Credit: Jack Hornady

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The Afflicted: Kathy Keler, 52, a Tenleytown painter with an eye for vivid abstract scenes.

Diagnosis: A medium threat. After 30 years as a painter, Keler has developed a physical aversion to her pigments of choice. “When I first started painting, if I was working on a big painting with cadmium red, I would get a headache,” she says. “Over time, I would get a headache faster.”

Symptoms: Respiration desperation. Three decades of working with paints in small studio spaces left Keler breathless. Over the years, her headaches progressed to coughing fits. A shift away from oil-based paints didn’t help much; seven years ago she became asthmatic. “The very first sensations of asthma, I can remember, happened after I had moved into a poorly ventilated studio in Takoma Park,” says Keler. “Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. I had never experienced that before in my life.” For a time, Keler was forced to forgo paint altogether: “There was a time when all I could make were computer prints,” she says.

Treatment: A new color scheme. Two years ago, Keler determined she was allergic to paints with cadmium and phthalocyanine. Tweaking her palette to find more lung-friendly paints removed brighter hues from the picture. “I’ve now limited myself to three colors: black, white, and burnt sienna,” says Keler. The new restrictions have helped Keler’s artistic process as well as

her breathing. “There are plenty of other colors I could use—any earth tone, really—but I’ve found that I actually like limiting myself this much,” she says. “It’s been good for me. It’s been quieter and simpler.”

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