Edvard Munch, The Sun, 1910–11. Oil on canvas. I’m currently reading the The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells. I wouldn’t wish the book or the subject on anyone, were it not imperative. In Seattle, the temperature typically varies from 37°F to 79°F, and right now we’re setting unpresidented records for heat, day after day, so it’s seeming especially imperative today. “In Seattle, where the average high temperature this time of year is in the low-to-mid 70s, the National Weather Service (NWS) predicts a high of 102°F on Sunday, which would break the record for the city’s hottest temperature during the month of June. (…) Seattle’s all-time high temperature record is 103°F, and the city has only seen three 100-degree days in its history. (…) Heat waves like this are one of the clearest manifestations of human-caused global warming, with studies showing that climate change boosts the odds of their occurrence and heightens their severity.” (Axios) According to David Wallace-Wells, more than half of the carbon emissions from fossil fuels – those responsible for global climate change – have been produced in the last 25 or 30 years. Yikes! Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Everyone knows these three Rs, but in a consumer culture like ours, REDUCE, might be the hardest, especially when it comes to art supplies. When setting yourself up for free exploration and expression, it can be conflicting to limit the materials you have available. Here are 16 ideas for how you can reduce new purchases and still have a creative process that feels expansive and responsive. Lighten up on the lights. Turn off the lights when you’re not in the room. Draw and paint with natural light when you can. When you can’t, use high quality energy efficient bulbs like these high CRI LEDs. Save old drawings and paintings to re-use as collage materials. Buy better paper. Instead of using sketch paper for your drawings, consider a heavier weight paper that you can work and re-work for hours, days, or months. Experiment with willow charcoal on heavyweight drawing paper, or cold press watercolor paper. (Try Blick, Arches, Fabriano, Montval, Saunders 90lb, cold press or rolls of 140 lb, cold press.) See how your drawings can be wiped away with a chamois or lifted with a plastic eraser, adding a patina to the tone and texture of the paper but allowing the paper to be changed and reworked for many drawings over time. If there are marks you want to remove that are stubborn, consider applying gesso or white/off-white acrylic. The paint won’t perfectly match the paper, but it can build a drawing that is increasingly rich and interesting the more you work it. Use both sides of the paper. Paint on canvas, hemp, or linen from a roll. Pre-primed fabric allows you to cut out the size you want for a painting, pin it to the wall or a board, and then only stretch or mount it if the painting is a keeper. Less successful works can be painted over, or thrown away, without wasting the wood for the stretcher bars. Hemp has potential to be the finest and most stable fabric for paint, and it’s much more sustainable to grow than the other fibers, providing you can find it and afford it. Linen is also very good, but expensive. It’s unfortunate that cotton receives so much subsidy, because it’s a demanding crop to grow, and with its response to temperatures and humidity, cotton provides a comparatively unstable support for your paintings. Wood panels are resource intensive, but they can be sanded down smooth and repainted. Be sure to wear a mask to protect yourself from airborne paint particles! Prime and rework canvases. Acrylic paintings can be coated with acrylic gesso and repainted. Oil paintings require an oil primer from the hardware before repainting. For some, oil primer can seem toxic and excessive when it comes to “saving resources,” especially when the brush requires solvent to be properly cleaned, and the primer is not environmentally considerate. You might find that letting a canvas go is actually less wasteful than piling more paint on top, and the texture may make the next layer of paint more successful/enjoyable, or less successful/enjoyable. See what works for you. Paint on signs. Plastic yard signs typically used for political campaigns make great stable paint supports. Surfaces like metal, plastic, and even drywall can be very stable and paintable once the surface is cleaned and lightly sanded. If you happen to make a masterpiece, you can glue two vertical strips to the back, screw 2 D-rings to the strips, and string a wire between them to hang your artwork in a gallery. Use plastic containers from other household items to mix your paint. If mixing thick paint you can store the containers upside down (in absence of a lid) to prevent the paint from drying out too quickly. Store palettes and mixed paint in the fridge. Keep paint on your palette from drying out by scooping it up into an air-tight container and storing it in the freezer (if it’s oil paint) or the fridge (if it’s oil or acrylic). Save the colors. If there’s not enough paint to save individual colors at the end of a painting session, you can scrape the wet paint on your palette into a single pile, and save it for use on a future painting, or apply it without expectations to a “happy accident” canvas. You can do the same with chalk pastels, and charcoal – applying the dust with a soft brush for a silvery finish on paper (take care to wear a mask when any pigment particles are in the air). Use old rags and paper products to wash your brushes and tools. T-shirts, telephone book pages, newspapers, and junk mail can all be implemented to take up extra paint from your brushes, rollers, and palette knives before washing. Replace toxic mediums and solvents with natural oils and solvent replacers. From what I’ve tried, Sennelier’s new “Green for Oil” thinner is the next best thing to turpentine and Odorless Mineral Spirits for painting, and it’s easier to breathe. For cleaning, liquid soaps and oils like Murphy’s Oil Soap and walnut or safflower oils do just fine, but there are also low toxic specialty brush cleaners. Honestly, I don’t know the science around replacing standard mediums and oil solvents with less toxic solutions like soy based oils. It could be that the land and energy use is actually increased with these replacements, so although the personal toxicity is decreased, the carbon emissions might not be. If you have specific information, let me know. Save the brush. If you’re on the brink of throwing out a stiff brush that’s caked with dried paint, try reviving it with Murphy’s Oil Soap, and if that doesn’t work, try Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner Restorer. These work for both oil and acrylic dried paints. Let the bristles soak for up to 24 hours, and see if you can work the bristles back into some softness. Take great care with the Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner Restorer, as in addition to the dried paint, it will also dissolve the glue that holds the bristles, the varnish on your brush handle, and any other dried paint or substance it touches. W&N Brush Restorer can also remove dried paint from clothing, without removing the fabric or dye. Follow all instructions carefully. For easier resurrections, face soap or shampoo can also revive a tired brush back into its original soft and fluffy self, but is not likely to remove the extremity of dried paint. Take advantage of places like Seattle Recreative, where you can donate and purchased used or partially used art supplies. Art Swap. When the League is running in-person classes again, we’ll host art material swaps – where people will be invited to bring in extra art tools and supplies, and pick up new tools and supplies from others. Until then, you can use our Facebook group Artworks by People to request or give away supplies. What’s Artworks by People? Artworks by People is a private Facebook group that is open to anyone who has ever taught or taken a class with the Seattle Artist League. Click “Join Group” and answer the questions. Once confirmed that you’re in the League, an administrator will add you to the group. Got another idea for lowering the carbon footprint in your studio? Post it! The best idea posted to this blog page before the end of June will win a free class! Don’t see your post? 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