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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tips for a Cleaner, Greener Studio

Going green has become the big buzz for the 21st century, and with the current gulf oil spill crises, and recent research illuminating the high number of toxins found in our food and persons from birth on, finding cleaner practices for artists is both a necessary and smart practice to protect our own health and the environment.

Many artist materials have an extremely large amount of chemical toxins. Solvents used to clean brushes, pigments such as cadmium,chromium in pigments and even in clay, xylene and mineral solvents used in commercial artist markers, and heavy metals present in materials such as boiled linseed oil pose a hazard for adults and children alike. While it may not be entirely possible to completely eliminate certain materials, a great many pigments and solvents can be replaced with safer, more environmentally friendly options.

It is necessary first to understand the labeling on artist materials in order to choose less toxic options for studio use. The Artists and Creative Materials Institute have developed a system to identify potentially hazardous supplies from non hazardous. Listed on the sides of most commercial paint tubes sold in the US is the ACMI listing of hazardous or non hazardous, and must conform to ASTM D 4236, a law that identifies materials in terms of chronic and acute hazard.  Additionally, many companies now exist that produce safe, environmentally friendly art materials. One such store produces a range of watercolor paints, papers and pastels that are safe for user and environment alike.  Many of the larger manufacturers of papers and supplies have also gotten onto the green bandwagon. Fabriano, a maker of paper, Golden Acrylics and many others now have a range of professional quality materials safe for user.

Waste too is a big problem with artists.  I recently read about a famous artist that uses his brushes one time before discarding them, in my mind a heinous abuse of our environment, and an unnecessary waste of materials. Choosing good quality brushes, and keeping these brushes clean will keep them useful for many years, it is ego, not necessity that drives such behaviors.  Many artists also destroy, or throw out works that could be gessoed over and reused.  Consider reusing less than spectacular paintings by painting over, or for paper works collage. I almost never throw away less than stellar paintings unless the paper is damaged beyond use for some reason. I feel that I can explore other techniques with these unwanted pieces rather than leveling out valleys by sending them off to a dump.  For small items like pastels, that might become to small and difficult to hold when they are worn down, one might choose a pastel holder, or some similar device.  grinding up small pieces of pastels and using a brush to lay them on paper is another way to get the very most out of material.  Experimentation has become a big part of my own art, and thinking of clever ways to use the last of materials will ensure that you get your moneys worth. 

When choosing solvents to clean brushes, you might consider orange based solvents such as eco house citrus solvent.  Filter the dirty solvent and reuse until its evaporated.  Always wear gloves when handling solvents regardless of their safety. When it is impossible to use a material that isn't potentially harmful, use the least amount necessary and store left over used solvents in a metal gas can in a safe place outside of the studio.  Many municipalities offer a hazardous substance recycle day, and you can return such materials there for proper disposal.   

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