Art Here and Now
Daring creativity happening now around the world
Making Art Without Unmaking the Environment

This post is part of Blog Action Day.

(Outside the norm, today’s post has intermixed store links to more easily show environmentally friendly art tools and materials.)

Art is still mostly a hand made thing. As most things hand-made, materials of the craft used to be natural – wood, clay, marble and natural pigments. But like other goods after the Industrial Revolution, art supplies became more toxic and harmful to the environment and artists. This is not only true for things like paints, thinners, and plastic based sculpture material, but also for photography, all the way from the roll of film to the final print. Over 10 years ago, some communities even banned film processing because of the toxic chemicals involved.

At the same time, artists want their work to be durable and high quality. How can you make high quality work while still keeping yourself and the environment safe?

  • Buy locally if possible. If you have to have supplies shipped to you, plan ahead and use ground shipping. Overnight and other types of air shipping require much more fuel, using more energy and leaving more pollution behind.
  • Try reclaimed surfaces to paint on. For instance, reclaimed masonite and other wood can be a great painting surface. You can also use scrap fabrics as canvas instead of new canvas.
  • Take photos with a digital camera. I have to be honest with you, I haven’t switched to a digital SLR yet. I still use my trusty 20 year old 35mm, but it’s time. I’ve been waiting for them to come down in price and go up in quality, and I’m about ready to make the plunge. The fact is, the manufacturing of film and developers, and run off from the chemicals that are left over, are terrible for the environment. Nothing is perfect, but digital is much more environmentally friendly. That isn’t to say you should throw away your perfectly good film camera, that’s wasteful too. But when the time is right, move on and take more eco-friendly photos.
  • Create work from recycled or discarded material. Make sculpture from auto-parts. Design clothing from discarded fabrics or dismantled clothes no one wanted. Create jewelry from old broken cellphones and eyeglasses.
  • Use environmentally friendly solvents and thinners.
  • If you have a choice of paint mediums, choose water-based paints, preferring watercolor over acrylics, and acrylics over oils. You may also be able to find soybean oil alternatives.
  • Use clay, wood or marble instead of plastic sculpture doughs.
  • Avoid aerosols and other sprayed pigment. Use spattering and other brush techniques instead, if possible.
  • Take care of yourself in your workspace. If you have to use spray pigment or varnishes, or you’re using any material that creates powder in air (such as pastels), keep good ventilation and wear a mask.
  • If you’re a musician, unless you have a reason for the long lost tradition of beautiful cover art or something else special for your fans, consider distributing digitally instead. Not only does this save energy and materials from manufacturing your CD, but also saves fuel and prevents pollution caused when they are shipped. You can do this yourself without a record deal using services like TuneCore. One day when more people have better viewing technology, filmmakers can do the same to distribute their work.

Obviously, great artists will always be more concerned with the end results. Sometimes the result will beg a process or material that is bad for the environment and the artist. But most of the time, a different, more eco-friendly choice can be made that won’t compromise the art at all.

If you have any other ideas, or links to other environmentally friendly art supplies that we might not have heard of, post them in the comments.

Read more:
Guide to Using Art & Craft Materials Safely
The Dangers of Modern Art
and last but not least
Eco Art Works, Earth Friendly Non-Toxic Art Supplies, Safe for you and the environment.

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posted by Trout Monfalco