Note: This is Part 2 of my ‘Art and Sustainability” series. If you would like a quick introduction on the subject, I suggest heading over to Part 1. Otherwise, continue on. Today, we’ll be discussing sustainability within the studio.

Part 2: Developing an Eco-Friendly Practice

Sustainability—a simple concept, yet rather difficult to execute. Promoted as “easy,” it’s a term overused and riddled with contradictory information. In other words, it’s common to make mistakes. I do all the time. For example, when I was working on an eco-friendly public art project—where I had spent weeks gathering and contacting local businesses for second-hand scraps (to ensure the majority of our project consisted of recycled materials), I made an error. I was so focused on making sure everything was upcycled, I ended up having to spray paint some of our items so they would be the appropriate color. And like clockwork, someone quickly pointed out the VOC emissions of spray paint (in other words, tell me just how bad it is). It was something I already knew, but failed to consider when working on the project. However, I’m glad they brought up. I learned from the experience and moved on. The point is, no practice is perfect. The best thing to do is simply try. Then, when you fail, get back up.

Now, let’s get into specifics!

How to:
Here’s a list of ways you can make your practice more “green.” I’d recommend picking one, and once it becomes a habit, try another. Everyone’s practice is unique, so do whatever is within your means. These are just things I’ve found helpful within my own practice ☺

  1. Before purchasing materials, check out thrift stores. I know it’s not always possible depending on what you need, but when it is, it’s a huge help—both in saving money as well as reducing waste. In particular, I do it when purchasing fabric, finding it to be an inexpensive option. Plus, it gives me the most variety. I’ll even purchase old t-shirts and cut them up to fit my desired needs. Sometimes you have to be creative, but it sure saves a lot of money!
  2. When thrift shops fail, go local. It’s tempting to shop online, particularly with the convenience of Amazon, however I find I make smarter decisions when I’m at an actual store. I’m able to get assistance and see the materials firsthand. Plus, it’s not only better for the environment, it’s better for the local economy. My personal favorite in Spokane is Art Salvage, because I enjoy their fabric selection, however other great places include: Spokane Art Supply, Peters Hardware, Beyond Beads North, Paradise Fibers and Paint in my Hair, as well as plenty of others.
  3. Develop a reusable rag system instead of using paper towels. This is something most artists already know, however it’s still worth mentioning. It’s where you have a designated pile of rags just for art making, and only using those for clean-up. Pretty simple, just be aware of any harmful chemicals that need proper disposal—this is contingent on one’s personal practice. I’m fortunate to not encounter such materials, however I know that’s not the case for all.
  4. Make your own materials. This one opens up the door to some pretty fun experimentation. The reason fabric is so affordable for me is I can get away with using old sheets, and then developing the patterns myself. I know a lot of artists who also create their own paints and dyes using things such as food scraps. In fact, my co-worker recently made some pretty cool tie-dye using her very own DIY dye. Google natural dye using vegetables if you’re interested!
  5. Always read disposal procedures on your materials. You’d be surprised what’s safe and…well…not so safe to throw away (or wash down the sink).
  6. If you’re into earth art, be considerate of your surroundings. Don’t move or collect natural materials from your state or national parks. Plus, be considerate of natural wildlife. I use a lot of plants myself within my own practice and found the best places to collect are from local flower shops (ask for their scraps), yard waste bins, as well as backyards!
  7. Make your own cleaning supplies. This one is by far the easiest and most affordable option. Just google DIY cleaners. My favorite is a simple all-purpose cleaner of 1 part vinegar, 3 parts water, a few drops of essential oil. Shake it up in a spray bottle and you’re good to go.
  8. Be conscious of your waste. Some ideas to reduce your waste include using reusable rags, protecting surfaces with tarps instead of newsprint, and remembering a little goes a long way in terms of paints and inks. However, if you do happen to get too much ink out (it happens, more often than I would like to admit) you can always save it via old jars. Speaking of old jars, start collecting old spaghetti and peanut butter containers! To remove their labels, just plop them in some boiling water with a handful of baking soda. The label peels right off.
  9. Lastly, research the ingredients within your materials before using them. In particular, avoid heavy metals, bleach, and other toxic ingredients whenever possible. Look for labels such as non-toxic, cruelty free, recycled, and FSC certified. Honestly, whatever you’re using, just google a “non-toxic” version or ask your local supplier for suggestions. There are usually a few options to choose from.

Summary:
Artists should consider using recycled materials, buying eco-friendly products, disposing waste properly, and executing earth work projects in a conscious manner. By using such materials, artists can reduce the waste they create and limit the depletion of natural resources. Most supplies come in environmentally friendly forms, including the table that holds the supplies to the paints, paper, and pencils the artist uses. And fortunately, technology has advanced well enough that these art products have the same quality as those made of new materials, so artists don’t have to worry about it hindering their practice.

As environmental issues continue, artists have an opportunity to encourage positive consumerism, giving the public the ability to buy eco-friendly artwork. Not only that, but as the demand for eco-friendly art rises, so do the financial advantages. Thus, environmentally friendly work not only negates the effects humans are having on this planet but benefits the artist.

Art has the power to create positive change. However, it first must start in the studio.

All photos by Hannah Pomante

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this blog belong solely to the Spokane Art School Artist-in-Residence, and not necessarily to the Spokane Art School.