four walls, no walls, you and me.

Green Art
November 3, 2009, 5:42 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Inspired by my friend Sheena’s new blog, Granola Tendencies, I decided I would do a post on eco alternatives in Art.

One of the big caveats with art is that it’s so damn expensive! In school, people would always comment on how lucky I was that I almost never had to spend the couple hundred dollars on textbooks for class. What they didn’t realize was that in the course of a semester, I would end up spending several times that amount on art supplies! One great way of being eco-friendly is to simply consume less. By this I mean ways you can use what you have around you to make art, as opposed to running out and buying new art materials every time you have a new project. This is very eco-friendly in that it reduces waste and doesn’t contribute to the enormous amounts of energy and materials used in producing new products, etc…

Chopsticks: Not only for eating noodles, they make great drawing utensils. You can also use forks or spatulas or credit cards to lay blocks of texture. In Learning by Heart, Sister Corita suggests an exercise where one makes drawings using only chopsticks and india ink. The combination of using something as simple as ink and a chopstick really invites a sense of play (which is crucial to any creative endeavor) since the way we feel toward a chopstick is not the same way one might feel toward say, a #12 Kolinsky Sable brush, for example. 

Spoons: A good spoon or ladle can go a long way. Use these instead of a brayer for small prints. If you have larger prints, you can use an empty can covered with cloth for the same purpose. In fact, many useful things can be found in a kitchen utensil drawer. A butter knife makes an excellent bone folder.

Glue: Why buy glue when you can easily make it? Wheat paste has been around for centuries and is a favorite among street artists worldwide. It uses just 3 common household items: water, flour and sugar. There are lots of different recipes for making wheat paste but here’s one if you don’t want to sift through google. They are all pretty much the same, and will be good for use for up to a week. Also consider this as an alternative to store bought Modge Podge or epoxy resins for sealing.

Buy used: Nowadays, a lot of the art you see is digital. This means digital cameras, software, tools, etc. Consider buying these things used instead of new. Technology moves fast and it’s important to keep up, but unless you are a pro and making money off your art, then it doesn’t really seem reasonable to buy that new $3K digital camera or $2k for that pen tablet. Remember, it’s what you do with the tools you have. Although I may want the new 5D Mark II or D700, if I don’t know how to compose a nice picture to begin with, no amount of vibration reduction, vertical horizon, autofocus, etc…is going to make it any better than if i shot it using a disposable camera. And think of all the plastic you saved from the dump by buying used! Also, many programs come with multiple downloads or users. Consider splitting one among friends or searching for a single user from places like craigslist or eBay. 

Notebooks: I LOVE notebooks. This is one area that’s really hard for me. Every artist needs a good notebook. I have a reserve of several nicer notebooks/journals for the stuff I want to keep or remember but for quick notes and to-do lists – the stuff that eventually gets tossed and recycled – I use scrap paper. At work we go through a lot of paper, and almost all of it is one-sided. I keep a pile of this on my desk for quick notes or things that I know I won’t need to keep around for a while. You can also gather up all this paper and bind it into a nice little notebook as well. 

Pens: Ok, so this is me on my soapbox for a minute. As much as I love notebooks, I also LOVE fountain pens. They are very eco-friendly in that you only need ONE good fountain pen and it will last you for potentially your entire lifetime. At the very least it will outlast your cheapy disposable several times over. Just think of all the plastic that goes into making disposable pens – and then think of your pen collection. How many of those pens are disposable? I would guess that for most Americans, almost all the pens they use are disposable.  All that ends up somewhere. Although I have several fountain pens, my favorite is a super cheapy one made by a Chinese company (Hero) that I picked up in Thailand for around $2 USD. Similar models (Hero 330) are available here for only $5. Noodler’s inks are also relatively inexpensive at around $10-15/bottle for 3oz which is more than enough ink to last. That’s a $15-20 investment, which I’m sure is around or less than what most of us spend in the course of a year on pens. Not to mention all the other benefits of fountain pens such as improved penmanship, less strain on your hand, etc… Fountain pens now come in many different nib sizes so illustrators have a variety of line widths to choose from.

Canvas: Yes, sometimes, you will need to go buy that huge canvas for that huge project, but sometimes, you don’t. Consider other materials that are readily available and free/cheap. Adam Neate made a career out of painting on cardboard. Consider this, along with wood, glass, vinyl, fabric, basically any surface. Many of these items can be found in thrift stores for cheap. Now, with the huge popularity of Street Art, the entire city is your canvas! Painting on an alternative surface also pushes you to think more about the nature of that surface. It engages your creative juices in a different way than painting on canvas or canvas board.

These are but a few ideas. Feel free to tweak these to suit your needs and resources. Also don’t be afraid to build your own tools. If you have any more ideas, let me know and I’ll post them here. More to come on eco-friendly art in future posts as well as different topics to consider.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Jan, I love this post. I want it on my blog. Can I repost it in its entirety. List you as the author and link it to your website. I think this is amazing!!!! Or, I can post the first few paragraphs and then tell people to come read it on your blog. Its just really helpful stuff.

Comment by SLY

Yes! Of course!

Comment by jantirak

awww Janny Jan, I laughed when I got to the notebook part, because when I think of you, I DO think of how much you love a good notebook! Also, I’ve found old paintings at goodwill and just reused the canvas. It’s kind of fun, you get a texture and color palette pre created underneath your painting. (although I did feel guilty at first about painting over someone elses painting… but I got over it)

Comment by sumbum

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