POSTED ON: 29th of July 2020
We know that making art is great for our health and minds, but many art materials do have an impact on the environment and can create a lot of waste. Knowing a bit more and being mindful of how we use and dispose of materials can make the whole creative process even more satisfying. Here are some tips on how to make room for art in as environmentally friendly a way as possible. We'll be taking this learning back into our Room for Art workshops when they start up again after lockdown.
Basically the idea is to put as little paint or solvent down your plughole as possible. Acrylic paint down the sink means microplastic particles in our rivers and oceans and sealife. Solvents from oil painting mean poisoning watercourses and soil.
Use up all your excess paint (saves money too!)
Use leftovers to paint quick bases for future paintings. For an interesting and free surface try the leftovers on the inside of cereal boxes & other food packets, or on cardboard delivery boxes.
- Before swishing your brushes and palette knives in the water jar or the sink, wipe as much paint as possible onto rags (old t-shirts, socks... pants?!), old paper napkins or packaging... Once rags have dried use again for the same purpose. Put in the landfill bin when they’re definitely done.
- Once almost all of the paint is off, wash your brush by swirling the bristles around on the palm of your hand with a bit of soap or washing up liquid. Then rinse under the cold tap.
- You can also buy specially made brush cleaners to limit how much paint goes down the sink and to make your brushes last even longer. For example, ‘Lascaux Brush Cleaner’ is biologically degradable and is available through many art suppliers.
Downloadable pdf instructions here - https://lascaux.ch/dbFile/4333/u-6347/Lascaux%20Brushes.pdf
(Two suppliers are https://shop.apfitzpatrick.co.uk/2080-lascaux-brush-cleaner-250ml-968-p.asp and https://www.jacksonsart.com/lascaux-brush-cleaner-250ml )
It’s not necessary to wash the acrylic paint from your palette after each use – just let it dry on. Wipe off or preferably use any leftover lumps of paint then leave the palette to dry. Leave it on top of a wardrobe if you haven’t space on the kitchen table. The layers of acrylic gradually build up and every few years you have the satisfaction of peeling off a several-millimetres-thick skin of dried paint. The peel is a rather fascinating artwork in its own right! Or re-use an old glass chopping board as your palette and scrape of the acrylic when it’s dried, then dispose of the scrapings in the landfill bin.
A little bit of care makes your materials go a lot further, saving money and helping the environment:
- Put lids back on paint, pens, glues etc straight away.
- Wash brushes properly and never let paint dry onto them, especially acrylic.
- It's far too easy to waste paint, particularly acrylic which once dried is unusable. Squeeze out too little rather than too much then squeeze more as you need it. Consider using watercolour more.
- As paint on your palette starts to dry simply drip or spray on water to keep it damp.
- Before buying items for art think whether you have anything around the house which might work instead. Would that old serving plate do instead of paying for a brand new palette made of plastic? Would magazines and old wrapping do instead of buying a packet of shiny new collage papers?
DIY stay-wet palette
You can buy various ‘stay-wet’ palettes to slow your paint drying or enable you to leave acrylics overnight. Or it’s very easy to make your own DIY version, here is how one of our artists does it:
DIY stay-wet palette number 1
- Remember art doesn’t have to be permanent. There is something very freeing about making art which will only exist for a short time. You don’t have to worry about showing anyone and you don’t need to find somewhere to store it. You can focus entirely on enjoying the process of making.
- Keep any unwanted drawings and paintings then cut them up to use in collage or to create a textured ground to paint on. Or turn them into cards and notelets to write to your friends.
- If you take things apart and use them again and again you’ll also rarely run out of materials. Use your phone to document your re-use artworks if you do want to remember them, or make a drawing of them in your (recycled?) sketchbook.
- Look at the amazing ‘Land Art’ of Andy Goldsworthy which is made outdoors using borrowed pieces nature (sticks, leaves, ice...) and often lasts only until the next strong breeze or high tide.
- Look around you, there are so many things we throw away daily which could instead be used in art. Be mindful of what you put in the landfill or the recycling; could it be washed and used in sculpture? Turned inside out and drawn on? Keep a box of recycled materials to use when inspiration strikes. Keep a second box of items which inspire you. Great resources to start building up.
- Re-use as many of your containers/pots/bottles/jars/packaging/scraps of paper as possible. See how creative you can be with all that old ‘waste’! Share your ideas and tips on social media or with family and friends.
The more we all buy and ask for environmentally friendly materials the more shops and manufacturers are encouraged to make these products the norm. Here are some ideas:
- Buy LED bulbs when those in your lights and lamps next need replaced. They use far less energy so save money as well as helping the environment.
- Choose recycled or sustainable materials as much as possible. Ask art suppliers and shops which of their papers are recycled. Next best after re-used and recycled is to go for sustainable products, for example wood sourced from ‘sustainably managed forests’.
- Try to choose non-toxic supplies which are not only be better for your long term health but also for plants, animals and our whole environment. If using toxic materials be sure to keep your work space well ventilated and dispose of all materials correctly. Search online to find out how.
- Buy brushes with synthetic bristles rather than made of squirrel fur, hog hair, camel hair, etc.
- Email or social media message manufacturers of materials you already use or are considering. Ask how environmentally friendly their product is and whether they manufacture any greener alternatives. Most want to help, they want to keep you as a customer and to keep their business in line with modern environmental thinking.
- Search for “environmentally friendly art” online and share tips with us and with any artist friends!
There are endless ideas out there for reducing our environmental impact. Search online for terms like:
“environmentally friendly art”, “ethical art making”, “green/ethical/vegan art supplies”. Share your tips with us!
Here are a few we’ve liked. (Please note we are not affiliated with any of these sites/blogs/shops. Not all are UK-based.)
- Golden Paints, US producers of artist-quality acrylic paint, have an information page detailing a method for removing acrylic from your paint water, therefore preventing plastic from entering the water system - https://www.goldenpaints.com/just-paint-article3
Tips written by our workshop artists Leo du Feu, Fraser Gray, Heather Lucchesi, Sally Price and edited by Leo du Feu. Photo credits all Leo du Feu apart from 'Sweet Chestnut Leaf Hole' by Andy Goldsworthy, part of the Art in Healthcare Collection.