Earth Day is Monday, April 22nd. As an artist and a business owner, I think a lot about how to be as environmentally conscious as possible. Like many of you, no doubt, it often feels like we are trying to choose the lesser of the evils. But I believe there really is a lot we can do if we put our minds to it. Necessity has always been the mother of invention. In my business, Outside the Box Creation, we try to purchase products that are as green as possible. We avoid specific pigment/colors in paints like Cadmium Red, Cadmium Orange, and Cadmium Yellow that contain cadmium sulfide and cadmium selenide. We don’t use art supplies like true oil paints, that need to be cleaned up with solvents that are toxic, like paint thinner. Now there are options in water soluble oil paints that require no solvents!
We’re transitioning to compostable water cups and paint mixing trays. Other supplies, like our plastic palettes are re-usable an infinite number of times. We use unbleached kraft paper as a packing material. One very positive development is that many of the supplies that are potentially toxic now must carry warnings, so they are easier to identify.
Besides avoiding toxic chemicals and transitioning to recyclable and compostable products when possible, how can we continue to do art in environmentally friendly ways? One obvious way is to create art from recycled materials. Last year, our April Kids’ Box was a project made from totally recycled materials. We purchased the materials from two local creative re-use centers. The ones we used were Tinkertopia in Tacoma, WA and Seattle ReCreative.These types of places are popping up all over the country. Very often, they offer workshops. They are also great places to donate your unused art and craft supplies instead of putting them in the landfill. Here on Whidbey Island, we have Arts & Craft Supply Swaps periodically at the community center. If you can’t find such a thing in your community, perhaps you could start one?
There are quite a number of professional artists making amazing artwork from recycled objects. Hopefully we will see these artists gaining more and more popularity and publicity! I enjoy Michelle Reader’s work. Here are six environmental artists who work for social change. In March, 140 artists came together in London’s The Other Art Fair with a theme of creating a Greener Future. One super interesting part was an initiative called Upcycle, where people could bring old artwork in and have an artist re-work it for a nominal fee. I’m sure most of us have an old print or painting that we no longer enjoy. That is such an innovative idea!
Using recycled materials could inspire us to paint on non-traditional surfaces like old book pages, masonite, cork, discarded building materials, whatever you have laying around. Striving to be eco-friendly is also inspiring people to create their own pigments and dyes from materials in nature. Here’s an article on planting your natural dye garden. There are quite a few people doing what they call eco-printing right now. It involves using plant materials to print on paper and fabric using just the naturally occurring pigments in the plant materials.
If you have young children, there are a growing number of eco-friendly art and craft materials available for those ages. These range from paints made from vegetables to soy based products and beeswax crayons. Mindful Momma has a great comprehensive list. You can also make your own natural modeling clay. One thing I liked to do with my kids was finger painting with pudding. Unfortunately some of the eco-friendly supplies are quite a bit more expensive than the mass produced traditional arts and crafts supplies. Hopefully as more and more of us begin purchasing the eco-friendly versions and less people purchase the traditional versions, the balance will shift. I firmly believe that we, as consumers, need to put pressure on companies to adopt more eco-friendly ways. Using our wallets to drive change is one of the most effective ways. If you have found new environmentally friendly ways to create art, please comment and share!