Green might not be every artist’s favourite colour, but with our planet being in the state it’s in because of destructive human practices, “green” should definitely underpin every artist’s environment and process.
That being said, instead of preaching about eco-friendliness and saying words like “should” and “shouldn’t”, which nobody likes to hear, let me tell you a story…
As an acrylic painter, my beloved medium is one big splash of polymers. I paint with environmental enemy #1: plastic 😦 While I will deviate away from good old environmentally unfriendly acrylic one day, it’s not going to happen anytime soon (for a number of reasons), so there are a few things that I’m doing to offset my horrible plastic footprint.
I hope this gives other artists something to think about.
1. Eco-friendly studio
My studio is in a 100+-year-old south-facing house with wooden floors, a high ceiling, and a big sash window. Lovely. Not only is this inspiring, it’s also super energy-efficient.
Cool air: If I time the opening and closing of the window right, a cool breeze comes in during the morning, and by closing it at 11h00, it keeps the hot afternoon air of the Little Karoo (I ❤ South Africa) outside. The high ceiling also keeps the studio nice and cool. On the 40-degree days, I don’t paint in the afternoons because it’s just too hot anyway, and my acrylic paint dries directly on the brush!
In winter time, the studio is admittedly very cold, but at least it keeps me awake when I paint 🙂 I don’t use a heater in the room because it would dry out the paint, so I’m usually at work in front of the easel in a beanie, fingerless gloves, a scarf, and about four long-sleeves. And a blanket. And two pairs of socks.
Natural light: The aforementioned sash window faces south, so there’s no sunrise or sunset that over lights the room, but the natural lighting that does come in is perfect for painting without having to use electric lights during the daytime. When I do need to paint at night, I use a 5W cool LED light for ambient lighting and a 60W bulb if I need to work with yellows and reds.
Reused materials: I have two easels, both made of wood. I also have a large horizontal workspace comprising 2 trestles that my dad made for me from old pallets (upcycling!), and the table portion is from an old plain headboard that was just going to get chucked out. My chair is made of untreated pine, and there are a bunch of other stained wooden bookshelves and a writing desk – the kind of stuff that can definitely be reused/upcycled if I ever decided to change my studio configuration.
2. Water-based painting
While oil painters may argue that oil paint is made with linseed oil, which is natural and therefore better than acrylics, cleaning up oil paint with turps and thinners means releasing toxic chemicals into the environment if not handled properly. Neither medium is necessarily better than the other without the mindfulness about the artist’s impact on the environment.
Since acrylic paint is a water-based medium, I am aware that mindlessly washing, rinsing and spilling can use up a lot more water than necessary. So I have a system:
Scratch paper: Before rinsing my brushes, I get as much paint off them as possible by dabbing and wiping them on a fairly permanent piece of scratch paper that’s on my desk. (I may just end up framing it as an abstract work when there’s no paper showing through anymore…)
Rinsing system: Instead of one big jar of water that gets dirty quickly, I use two to four containers (all reused, of course). The first one is for rinsing most of the paint off the brush, and it usually stays quite muddy. The second and third (incrementally) are used to really get the brush clean before going back to the canvas. (See below.) I try to rinse as much as possible and my water jars can last a few days before I need to empty and rinse them.
As you can see, all my tools and jars are reused from somewhere else. Notice the plastic knives and swirl sticks… yup, I’m that weirdo that always keeps the plastic utensils from takeaways and the stirring sticks from the coffee bar. Those utensils are already a few years old, I’ll have you know…
3. Acrylic paints
This is in no way a sponsored post, but I will say this: I made my choice of acrylic brand based very much on a few things on this label:
Genuine Heritage Craft Acrylic is made locally, which means there were no diesel fumes emitted by any ship transporting the paint across oceans. The paint is also non-toxic and contains low VOCs, which, while not completely eco-friendly, is close enough for now. They also stock a slow-drying acrylic, which is eco-friendly, and I can’t wait to try it out (even if it means mixing primaries, which is not my favourite thing to do).
One of the benefits of acrylic paint being a plastic is that it makes cleaning/reusing palettes a breeze. When acrylic dries, it dries to a pliable plastic that can just be pulled off the surface of the container/palette, like this:
Although I will say this: I try not to have any leftover paint. In winter time, when the air is cold and wet and doesn’t dry the paint out at all, I paint directly from the bottles and blend on the canvas.
As an artist, my agenda is to use my personal expression to make people aware of their emotions and to colour the world. Maybe I also want use my art to make statements about animal welfare and the destruction of the environment, but it would be hypocritical of me to do that when I unconsciously discard plastic, paper, and other recyclables while plying my craft. So I do what I can to leave as small a footprint as possible while looking for new methods and materials that will help me to lessen my environmental impact even more.
Feeling green? Add your voice in the comments 🙂