I aim to demonstrate sustainable practices in my work, using environmentally responsible materials where possible. As an artist interested in ecopsychology, I hope to encourage the relationship and connection between ourselves and nature, but at the same time to raise awareness of the sensitivity of natural ecosystems and minimise disturbance by human interaction, promoting the conservation of threatened habitats and reserves. Environmental stewardship takes into account the impact of work practices in these places and beyond to the general environment, considering the suitability of materials, processes and approach.
‘Green’ Studio Practice
Oil paint contains environmentally sensitive pigments which should not be wasted. It is an expensive medium which hardens if left exposed and quickly becomes unusable. My system for minimum waste and environmental impact is as follows:
I use a glass palette laid over a white sheet of paper. This makes a strong, non-absorbent base with a large surface for mixing which is easy to clean by wiping and any hard residue can be easily scraped off with a blade.
Oil paint doesn’t dry through evaporation, but hardens through oxidisation. It can be kept open for longer by covering to reduce air contact. Between painting sessions I cover the paints with a shallow baking tray (the thinner the better to reduce the airspace).
If I am not painting for a couple of days, I put a few drops of clove oil onto a small bottle lid and put it with the paint under the tray. Clove oil contains eugenol, and the fumes alone will retard the oxidation of the paint, stopping it from drying so quickly, thereby reducing waste. This system makes a significant difference and means even small amounts of paint are workable for much longer.
Brush Cleaning and Solvent Recycling System
When changing colours I wipe the excess paint off onto a rag. Next I dip the brush into solvent (mineral spirits/thinner) and again wipe the colour out before washing the brush out in the jar. This reduces the amount of sediment in the thinner. You can use a multi-jar system, letting the sediment settle overnight and tipping the clean thinner into another jar to reuse again. I use a jar with a mesh platform which sits partway up the jar, giving a platform to stroke the brushes against as the pigment falls to the base, which avoids mixing the previous sediment up. This way it can build up over weeks or months of work without having to clean and use lots of rags/kitchen roll. When enough sediment builds up it can be disposed of in a bin (not the drain) or dried and mixed with oil to reuse as a base colour for sketches and underpaintings. Using this system means almost eliminating the need to wash brushes with water and soap and prevents subsequent damage by scrubbing.
Special care should be taken when working in sensitive environments not to cause damage or disturbance, and to avoid introducing pollution into the ground or the watercourse. I work mainly with gouache paint on location, as it is water based and easily transportable. I often use water brushes as they have the advantage of feeding the brush from the ferrule down to the filaments, self cleaning as you paint. Colour can be wiped onto a rag which is easy to take home for disposal, rather than spilling any wastewater out onto the reserve. The same technique can be used for normal brushes, get as much pigment out onto the rag as possible and carry a few small water bottles and make sure to take them home. For a lightweight kit I take an airtight palette with me, where I have squeezed out gouache paint beforehand and let it dry like watercolour pans. Before I set off, I mist the palette so that the paint is partly rehydrated but won’t spill.
General brush care
Careful care of brushes can prolong their lifespan considerably. Scrubbing, overloading with paint so that it gets into the ferrule, and leaving wet will damage a brush. I try to clean my brushes as I go along and blot dry straight away to remove excess liquid. Store on the side whilst drying, never with the tip upwards as the water will run into the ferrule. Sounds obvious, but organising brushes is useful especially with oil painting, separating those that are meant for dry application and scrubbing, and finer detail work. Watercolour brushes can be reshaped after rinsing to reform the tip. One of the best pieces of advice I learned for cleaning brushes is to move them through the water/thinner as if you are painting, back and forth gently rather than damaging the tip by pushing it into the jar.
Sustainable Materials & Suppliers
Looking for environmentally ethical products can be a difficult process as often there is no straightforward winning choice. I continue to research various solutions particularly in packaging. I try to source products from companies with environmental concerns for their products, manufacturing processes and carbon footprint and those with reducing and recycling policies, the following are some of the products that I currently use.
I work with Gamblin oil paints, odourless mineral spirits and solvent free medium – modern alternatives to turps and resins, for their low toxicity and lessened impact on the environment. Gamblin try to operate their company sustainably, their factory is run by wind-power; they consider their transportation carbon footprint; their employees are encouraged to walk or cycle to work and they avoid waste in their processes. They recycle pigment dust from their air-filtration system and use it to make a paint colour ‘Torrit Grey’ which they give to customers each year to promote Earth Day. Gamblin has also collaborated with a research project which cleans rivers contaminated with acid mine drainage pollution by extracting iron oxide to produce pigments which can be used to make paint in various earth colours such as ‘Reclaimed Earth Violet’. (See ‘Turning pollution in to paint’ video below).
The frames and boards for my oil paintings are from Picture Frames of Shaftesbury, the only bespoke picture framing and printing company in the world to hold a Certification from the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC). Founder Hope Elletson made a decision to establish a more responsible manufacturing process, transferring all stock; frames, boards and mounts to FSC products in an industry where when he began less than 1% of mouldings in the UK were FSC certified. With major investment, the business is succeeding in its commitment to source all products from responsibly managed forests, combating issues such as over harvesting and consequent climate change, pollution and habitat destruction.
For fieldwork I use M Graham gouache, a solvent-free paint made by binding pigments with blackberry honey and gum arabic. As a company their ethos is to reuse and recycle, machinery is cleaned with walnut oil and non-toxic soap, the factory water is recycled and reused. They use 100% renewable energy and offset their carbon footprint.
I work with materials such as Bamboo Mixed Media paper by the German company Hahnemühle which is made from highly renewable bamboo grass fibres blended with 10% cotton making it a resource-saving paper. My oil papers are from Italian and French paper mills, Fabriano & Clairefontaine which have numerous environmentally friendly certifications.
I use brushes from companies such as A.S. Handover who endeavour to purchase responsibly sourced products, promote recycling, minimise water and energy consumption and assess the environmental impact of new processes and products.
Sundries and Packaging
Looking for environmentally ethical products can be a difficult process as often there is no straightforward winning choice. I continue to research various solutions particularly in packaging. I try to source products from companies with environmental concerns for their products, manufacturing processes and carbon footprint and those with reducing and recycling policies, such as Eco-craft, the following are some of the products that I currently use.
Framing and parcel tape made from renewable kraft paper which can be left on the cardboard carton when it is recycled.
Real cellulose film made in the UK from biodegradable cellulose derived from renewable wood pulp, a more eco friendly packaging alternative to current polypropylene and PVC plastics. It has been accredited biodegradable & compostable and also approved for anaerobic digestion & marine biodegradation, with full capture and recovery of carbon disulphide gas used in its manufacturing process.
Green bubble wrap made from 75% recycled materials, and where possible use of blankets instead.
Paper bags made from organic recycled paper which are compostable, unbleached and biodegradable.
Links/ suppliers info
Getting the Balance Right: Five Guidelines for Sustainable Practice by Carl Alviani and Nels Gabbert.
Feature about Gamblin.
VIDEO – M Graham environmental commitment (via mgraham.com)
Company information about FSC® (Forestry Stewardship Council®) certification.
Art supplies are going green by Daniel Grant
Feature about Gamblin.
VIDEO – Authentic Color. Naturally. from Gamblin Artists Colors (Vimeo).