I am enrolled in the online course “Sustain(ability) and the Art Studio” with Iván Asin and Anna Chapman through Center for Art Education and Sustainability (CAES). The course sounded like a wonderful blend of two of my passions: art and sustainability. I have a committed art practice and I’d like to expand sustainability practices. This article is the first in a series that will respond to the coursework and further examine my relationship with a sustainable art practice.
Why am I taking the “Sustain(ability) and the Art Studio” course?
I’ve been on a path criss-crossing sustainability for a while — even if I didn’t call it that at first. From a young age, my parents instilled a culture of mindfulness and community stewardship. My art teachers demonstrated how to repurpose materials. I had a sustainability-minded design practice for many years (considering environmental, economic, and social sustainability). Then, my attention on sustainability waned when I had children a few years ago. I’m ready to shift back.
I’ve cultivated a consistent art practice over the past three years. However, I brought with me habits I inherited in my younger years as an artist. Now, I’d like to re-examine these with my years of perspective and the more robust knowledge and opportunities available today.
What does sustainable art practice mean for me?
The first aspect of sustainability as it relates to art practice I’ll consider is materials. I wish to make responsible choices with material handling and disposal. For example, how do I handle wastewater and brushes that contain acrylic paint? Can my limited use items be replaced or removed (like paper towels)? What about disposal of containers like paint tubes and jars?
I’ve implemented improvements to handling my wastewater (evaporation and drain screen) and reducing single-use items. That’s a start, but I can push improvements to my materials even further.
I’m anti-plastic. It sticks around for a long time, leaching chemicals and disrupting habitats. Yet, I use acrylic paint — which is plastic! Is acrylic the right choice for my art practice (now and in the future)?
I remember making art materials as a kid with my mom. We made paper. We stained and painted with beet juice, avocado skins, and tea, too. Could I replace manufactured paint with natural material? Can I still achieve the complex and rich surfaces I prefer? Can I source materials locally?
And, still further, I’d like to orient my practices of sustainability to be outwardly focused, too. Yes, I can follow personal sustainability practices, and that will help me feel more aligned with my values. However, it is small and easy to do that only for myself. I’d like to expand that practice beyond myself. How can I share sustainability with my community? What can I learn from my community? What else can I offer?
- I will incorporate sustainable practices into my art practice
- I will use this as an opportunity to learn and challenge myself.
- I will model a more sustainable art practice to my family, colleagues, and community.
- I will share what I learn here and in other ways.
Resource for handling acrylic rinse water and acrylic waste
- Waste Disposal —Tips from Golden Artist Colors for artists to reduce acrylic paint waste, handle excess wet paint, and dispose of dry acrylic paint.
- Remove Water-Based Paint from Rinse Water — It is possible to remove acrylic from water before disposing of water. Intended for artists or other non-industrial consumers, this process from Golden Artist Colors outlines how to use chemicals (aluminum sulfate and hydrated lime) in a step-by-step process to separate and clump the acrylic paint from the water. An artist can find the chemicals at gardening centers and filters and funnels at industrial supply stores.
- Crash Paint Solids from Golden Artist Colors is a stand-alone kit to remove acrylic solids from waste water following the process above.
Susan Snipes is an artist, designer, and mother living and working in Cleveland. She creates richly textured mixed media paintings about personal transformation using abstract organic forms. Her most recent body of work “Potential Energy” uses images of the natural world to explore the potential of human dreams.