China a few years ago which contained lead.

Some artwork becomes unsafe after time, when the work itself begins to leach gasses. You wouldn't (I hope) paint your interior walls with paint that leaches harmful chemicals when dry. I think you should be even more careful when you have your nose to the substrate. And I've read comments from online teachers who, well-meaningly, have suggested using samples of house paint instead of artists acrylics, because it's cheaper, and no one mentioned using a respirator, or checking to see what type of substrate would be painted.

Using re-cycled materials (undetermined content) with certain paints, alcohol based dyes, and solvents, ironing plastic bags to attach them to another surface, cutting stencils with heat from plastics without using a respirator or while small lungs (children, pets, etc.) are in the area, are some of the very dangerous practices that I have see in many tutorials web-wide.

In a nutshell, I'm saying that like children, adults need to learn from qualified teachers. Even if you're teaching yourself from a book, you'd better do some research into who wrote the book before you begin to throw things together and possibly harm yourself, your kids, or your pets. And because the possibilities are virtually endless, if you're mixing media, you'd better learn, one mix at a time, what the reactions might be, before you begin, and a good teacher will tell you what to look out for, and what you can safely mix with abandon. Another way is to study chemistry, or read the hazardous materials book for artists. There really isn't a quick fix. And once you know, you'll be free to use whatever you're using without worrying about it, because you'll know what not to use with what. But sorry, you can't learn it overnight.

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