Can we strive to be zero-waste conscious artists?
Updated: Sep 15, 2021
I am sure I am not alone in my desire to be more ecologically aware of my impact as an individual and an artist. The art industry uses way more plastic than we may like: packaging, print cartridges, and even tools of the trade like pens. So, can we enjoy selling and buying art - a 'product' that is considered a luxury - while still being in line with our ecological values?
To buy or not to buy, that is the question.
Well, for me personally, I definitely try to be environmentally conscious in my art practice.
To start, I have reduced my art supplies' buying sprees. I am no different than most: I, too, want to buy that new stationery paper, that new artist pen or try myself at another brand of colour paint. I now think twice. I stay with the desire a little longer: do I need it or want it? Usually, I want it. So I remind myself I have all these art supplies, which I can probably play with again, and I'll likely re-experience the novelty effect. I also parent myself, 'no, you can't have more until you finish what you have. This, too, acts as a reminder to use the art supplies I already have.
Look at those beautiful supplies? So hard to resist, right!
Packaging and other solutions to protect artworks.
I have also looked into alternatives or solutions when it comes to packaging art. For transporting canvases, we can buy some padded canvas envelopes made of fabric instead of bubble wrap. For mailing art, paper padded envelopes are a wonderful thing! And so are paper tape. Bubble wraps received in previous orders can be re-used to wrap any artwork, and the same goes for cardboard. So far, the only aspect I have not yet found a suitable solution for is plastic protective sleeves for artworks. In the UK, some companies can provide recyclable and biodegradable cellophane wraps (celloexpress.com and eco-craft.co.uk). However, they cannot sustain a long time in humidity or handle a significant water spillage, and they will disintegrate in less than a year.
Many customers who buy art can take a long time before framing them, often leaving it in its original packaging, feeling assured the art will be protected while working through their procrastination tendencies. In addition, as an artist, you may display your art publicly (say at an art fair, exhibition, art booth, etc.) and protect it from possible rain or water accidents. If then, the sales don't happen straight away, you can't waste the money of having to re-purchase cellophane plastic wraps every year for the next art show. Therefore, green alternatives are not yet on par with the current plastic option.
There is technically an alternative: glass. Glass means the artwork is more expensive for the customer and will require more protective wrapping solutions (re-used bubble wraps or paper alternatives). For emerging artists, that can be quite costly and may slow down sales. The expense will also have to be accounted for in the final price. However, it is a more viable option for the more established artists, especially those who like to pick the frame for their art themselves. Personally, I have chosen the plastic cellophane wraps for now. For mailing art, the plastic wrap should be enough to protect from water, and the rest of the packaging can be all cardboard and paper alternatives, which is a good start.
some of my art in cello wraps
Originals, traditional prints and modern art prints.
I believe that where I make the most significant impact is by sticking to creating original art only. Let me explain why with an example of a simple pen and ink artwork.
For each piece of art created, I use some paper as support and a pen. The ink pen is mainly composed of some plastics. You may not know this, but not all papers are equal. The whiter and smoother a paper is, the more processed it has been. This means solvents and harsh chemicals have been used on the paper to strip it from its natural hue and its natural fibres textures (it is wood pulp, after all).
To be honest, my favourite papers are the whiter ones and the smoother ones. The smoothness works best for the dip pens technique and most mediums. The lack of texture on the paper gives me greater fluidity in my movement, and I make fewer errors. I also prefer colder whites, as it marries very well with the black I use in my art and exaggerates the contrasts. It is a personal preference.
"fittonia albivenis" botanical linoprint - limited edition of 50
To offer a cheaper alternative to customers and meet people's diverse' budgets, I could make an art print out of the original. If so, I would have to add a lot more things to my list. Whether I receive the paper for printing in bulk at home or order the final prints at the printers, they would be delivered in plastic, of course, to protect them from water and humidity. I would also have to account for the printer made of plastic and the cartridges made of plastics, all of which come wrapped in more plastics on purchase. And instead of one paper used for the original, we would be using way more.
I think you see where I'm going with that.
the process of lino print carving - ASMR style
However, art prints are a great way to make art accessible and affordable to everyone. They have their place, of course, and I can tell you in another blog post why I'm not a fan of them but for now, let's see what other options exist to create more affordable art for people. Because there is. There are the traditional art printing methods: lino prints, etching, wood printing, engravings, lithography and so on. Usually, they consist of carving out a piece of metal, wood, lino or else with the desired design. Then ink or paints can be applied and pressed hard against papers, fabrics or any support the artist fancies. It is essentially printing, the old fashion way. Not all artists want to dab into other art techniques, but if they do, I think it's a great way to make art accessible to everyone. There is still the issue of all those extra paper, but it may limit the extra plastic used in modern printing. I guess we could say that aspect is compensated because every traditional handmade print is unique and therefore becomes an original in its own right.
These are only my latest reflections on the matter, and who knows where my thoughts will take me in the future. I'm sure I have plenty to learn and explore still on the topic of environmentally friendly art-making, and I'm excited about it.
🌱 with love, x