Environmentally Friendly Art

Environmentally Friendly Art

eco art, creating environmentally friendly art, green art, Beechhouse Media,
Environmentally Friendly Art Practices

Every week, I write a new article to support members of our four wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, The Artists Lounge, and The Artist Hangout. This week we take a look at the benefits of going eco-friendly in our approach to selling art. Now, more than ever, environmental awareness is one of the most important talking points and art buyers are increasingly becoming more and more eco-aware of the pieces of art that they buy. But what can we do as artists to help the environment and take a more eco-friendly approach when creating our art?

Goodbye 2019

As is becoming more often the case, each week I will also be showing some of my most recent works which you can order online right here, on a wide range of print options and accessories. Proceeds from any sales made through my Fine Art America and Pixels stores go towards the costs of maintaining this site to bring independent visual artists practical advice, hints, and insights from my own experiences from the past thirty-something years of creating art, and to bring artists this free of charge with no need to sign up to anything at all! any support is appreciated, even something as simple as a share or friendly comment!

rock star, Bigfoot art, ape art, Mark Taylor, Fine Art America, Pixels art,
Rock Star by Mark Taylor

Another year is almost done with, and a brand new one is literally just around the corner, just in case you hadn't noticed, and there are still things that need to be done! Christmas is a hectic time for most people and for artists, it can be one of the busiest times of the year finishing off commissions, pulling artwork out of pre-Christmas exhibitions, and generally just getting stuff that needs to be done, done. Creating marketing materials and making a start on the art that you hope to finish before next Christmas.  In between, we will be doing exactly what everyone else is doing and trying to squeeze the Christmas must do’s in, like shopping, wrapping gifts, which as artists means that people expect gifts to be wrapped in some artful way.

While I can paint a mountain or create a photorealistic sky with my eyes closed, wrapping up gifts is definitely not one of my strengths so if you receive a gift from me, it will be environmentally friendly and it won’t be wrapped up in fancy bows and luxury coated use once papers, it will be in a reusable gift bag or box if you are special and a paper bag if you're not. The paper bag will have the letters P.R.I.M.E written on it though. 

The few days leading to Christmas is the time of the year when stores start to heavily discount their pre-Christmas stock. Finally, this is the time of the year when we broke artists can catch a break in the art supplies department and scout out bargains ahead of the January sales. So, that’s exactly what I did over the weekend and I found all sorts of everything at up to 50% off. It’s always a good time to stock up on the things that you might need for art projects but the problem is that we can get carried away and buy the things we don’t really need too. Why did I buy three tins of Liquitex pouring medium when I stopped doing pours in high school?

I remember a time back in around 2014 when Europe was literally on the edge of a cadmium crisis when new laws threatened the supply of cadmium in paint, and it looked for a while like cadmium paints were going to get banned from being sold. I still have 23-tubes of the stuff leftover. When art supplies look as if they are facing extinction, there is usually a rush to the art supply store to stock up. Any looming legislation is always something that artists need to be aware of, I mean what happens if the primary material you use to make a living from suddenly disappears from sale?

But there is more to buying art supplies than finding a real bargain because whilst we might be able to pick up a few bargains over the silly season of sales, some of those bargains might not be so good for our planet.

I expect even Santa has been subjected to more regulations than usual this year, just last Saturday he had to apply for his annual extension on European Union driver hours rules, otherwise our European friends wouldn’t get any deliveries on Christmas Eve and he only got away with the exemption because his sleigh was more than twenty-five years old. 

Even better was the news that because he’s not a regular driver, he will also get away with driving for more than 10-hours on Christmas Eve. Crisis averted thanks to a savvy Elf lawyer who usually works in the Elf and Safety Department.

Apparently there is something called a CPC that drivers must have when delivering across Europe too, I had no idea either, but because his principal activity involves, making a list, checking it twice, finding out who’s been naughty and nice, and only delivering presents to the people who made the good list, his driving is classed as being ancillary to his principle task and the regulations allow for an exemption.

Then, there was some kind of legal issue with Rudolph’s nose meaning that at ground level a red light cannot be used as the primary driving aid so it has to be covered until they are all in the air, at which time the glowing nose can be used as a navigation light in line with aviation regulations.

I was a little worried about some aerosols I have asked for as gifts and have been for a few days, slightly nervous about my chances of receiving them. So I did what all anxious artists do, I called up the governments Department of Transport and asked what the rules are on deliveries of hazardous materials. Thankfully they responded positively and told me that Santa would be ok to deliver a small number of aerosols as they believed that Santa will meet the criteria to claim an exemption under the ‘retail delivery’ rules for HAZARDOUS/ADR. Hey, the things we get to learn about as independent artists eh!

All of this got me pondering. What happens if, for whatever reason, I could no longer create using the materials I use all of the time. What if I wanted to go the extra mile and contribute to making more environmentally friendly art, how do we even make creating art sustainable, how do we make it environmentally friendly? Can we?

This isn’t me suddenly waking up to what Greta has been saying, back in 2002 I was awarded a medal by a member of the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace for creating some academic qualifications around environmental issues, and perhaps that was my fifteen minutes of fame. So I come to today’s article, not from a point of meeting some SEO friendly trend, but one of been there, done that, and we really do need to do more.

Creating art that is environmentally sustainable rather than merely being thematically linked to the environment through its subject matter is something that many artists today are beginning to strive towards. Using materials that have less of an impact on the environment is something that even some buyers are looking towards when they select a new piece of art and artists are increasingly looking for ways in which their practice can become more environmentally friendly without compromising the quality. So, what do we need to do as artists if we want to jump on-board this environmentally-friendly train, and why would we?

Soaring hunter, eagle art, landscape art, Himalayan Art, Mark Taylor,
Soaring Hunter - My latest creation - December 2019 - Mark Taylor

Firstly, we need to talk about that banana…

I am sure there will one day be a film about the recent Basel Banana but say what you will about whether it is art or not, it certainly started a few discussions about the art world even amongst those who don’t have quite the same obsession about art as we artists do. That has to be a good thing, although the conversations I have listened to on the subject seem to point out that the high-end art world is either becoming more absurd or even more desperate for attention, but hasn’t it always been like that?

For a couple of days, the world was gripped by of all things, a banana duct-taped to a wall. It was one of the many WTF moments we have seen in 2019, and it nearly broke the internet. Everyone Googled ‘Basel Banana’ but its title was in fact, ‘ Comedian’ and it was created by Maurizio Cattelan. Cattelan is an Italian artist and an absurdist and some of you might remember his name from his work back in 2016 when he replaced a toilet at the Guggenheim with a fully functioning gold one. This is one guy who knows how to play with minds or at least with the media. I don't necessarily rate it as an artistic great but as a conversation starter about the arts, pure genius.

Cattelan is a conceptual artist and the ridiculousness of his work is kind of the point and as Warhol pointed out at one time, art is whatever you can get away with. Yes, the banana will rot, that’s what food does unless you ask the Icelandic guy who purchased the last Cheeseburger to be served from a closing Mc Donald’s in Iceland back in 2009. You can read about that right here,  but try as I might, I couldn’t find a working webcam of it anywhere this week, it is though allegedly, still in one piece.

The fact that one of the bananas was eaten by another artist and two others were sold, and that both are probably by now on their last legs, the work was about as environmentally friendly as any other environmentally friendly work I have seen this year. There is no point recreating it in some other way, the banana has now officially been done and so have the memes, it was a moment, it’s over, as is the shredded Banksy work, but this is an example of why we don’t always have to go with always using the same mediums to create our art. We can create art to start a conversation, we can think outside of the box!

Changing Mediums for Changing Times…

We can change mediums as artists, there is nothing etched in stone to say that we can’t, and changing mediums and art supplies can be more beneficial not just in terms of what we produce, it can give us a new direction to take our work in.

It can also get you out of a rut, make you think creatively in different ways, help us to better our visual expression skills, and just as the banana did, using different mediums can elicit different emotions from viewers and get them talking about art. By using different kinds of art supplies, you will develop and grow as an artist and better understand where you really want to take your art and inevitably, you will learn new skills. If we get any of this right, we can take our art a step further and if we can use more sustainable mediums, we might be able to at least do a little more to take care of the planet on which we live and it may even help with our health too.

Even if we choose not to change the mediums in which we work, there are practices we can establish that will produce positive benefits for the environment and for your own health too. Thankfully, today's art supplies are mostly, heavily regulated which in itself explains some of the costs associated with professional art supplies. Materials and chemicals have to be tested and that testing doesn’t come cheap and someone has to pay for it. That someone is generally the artist.

Testing is a necessity. Exposure to cadmium can be toxic, and whilst the risks are more inherent in the industrial process to manufacture the materials, there is still a bunch of learning that needs to be done on many of the materials we artists use on a daily basis. The science for much of which is still very young. 

Arsenic was once used in wallpaper and at one time was also used in baking flour, but more famously, some of the wallpapers created by artist William Morris were said to have contributed to mysterious illnesses of the time. I remember playing with lead toys as a child and Van Gogh allegedly licked his brushes that contained lead-based paint, and lead poisoning as we know it today can cause significant issues with your well-being. Never lick your brush folks. There is no categoric way for sure to say that any poisonous or harmful materials used by the great masters ever had a total role to play in their demises and there may have been many other contributing factors when we consider how people once lived, but science is getting better at figuring a lot of this stuff out and to an extent, we are beginning to see some more definitive links emerge.

Formaldehyde as favoured by the likes of Damien Hirst, is probably not something you can just order from Amazon Prime today. I daren’t look because well, search history, but a lot of materials that we once used as artists are not necessarily the things that we should be using today. Neither are materials like fibreglass, and polyester resin. All materials that were once the staple of any artist’s studio have been increasingly found to have contributed to ill health or had a part to play in the state of today’s environment.

Whilst some of these materials can still be used and purchased, most will have stringent legislation around their use and who can buy them. Don’t get me wrong here, none of this was the fault of the artists, it was the times in which they lived and the lack of science that we take for granted today.

Robin on a Dry Stone Wall by Mark Taylor, seasonal art, lake district art, beechhouse Media,
Robin on a Dry Stone Wall by Mark Taylor

What can we do?

They say that you have to start making a change closer to home before you can make a change wider afield, and there are things that we can do in our studios that will make our practice more sustainable and environmentally friendly and just as importantly, make sure we art safely.

Read the warning labels…

When it comes to things like people eating Tide pods, there is an argument to suggest that the warning labels should just be taken off some products entirely to allow natural selection to take its course. I recently watched an advert on TV for some kind of pod-based detergent and the strapline was to use them responsibly. That might just be another WTF moment because why would you not use detergent responsibly in 2019? my ageing brain struggles to comprehend why this is even a thing, much less that I find myself writing these very words.

OMG what happened to the world that there are now warnings to not eat detergent products that are sold to adults who professionally adult? My mind is well and truly blown. However, warning labels are there for a reason and mostly, if you have a doctorate in chemistry, they can be understood. The symbols used on the labels, thankfully make things a little easier. See that skull and crossbones, it’s not a warning that you are at risk from pirates.

Knowing what materials you use and which could be harmful and storing them appropriately could save you from inhaling or ingesting something that you shouldn’t, and knowing where your coffee mug is positioned in relation to paint water, well, that’s always helpful too. By limiting the use of some of these more toxic materials or by using less toxic alternatives, you can reduce your environmental impact and protect your health.

Aerosols are something most artists will have in their studios and recently over here in the UK, a news story caught my eye in the same way that the Tide Pod thing did. A driver sprayed excessive amounts of air freshener in a car and then lit a cigarette. The result was that the windows blew out and the car imploded causing damage to the car and nearby businesses. Thankfully the driver wasn’t hurt badly. You can read the story right here.

It’s not just the inflammable nature of aerosols but that many of them also contain particles that become suspended in the surrounding air. Fixatives for dry media and heavy duty adhesives can contain all sorts of harmful chemicals that can cause damage not only to the environment but to you as well.

Making sure that your work area is well ventilated when using chemicals is a must. Not too many artists will have a full-blown extraction system in their studio but making sure that you open windows or carry out some work outdoors can dramatically reduce your exposure to certain particles, as will wearing appropriate protective equipment. Yes, I know it can be a bit of a faff to wear a face mask when spraying something quickly, but in my experience, what smells quite nice as some of these chemicals do, generally turn out to be the most damaging. Trust me on this, remember those felt tip markers we used in school that smelled so good, well, apparently they were lethal, but even my teacher would walk past my table, pick one up and have a good snort. To be fair, it was perhaps the only option that would have been acceptable in front of school governors given that even then, doing a line of coke would have raised a few eyebrows with children around.

As regular readers know, I have Crohn’s disease and I am frequently in and out of remission. The best way of dealing with it for me is never losing my sense of humour and this is why my wife got me a gift. Seriously, if you are spraying anything in the studio, this is the warning sign mantra to live by and you should definitely own one of these.

funny warning signs, beechhouse Media,
Give it 10-minutes - Guess what's on the other side!

Product datasheets…

Please tell me that I am not the only artist in the history of ever to keep a folder full of product safety data sheets! Okay, I might be one of the few but it’s not a bad idea. Most professional art supplies have a product data-sheet available, usually online on the manufacturer's website and it’s a good idea to at least familiarise yourself with some of the things that art supplies contain. They also offer advice on how to store the products and this it turns out, can save you a heap of money. Now I have your attention, if you’re not doing this for you or the environment, then read the things for the health of your money.
Storing products as per the manufacturer's recommendations can extend the useful life of any remaining product.

They’re also, a useful starting point to figure out what chemicals work with what products without causing damage to the environment, the medium or to the art. I once very nearly lost a toilet when mixing two incompatible cleaning agents which had the effect of frothing up and emitting a toxic vapour. Not a situation that inspires confidence in anyone’s ability to properly adult. Read the warnings and with it being Christmas an all, too many glasses of sherry can spoil a good day.

If you work in a studio and especially one where you bring clients or let people in to look at your work, your insurance might be dependent on storing and using some of this stuff in the right way. Thankfully, there is a really useful safety guide for art studios which I found online right here, and it is definitely worth a read.

Deal with waste…

Whilst the bargains might be plentiful at this time of year (except for anything you actually need), buying what you need when you need it is much better for the environment and your pocket. Waste from out of date products is prevalent in the world of art, paints go dry, thinners evaporate, yet most of these things can be avoided if we plan ahead.

My mantra has always been any paint that remains in a tube is wasted. Using up paint is the best way to avoid excess waste and even if you haven’t planned your next artwork you can use up things like acrylic for underpainting your next canvas. Keep it wrapped in plastic wrap and keep it in an air-tight container. You can even use leftover paint to try out new techniques, or you could donate it to one of the many art groups or schools that are often underfunded.

Avoid keeping paint at the wrong temperature, and wait for paints to harden before disposing of them. Acrylic paints, for example, form a film as they dry which helps to prevent harmful pigment and chemicals leaching into the environment. Rather than swill everything into the mains drainage where it could cause issues for the environment and plant and animal life, take it to a waste disposal facility where it can be disposed of properly. A small amount of excess paint might not seem like a problem, but as we have found out over the years, every little bit of excess will have a knock-on effect somewhere on our fragile earth.

When rinsing paint water, if you haven’t already mistaken the paint water glass with your coffee, then use a paper coffee filter and mix with aluminium sulphate and hydrated lime through a funnel and take the container to the waste disposal facility where it can be effectively dealt with, and always if you are storing toxic materials, have a spill kit to hand or potentially even face a fine.

plan ahead, funny warning signs, artist signs,
Plan Ahead... Subtle...

Use alternatives…

When using thinners, we can now use eco-friendly thinners and solvents. There was a time when thinners and solvents were never used in art, instead painters such as Rembrandt would use walnut or linseed oil to thin paints and clean brushes. The modern-day eco-alternatives are almost as good as some of the traditional thinners we have recently used, some are even better. Some of the choices we have today are restricted by the cost of some of these products, but that doesn’t always mean that there aren’t other alternatives that cost less, there are, you just have to be prepared to put in the homework to work out what is more likely to work for you at a price you can afford.

When it comes to choosing paint, there are alternatives that will provide the archival quality that you need when creating professional art, some of these pigments have already been proven to last for thousands of years. Today there are coloured earth pigments available which even allow you to make your own paint and this reduces the need to rely on adding chemical binders. Many of today’s commercially available paints will have had many chemicals added to ensure the longevity of the paint, some have fillers included and a few have toxic preservatives.

This might make the colours pop and make the paint more durable to UV light, the downside is that the light refraction through the pigment particles will be less than if those particles were not present at all. Earth pigments are larger than synthetic pigments meaning that the particles prevent more light leaking through, so if there is any thought that using earth pigments would reduce the vibrancy, they actually increase the vibrancy naturally.  

You don’t have to go all out with any of these ideas, just changing the process to include elements of eco-friendly artistry will have a benefit and don’t ever feel that even the tiniest contribution won’t make a difference, it does and especially if more artists do it.

Canvas choices…

Last year, I had one of the best years for art sales than in any of the previous couple of years before. But there was also a difference in what people were buying that went beyond the art. More and more people purchased the art on alternative mediums such as woodblock, and I changed my preferred paper options for directly sold prints to only use papers from sustainable sources.

Canvas became popular during the Renaissance period because when it was stretched across wooden bars, it meant that larger works could be created and they were infinitely more portable than wooden boards. The word canvas is derived from the word hemp and the great masters often used hemp-based canvases for their work.

Today, canvases are available in all sorts of different weaves and thicknesses and the quality and type of weave can have a massive impact on the finished work. Hemp is an alternative to traditional cotton and rag canvases and with the right preparation, you can produce some really good results. The biggest barrier I think, is that hemp canvases just aren’t available everywhere and when they are available, they do tend to carry a cost premium. Hemp-based oils are available more readily and these can be used within art too.

An alternative is to look out for eco-friendly canvases but as with everything that carries an eco-friendly badge, there are some kicking around that might carry the badge but don’t necessarily back up their claims. Always look at the reputable brands, again this is when bargain hunting can begin to cost the earth.

fall wall, nature art, landscape art, Mark Taylor,
Fall Wall by Mark Taylor

Other eco-friendly alternatives…

Calligraphy doesn’t immediately spring to mind when we think of pollution, but there are a growing number of calligraphers who are now using eco-friendly inks such as walnut ink. Walnut ink has a slightly rich sepia tone which makes calligraphy seem older, in fact, walnut ink is something I have used in the past when creating art based props that need to look old.
Handmade and recycled paper are also getting better in terms of quality, and many of the commercially produced recycled papers now use ingredients such as hemp in the process. These papers are ideal because they are almost always acid-free, something that you absolutely have to consider if you want any longevity from the finished work.

You can now even purchase eco-friendly crayons and glue, and kits are available from a variety of retailers that will set you up with everything you need to create things like eco-friendly gesso which uses a natural plant-based glue rather than the traditional rabbit skin glue.  

Essential tools…

There will always be essentials that won’t always have an eco-friendly alternative available. But there are lots of things you can do within your art practice that will eventually add up and make a difference. Storage of materials is one of the areas that over the years has cost me more financially, returning to wherever I stored something a few days later to find that the product had gone off or dried out and needed to be replaced.

You can purchase a specialist toxic storage box, and you can utilise empty containers to preserve mixed paints, nothing has to really go to waste but you really do have to think about how you approach your work and plan ahead.

The upside isn’t just that you will be doing just that little bit more for the environment although that alone should make this worthwhile, and neither is it just about staying out of harm's way, this is becoming something that art buyers are increasingly switched onto and they are actively seeking out work produced in a sustainable way. As Paul Cezanne once said, “Art is harmony parallel with nature”.

Have a truly great festive break!

If you are a digital artist, there are things that you can do to be more environmentally friendly in your creativeness too and I will be picking out a few things that I regularly do to counter the effects on the environment when working digitally in a future article!

So that’s me signing off for a short break as we head into the holidays and I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone who reads my articles week after week. As I said a couple of weeks ago, I will be missing some scheduled weeks in the New Year while I create some great new content, including videos and tutorials, and while I get my kidney stone sorted out. Still, no news on that one yet except to say that I am so looking forward to seeing the back of it! It is beginning to get a little bit tiring now, and all I want for Christmas is to be kidney stone, free!

So whatever you are or aren’t celebrating over this time, thank you for your continued support, and thanks to the buyers of my work who continue to make this site possible. Thank you, and if you have any tips for creating eco-friendly art, as always, leave a comment, give this article a share, and more importantly, be happy, creative, and healthy in 2020!

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com   

Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contribute to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website. You can also view my portfolio website at https://beechhousemedia.com and to be frank and open, that site could do with some traffic!

You can also follow me on Facebook at: https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where you will also find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at https://pinterest.com/beechhousemedia

If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can do so right here. There is no obligation to do so but you could claim a place on my Go Fund Me supporter page with a link to your own website!


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