Greening your Art-making

Greening your Art Making is about rethinking the way you work and exploring new materials and techniques for eco-friendly artmaking. It can be a very exciting and interesting process that leads you down pathways in your art that you never considered before.

Why change our ways?

Many materials that we as artists use endangers the health of our loved ones and ourselves, pollutes the air, pollutes the soil and uses natural resources very wastefully and unsustainably.

This can happen anywhere within or even throughout the process of:

  • mining (pigments),
  • manufacturing (our paints, brushes, paper, canvas, etc. ALL needs to be manufactured and is often mass-produced with great impacts on the natural environment),
  • the raw materials used for our brushes, glues and paints are very often harmful and cruel – resulting in the exploitation and murder of millions of animals.
  • our use of the products (spraying, painting, burning, printmaking, glueing, creating through a variety of different techniques) could pollute our air and water while we use them,
  • and our disposal of our waste (where does your waste end up?)

A lot of our materials and processes also contributes to the destroying of natural habitats, which in turn contributes to loss of biodiversity through the extinction of animals. We might deny our responsibility as ‘one little artist among many’, but the sooner each of us starts to make our difference, the sooner it has a huge impact collectively. Don’t forget that as artists we aim to stay socially relevant, and react through our work to current affairs. The social, political and environmental crisis is our playfield, our inspiration and something we just can’t ignore without risking to seem ignorant, self-serving or uneducated.

The guide or aim to changing the way you do things are not to get intimidated, obsessed or aggressive about anything, but by taking small, managable and sustainable steps towards working more responsibly, safely and mindfully.

And enjoy the journey! Art is life, and the changes you’re making is a tribute to life…

Some guidelines to get you started:

  • Use natural tempera paint made with clay instead of synthetic chemicals or preservatives
  • Use vegetable pigments/dyes like beet juice, turmeric, spinach and blueberries
  • Try keep away from solvents and materials with chemical contents.
  • Soak old paintbrushes in hot vinegar for 30 minutes and they’re good as new
  • Think about the impact of your work on the environment. Do you know what happens to your waste? Do you know where your materials actually derive from?
  • Reseach about the chemicals in your materials, and find ways to work without chemicals!
  • Explore different materials and techniques in your work. If you struggle to explore new possibilities on your own, join an arts group or go for a workshop.
  • Use biodegradable materials as far as possible
  • Use recycled materials when possible, but also be aware of the amount of bleach used in the recycling process.
  • Choose cruelty-free brushes
  • Choose wood, charcoal, paper & other wood products that are FSC certified (Forest Stewardship Council)
  • Use discarded or ‘waste’ items to create tools, containers and other handy things for your studio
  • Use discarded or ‘waste’ items to create new and unique artworks
  • Separate recyclable waste materials from your trash bin, and take them to a depot
  • Recycle your food packaging! Your actions outside of your studio has just as much an impact on our environment as your life inside of the studio.
  • Experiment with making your own paints
  • Make your own glue, gesso and other materials!
  • Find a framer who uses sustainably sourced (FSC) wood
  • When printing, try use printers that recycle, and uses recycled paper and plant-based inks
  • Always keep the environment in mind when exhibiting, selling and packaging with the environment in mind. Even small changes, when compounded, make a big difference.

Cleaning in your studio

Changing the way you make your art – whether for your own health or to lessen your impact on the environment – does not only apply to the way you make your artworks. You could be painting with natural homemade paints, work with plant dyes or even work with bits of waste that you collect from sidewalks, but still have an incredibly detrimental impact on your own health and the health of our environment due to the chemicals you use to clean your studio.

If you’re wondering what I mean, go and read this information (click here) on the Spotless Living website. Also read ‘Does it Matter‘. Spotless Living has been an incredible tool in my own life, giving useful guidelines and alternatives for personal care and household cleaning. Here’s some of those guidelines that applies to your work and cleaning in the studio.

To clean paintbrushes

  • Soften paintbrush bristles by soaking in a cup of hot vinegar for about 30 minutes.
  • Then sprinkle on a little bicarb and stir around.
  • You can also use soap and water to wash them and get all the paint out.
  • Rinse with warm water.

To clean hard dry paintbrushes that you forgot to clean

  • Soak the brush in vinegar for an hour or so until you can bend the bristles.
  • Fill a saucepan with vinegar until the brush bristles are covered.
  • Bring the vinegar to a boil and let it simmer for a couple of minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for a minute before removing the brush.
  • Gently comb the brush with your fingers. The paint will still be attached but will fall away as you comb it.
  • Rinse the brush under running water to release the loose paint.
  • Depending on how much paint there was you may need to repeat steps 5 and 6 a couple of times, but before you know it your paint brush will be ready for another round!

Also read William Burgoil’s method to clean his oil paint brushes.

General tips

  • With some of your cleaning you could just use water. Try cleaning with water first, before reaching for a bottle of cleaning liquid.
  • When using non-chemical, natural cleaning materials you can empty your bucket into the garden.
  • Use old rags or microfibre cloths for most cleaning jobs. Soft cloths are best for wood and metal surfaces.
  • An old toothbrush is great to clean some of your artmaking tools

Using glass as mixing palette, monoprints or other printmaking?

Window and glass cleaner

  • Mix equal parts of water and vinegar (or lemon juice) in a spray bottle.
  • Alternatively use vinegar infused with lemon or other citrus fruit peels. Simply add some peels to a bottle of vinegar and allow them to soak for a few days before using. The more peels and the longer you let them soak the more powerful and fragrant the infusion will become.
  • Spray onto windows or any glass surface and wipe clean with a rag, or buff to a shine with crumpled newspaper.
  • Or, spray glass with 3% (10 volume) hydrogen peroxide and wipe with a clean rag

Messed on the walls while being wildly creative?

Wall wash

  • To clean painted walls or painted woodwork, mix one cup of vinegar, one cup of bicarb and three cups of warm water.
  • Wipe dirt from the surfaces with a soft cloth dipped in the mixture, and rinse with clean water.
  • Use this same mixture to prepare walls or surfaces for painting.

And what about using cruelty-free, animal-free materials? Read our article on Vegan Art >>

If you create sculptures, why not consider using wood from invasive species in your area? Or using discarded items from a local business or your own home?

Sources:Spotless Living:

Further reading: