Being an Artist with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

What is MCS?

An Environmental Illness manifesting as an unusually acute allergy-like reaction to extremely low levels of many seemingly unrelated chemicals and toxicants (triggers): VOC’s, Pollutants, Solvents, Perfumes, Fragrance, Petroleum, Aldehydes, Smoke, Pesticides, Plastic/resin, Pine products, Cleaning/hygiene products, Paint/varnish etc., and often Pollen, Mold, Dust, Pet dander, Food, and Sensory input. Aka: sensitive to the modern world.

How MCS Affects Me

I began training as an oil painter at 12, but gradually became ‘allergic’ to the paints/solvents. I switched to acrylic, but am sensitive to ammonia, formaldehyde, and petroleum (acrylic is plastic). Sensitive to most art materials, but a painter at heart, I did persistent research to find a paint (vs. another art form) that won’t trigger symptoms.


Huzzah! Art Treehouse walnut oil paints. This company makes sure the oil they use is not chemically processed at all stages of production. It's just cold-pressed walnut oil, which they water-wash to remove impurities. I can work with the paint when wet with no problems, but I notice that I’m sensitive to the ketones and aldehydes off gassing while the paintings cure.

I work solvent-free, using paint straight from the tube, or loosened with water-washed walnut oil or gel. Choosing a non-triggering painting surface was challenging. I like panels vs canvas, so I found that Ampersand makes their boards formaldehyde free.

Clean up is easy. Remove most of the paint from brushes with grapeseed oil, and wipe them on paper towels. Then wash them really well with Dr. Bronner’s Unscented soap.

I am overjoyed to have a way to produce art so that I can still bring beauty and meaning into the world.