8 tips to save our World when youre an Artist

8 tips to save our World when youre an Artist

What's going on in the world? We hear about global warming, we experience severe weather, and we hear people saying that the point of no return is fast approaching. This is because we will not be able to save certain aspects of our planet if we keep doing what we’re doing and turning a blind eye to eco-friendly practices.

Unfortunately our longstanding traditional art practices and the materials we use can be toxic to our health and harmful to the planet. 

I’ve just finished watching another documentary on the devastation we as humans are inflicting on earth, and took some time to reflect on the fact that we as individuals often feel helpless and therefore don’t do anything about it. Although some of us have sustainable practices in place, most really have no idea where to start.

There must be something we can do, the protesters say; Greta Thunberg is certainly doing her part, she's being seen and heard. Her quotes include -

  • We must change almost everything in our current societies

  • I don't want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic”

  • Homo Sapiens have not yet failed

  • Some people say that the climate crisis is something we have all created

However, does she actually tell you what you can do? Do the documentaries tell us what we as individuals can do, to play our part? 

They tell us what is happening because of our ignorance and greed; they show us the devastating effects our throwaway society has on our planet, and they tell us what we are doing wrong but often they neglect to tell us what small changes we can start with as one person to help this global crisis. That to me is the key.

Today I am starting with me.

Even though I recycle, reuse, and have sustainable practices in place, I know that it's not enough for just me to achieve sustainability. Like you, I have a circle of influence. I know other artists and I can help spread the word in the hope they too will start utilising some of these ideas. 

I also hope that they will spread the word to their network of other artists. The more we share this knowledge the more we can help save our beautiful planet for future generations. As an artist too, why create beautiful things if no one is likely to be around to appreciate them, now theres some food for thought!

know most artists care about the environment, and want to help keep things green? So here is where you can start. 

My 8 Tips to help save the planet as an Artist

  1. Start investing in eco-friendly paints/mediums and solvents

  2. Use ethically sourced or synthetic brushes

  3. Dispose of waste art materials properly

  4. Recycling and upcycling with your art materials

  5. Start using sustainable packaging materials

  6. Try making your own paints, paper and other art supplies

  7. Utilise other eco-friendly supplies

  8. Share unneeded art supplies with other artists but most of all share these ideas

Start investing in eco-friendly paints/mediums and solvents

paints, palette knives and brushes in a messy studio

While painting with oils, I experienced chemical poisoning, not just from that, but also from being a hairdresser at the time and not being careful with handling chemicals. I chose to wash my brushes in turpentine and use my bare hands to scrub them which did not help!

Most visual artists encounter paints every day that are often toxic and dangerous to our health. This is especially true if you work in confined spaces or have been exposed to it for a long period of time.

But you also need to consider your paints' impact on the environment when choosing what you want to work with

Oil paints, watercolour paints, and acrylic paints all have very different impacts on the environment. Nowadays there are more environmentally friendly paints than ever before. 

In fact a number of art supply manufacturers are producing paints and pigments that are environmentally safe and more health-conscious. It's possible to find organic and eco-friendly products, as well as chemical-based ones that are not quite so toxic.

Oil Paints -

You can switch from linseed oil to walnut oil if you use oil paint as your medium. It has been used by artists for centuries. It is superior to linseed oil in terms of not yellowing or cracking and being easier to manipulate. In this case, there's no need for chemical solvents eitheras it makes it easy for paint to slide off the brush.

Check out https://mgraham.com a fine art supply company that has safe, high-quality, solvent-free oil s, acrylics and watercolour paints. M. Graham has brought back the traditional art of hand-crafted, small batch paint where they have utilised the historic natural bases of walnut oil and honey in their paints.

Check out Natural Earth Paint as well, they have an alternative eco-friendly oil paint although it is more suited to the hobby artists https://naturalearthpaint.com

Acrylic Paints-

There are a lot of acrylic paint ranges around that claim to be eco-friendly, but they are better suited to children's art than to professional painters as a rule. I could not find anything other than  https://mgraham.com that I considered professional quality, and while acrylic is my preferred medium, I am slowly moving back to oils and watercolours. 

Because I still have a lot of acrylic paints myself, I will continue to use them for a while. Tossing my paint without using it won't reduce pollution after all.

Cleaning up with acrylic paints means they can be washed off with some warm water, but you should also keep in mind that most acrylic paints contain a petroleum-based polymer similar to plastic, so you should avoid washing them down the drain. 

Another point to think about is when acrylic paints dry, some of their elements evaporate. As a result, water, propylene glycol, and ammonia are released into the atmosphere. In addition, some of our most common acrylic mediums will release formaldehyde as they dry. 

You might not be aware that propylene glycol a common element in acrylic paints is actually harmful to the environment, despite its use in cosmetics and food production. In order to prevent large amounts of paint washing into waterways, I recommend removing excess paint onto a tissue and using disposable paper palettes. 

Check the contents when purchasing as it should state if this toxic substance is present in the product.

Watercolour Paints - 

Let's debunk the myth that watercolors are safe because its simply not true. Watercolor paints, despite being water-based and not containing solvents, are not entirely eco-friendly. 

Yes, they are safer than acrylics and oils, but a lot of the pigments in them contain heavy metals which are also hazardous to the environment.

For an environmentally safer option check out the Lute range at JacksonsArt www.jacksonsart.com Natural plant pigments in this range of watercolours give this range remarkable vibrancy and lightfastness along with eco-friendly attributes.

 Use ethically sourced or synthetic brushes

I began using natural fibre brushes for my art practice. My favorite brush for watercolour and oil painting is a high quality sable brush, and I love hog hair for its textured brush strokes. After I began working with acrylics, I found that I preferred less visible brush strokes, which introduced me to the world of synthetic bristles and the endless possibilities they offer. Most of the brushes I own are sourced from www.rosemaryandco.com a company based in the UK. I have had some brushes from them for years. They are of exceptional quality, and I've taken good care of them. Check out my post about brushes by clicking on the image below.

While bamboo brushes are obviously more eco-friendly than brushes made from plastic, if you take good care of your brush you won't need to dispose of them into the environment. Most high quality brushes are made with wooden handles anyway; the plastic part is in the bristles.

For my watercolour work, I invest in high quality 'Caseneo' brushes from DaVinci's range of artists brushes. These brushes have a synthetic fibre that mimics the squirrel hair brushes really well. As any experienced watercolourist will tell you, one of the most critical aspects to the art of watercolour is using high quality brushes.

You can find those herewww.davinci-defet.com

paintbrush for watercolour art

 Dispose of waste art materials properly

Make sure you dispose of your art supplies with the utmost care when you get rid of them. Although watercolors are the least bad option for eco-friendliness, they're not always what an artist wants to use and as I mentioned before they can contain heavy metals.

Since oil paints aren't water soluble, you'll usually need toxic paint thinners and turpentine to clean your brushes. A good option is to use artists soap. This soap usually contains citrus oils so it smells quite nice

artists soap

I use a tissue to wipe off excess paint from my brush when working with oils now. The rest of the debris can be removed from the bristles using the artists soap and warm water. I also use disposable paper palettes to avoid the use of chemicals in cleaning up my palette.

If artists soap isn’t cutting it for you. Citrus-based cleaner can be found here www.citrusbasedcleaner.co.nz. It is effective for cleaning brushes, but also works wonders on sticky situations around the house and in the office. Trust me I’ve used it to remove many sticky labels and messes. While this product is not necessarily solvent-free, it is a gentle alternative to other more caustic options.

If you're not sure how to dispose of solvents, call your local fire department. They will be able to advise you on where to take them or what to do with them. 

Put solvent-soaked rags and papers in a metal container. Do not use plastic containers since many solvents will dissolve them. And you should never leave solvent soaked rags lying around in the hot sun, since they can literally explode and cause fires. At the end of the day, hang them in a safe place outdoors to allow evaporation.

Recycling and upcycling with your art materials

Consider recycling old canvas’s. I am sure that you like me, have a pile in storage of failed artwork that only needs a few coats of gesso to be ‘new’ again

Remember too, that you can paint on just about anything! If you don't want to buy canvas or art paper, you can always paint on recycled paper, wood panels, old cardboard, or even use fabric scraps. With a bit of imagination, you can upcycle almost anything into art.

assorted coloured chalk pastels

Another thing you can recycle is the dust off chalk pastels. You can collect and recycle the falloff. Adding a little water to this and compressing in a mold will bind it again and, with care, you can roll it into sticks to reuse.

Sharpen your art blades if you use them, rather than dispose of them. Knife sharpeners are easy to come by and it doesn’t take much to refresh a blunt blade and use it many more times.

Start using sustainable packaging materials

There are many packaging materials available today that are made with recycled materials. You can also recycle and reuse packaging material you have previously used.

When curating exhibitions, I made sure artists labeled their packaging so it could be reused if we returned their work. In this way, the gallery not only saved money, but also saved time by investing in less packaging, since boxes and bubblewrap etc were already of the correct size. This prevented more plastic and waste from being thrown away and polluting the environment. And it saved time too.

corrugated cardboard bubblewrap

The most effective alternative I've found to traditional plastic bubble-wrap is Corrugated Bubble pictured aboveIt is made entirely from post-consumer and post-industrial waste and is made of 100% recycled cardboard. The packaging is also curbside recyclable and biodegradable. You will still get the softness, protection, and safety against impacts that you want. 

Styrofoam, bubble wrap, and cardboard boxes can all be reused. You likely have many of these lying around if you get a lot of frame or portrait orders. Storing them and then reusing them when it's time to ship your work will help the environment

Also don't be afraid to grab some of these items from a trash pile if you don't have many. There are many cardboard recycling bins around and people don’t mind you taking some of it if you ask nicely.

To buy new packaging including the corrugated bubble,check out www.ecoenclose.com for a variety of eco-friendly packaging that you can use for packaging art.

Try making your own paints, paper and other art supplies

You may have seen art movies like Girl with a Pearl Earring or the Leonardo Mini Series where the artists ground their own pigments and made their own paints. 

I know, its not as easy as it sounds. However, if you want to be environmentally aware and start practising sustainability as an artist this can be a helpful way to do your bit. I think it would also be fun says she who hasn’t tried it yet! But hey optimism is important.

If you want to look into purchasing high quality pigments to make your own paints check out this site www.earthpigments.com they supply non toxic pigment powders and mica products which are made from minerals.

And there are many tutorials on how to make your own paint. These are obviously designed to be different with each type of paint but here are some basic tutorials on acrylic and oil paints from Wikihow -

https://www.wikihow.com/Make-Acrylic-Paint

https://www.wikihow.com/Make-Oil-Paint

What about Paper?

You can make your own paper out of recycled materials and paper, which opens up a world of creative possibilities. All you need is an old blender, a few screens, and some know-how. Having personally tried this, I found the results to be both fascinating and unique. 

As I use mixed media in my paintings, having access to different types of paper is invaluable. Here in New Zealand it has become increasingly difficult to get different types of paper especially art or craft type ones. So making your own is a good idea right!

Think about how you can add interesting textures with things like fabric, seeds, pressed flowers, grasses, glitter, loose thread or in fact anything you might be throwing away. The ideas are limitless

Here is a tutorial on how to make your own paper and from there you can experiment to create unique papers for your own art practice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RR_218EtLJU

There are tutorials on how to make paper without a blender and/or screen but I feel this one creates much better paper and covers the process generally.

And for a more comprehensive look at making eco-friendly art supplies, there is this book that covers much more for an artist wishing to be more sustainable. Click on the image to go purchase this book

the organic artist book



 Utilise other eco-friendly supplies

As artists, we should consider everything we use. There are more earth-friendly and natural options than we realize.

There are other options if you want to paint on canvas, such as raw canvas or linen or some synthetic blends. 

I have found however, in my search into what has the worst impact on the environment that it is fast fashion or more to the point the production of cotton. How does this affect your canvas you ask? 

The problem is that the production of cotton is one of the biggest issues we are facing in terms of impact on the environment. A documentary I watched a while ago showed how much water is used to produce cotton and the devastating effects on lakes and waterways, completing depleting them. As the majority of canvas is made of cotton its obviously going to part of that. 

With paper there is bamboo, hemp, and flax as other options rather than cotton based ones.

hemp and bamboo plants

So what about bleaching? One of the most detrimental aspects of creating art paper is the bleaching process. Choosing Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) or Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) if its possible is the better way to go. Chlorine is used to make the paper white but isn’t vital for production. 

Think about using reusable items too. You can reuse rags to wipe brushes and clean up spills, and use old cups, jars or containers to dip your brushes in when needing water or mediums or cleaning up. Try using a paper paint palette for mixing when using acrylics and oils.

With watercolours you don’t have to buy fancy palettes, you can use an old plate to mix your paints on. Most watercolour sets come with a mixing palette but these are usually plastic which is another environmental pollutant. 

I strongly advocate the use of disposable paper palettes myself. These come in sheets similar to baking paper and once a session or three has finished you simply tear off the sheet and dispose. This is preferable to washing down the sink.

Buying secondhand, easels, palettes, smocks, and the like, can all be found secondhand if you know where to look. Check your local thrift and secondhand stores for slightly-used art supplies before you start – you might be surprised by what you find.

Then there is general cleaning, not just your house but also your art studio, so this leads us to general cleaning supplies. These days you can get eco-friendly cleaning products from your local supermarket. I like the Earthwise range here in New Zealand https://earthwise.co.nz but there are many more available worldwide they’re not expensive and just doing this helps the environment.

range of eco friendly cleaning supplies

Share unneeded art supplies with other artists

but most of all share these ideas

By sharing unneeded art supplies with other artists you help cut down on environmental damage. I often find I have items I never end up using or I change my mind on a product and move onto something else. Don’t throw it out or wash it down the sink, offer it up to your network, theres always someone needing things.

End of the day, by utilizing eco-friendly products and recycling as much as possible, we artists can contribute by doing our part, to do right by the planet while we create art for the world.

We all can help if we try some of these ideas and talk to each other about what we can do. Even the smallest contribution counts.

Please share this information with your circle of influence, (Share buttons below.) All of us know other artists and each one of us wants to contribute to saving our planet.

If we all work together we can make a difference. 







Posted: Friday 11 March 2022

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