We’ve been taking the ‘Cranfield road show’ out and about recently – this is rather a grand title for an hour of questions, answers and general discussion around the subjects of paint and printmaking ink. We are happy to hold these events in art shops, Colleges & Universities along with art clubs and co-operatives. To begin with, the audience is… just that! They listen attentively, sometimes taking notes, sometimes listening with arms folded taking it all in. However all that changes when we hand around samples and examples!

These might be of an old Flemish paint formula compared with an Italian oil paint of the same period. We encourage people to sniff out the differences! Or it may be samples of paper from the UK, Germany and Japan, but since the purchase of a cheap portable microscope that we can plug into a lap top, the most recent comparisons (and certainly those that cause the greatest howls of laughter) are the comparisons of hands!

Originally intended to look at paper surfaces, this little device can equally well be used to look at fingernails and the general health and cleanliness of painter’s and printmaker’s hands, and the results often give rise to some useful conversations.

It may be years since you were told ‘now wash your hands’, but for any involved in handling art materials, the way in which we wash our hands is important.

The art world is increasingly taking care to avoid toxic chemicals but what is sometimes overlooked is that even if we created an entirely nontoxic world, the business of washing our hands is not without risk. Repeated cleaning of our hands during the day removes the skin’s natural greasy protection. This is true for people working in kitchens, operating theatres, florists, libraries, brass bands indeed anywhere! Even without washing our hands, absorbent materials such as paper and cloth can deplete the skins natural defences making our denuded skin more susceptible to becoming irritated by otherwise harmless reagents. That’s why some people can develop a contact dermatitis to some most unusual things; soaps, cosmetics, fragrances, jewellery, certain foodstuffs and particular plants.

So how do we protect against non-allergic skin reactions?

A few things to remember:

  1. Protect the skin’s outer protective layer by not over washing your hands.
  2. Use sensible and suitable soaps. Avoid using stronger detergents simply because they happen to be near the sink and don’t dip your hands into mineral (white spirit) because you think it will be quicker than using ‘soap and effort’!
  3. Replace the natural grease dissolved through hand washing with a good quality, unscented moisturiser.
  4. Don’t automatically go straight for the hot tap. Start cleaning your hands in cold or warm water. Very hot water simply opens the pours of your skin too soon and allows ink, paint or whatever you are handling to penetrate further into the skin.

And finally, to check you are on track, attend one of our road shows and inspect your ‘handiwork’ under our microscope!