what on earth do a beaver and a top hat have to do with job-related illness?
"He's as mad as a hatter..." Those of you who were blessed with a British granny may have heard this expression before. Perhaps, while reading Lewis Carol's Alice In Wonderland, you wondered why the character in his book was called the "Mad" (meaning crazed or crazy) Hatter.
The innocent seeming beaver in the photo above, was, in fact, the cause of much unintentional anguish, as was the equally innocent but possibly more culpable top hat.
As a Canadian familiar with my country's history, I realize we owe much of the initial exploration of this land to the early fur traders, in search of riches to send back to Europe.
I first heard about printer's disease, or printmakers' disease when I took my first studio course in the art of making prints. Though printmaking is no longer a strictly male domain, I have included it here because few women worked as print-makers until modern times. health and beauty
Often what we refer to as a "print" is a work of art that has been reproduced from an original work by photographic or mechanical means. Strictly speaking, these are, in fact, called reproductions.
Printmaking is a form of reproduction, true, but one that relies on the artistry and technique of the print-maker to achieve its end result. In the art of printmaking, prints may be a one-off item - one that will never be reproduced. Most often though, the original is meant to be reproduced, and has been created specifically to be reproduced in print form. The true art of printmaking relies on the artist's ability to reproduce the work, down to the last tiny mark, as exactly in the first print pulled as in the last. health and beauty
Prints can be made through a variety of means, from hand cut plates, often using linoleum or wooden blocks which are carved with the image and then inked. The print-maker will then apply a sandwich of paper or cloth and run the block through a printing press to force the ink onto the paper or cloth to be printed. The resulting image is referred to as a "wood cut" or "lino cut" after the surface into which the image was carved.
Another common type of printing process involves silk-screen printing. In this method, various blocking substances are applied to a screen. Then the screen is placed over the paper or cloth to be imprinted, ink is applied and "pulled" across the screen with a squeegee. If another color is to be applied, the imprinted material must be allowed to dry, and the blocking medium removed or altered for the next color to be applied. This process continues until the image is complete.
There are many other steps involved, and many other types of printmaking, including acid etch, photo-lithography, and stone lithography, or stone etch which remains my personal favorite, as well as the least toxic of the lot.
All of these processes involve either carving or etching a design into a surface - metal, stone, wood, lino - so that it will hold the ink that will transfer the design many times over onto cloth or paper. Newspaper printing used to use both typesetting and printmaking processes to produce your morning paper. All these processes involve the use of chemicals, some of which are extremely toxic, including the weak acid solution so often used to etch metal plates.
Not only are the chemicals and inks used to create the prints toxic, but the substances used to clean the plates are a witches brew of pathogens, carcinogens, teratagens, and mutagens.
It was not uncommon for the print-makers of old to loose all their teeth, and chronically spit blood as their jaw bones and the cartilage in their nasal passages were gradually eaten away by continues exposure to acid fumes. The damage to their lungs and internal organs caused terrible agonizing deaths, and one wonders, given the life expectancy and painful end awaiting them, why anyone would ever take up such an occupation. This continued into the early twentieth century, until some safety measure began to evolve. health and beauty
Quickly indoctrinated into the safety-first mind-set, we routinely wore non-solvent impermeable gauntlets, breathing gear and worked under a fume hood while using some of the chemicals, which included benzene, toluene, and hydrochloric acid, to name a few.
Happily this is no longer the case, nowadays. Many modern inks are far less toxic than even the ones I learned to use, and great strides are being made in health and safety. Studios are routinely equipped with massive ventilation and air purifying systems, and all drying racks are required to be situated under fume hoods. Sadly though, print-makers still fall ill to many diseases such as Hashimoto's Disease, an endocrine disorder, only now being linked to long term exposure to some of the substances they routinely use to create their art. health and beauty