A safe pair of hands

This is a guest blog featuring Elma Hogeboom


My name is Elma Hogeboom, a sustainable artist from the Netherlands. I strive towards a sustainable lifestyle in every walk of my life. Art is a huge passion of mine and I apply sustainability to my passion too. After a long painstaking research, I found out that sustainable materials to create pieces of art were either very scarce or non-existent! It got me thinking: in this day and age, how in the world can we not transition to sustainable alternatives in art? Connecting art and sustainability requires creativity and unconventional approaches, a challenge that I love! So I started my journey in sustainable art.


A few weeks ago I discovered something called eco glitter, it sparkles in all colors and is completely biodegradable and eco-friendly. All those pictures of sparkling hands and eyelids..

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. – yes, it seems perfect for make-up too! – Now I’m not really the ‘over-the-top makeup’ kind of gal, but if I were, I would definitely stock up big time!

While searching Instagram for my daily dose of inspiration a while back – honestly, I sometimes feel like a coffee addict looking for their next cup… – I suddenly found myself flabbergasted. I saw a movie clip, you may have seen it yourself, of an artist having some sort of liquid metal in the palm of their hands. The first thing that popped into my mind was ‘mercury poisoning’, and since I didn’t see a caption of what the metal was, I started reading the comments. People were amazed and horrified at the same time. Some stated that it could be gallium, which they claimed was less big of a deal. Nevertheless, I clearly saw the grayish stain the metal left on the hands, which didn’t seem all that appealing to me and I quickly decided I definitely wouldn’t try this one at home…

After this incident, I started thinking: what else did I see on Instagram that might not be such a good idea to try myself? I knew that I had painted with my bare hands in the past, inspired by intuitive artists and their beautifully captivating pictures of bare hands covered in paint. I stopped doing this because I thought it might have a negative impact on my health. However, as this seems to be some sort of trend nowadays, it seemed like a good idea to share why I quit painting with my bare hands myself.

As a sustainable artist, I spend lots time researching the materials I use in my art practice. I read about pros en cons for the materials I use, with regard to their eco-friendliness, impact on life on this planet and the circumstances under which it has been produced; talking about light reading! But sustainability also includes thinking about my own health, especially when I’m in direct contact with chemicals like paints.

Now, many (professional) paints contain heavy metals, like cadmium, cobalt, manganese, zinc and lead, that not only have beautiful colors, but which can be very toxic too! And these metals can cause severe health issues, like cancer and metal poisoning, when we fail to handle them with the proper precautions. For example: inhaling cadmium may cause lung cancer. Boy! I was I glad to have read about this before even considering using my spray bottles with cadmium-based paints!

But while diving deep into the product safety data sheets of the major paint manufacturers – honestly, it can really feel like reading Chinese sometimes- I also found out that they warn about prolonged or repeated skin-contact with their paints. This really got me thinking: is it safe to frequently use my hands as painting tools? Especially when I’m not 100% sure the paints I use are safe? My conclusion?

1) I’ll try to avoid some paints/pigments I’m not comfortable with using and

2) I’d rather stick to that good old paintbrush

Better to be safe than sorry, right? And if I do feel the urge to let the child in me indulge from time to time, I’ll go with some non-toxic alternatives like eco- and child-friendly finger paints, or better yet, make them myself with some natural ingredients. ‘Cause, hey, we all need a spark of childhood memories from time to time, right?

That’s it for now. Safe painting my friends! And if you liked this post, please check out my blog on www.elmahogeboom.nl/blog or follow me on Instagram (@elmahogeboom). Talk to you soon!


DISCLAIMER: This article concerns itself with the common sense safety aspects of art materials and art safety in general. The intent of this article is merely to raise individual awareness of some of the issues involved and to encourage the reader to take steps in learning more about the factors involved with the hazards associated with artist’s materials. The author may change the contents of this document at any time, either in whole or in part.