Thursday, April 22, 2010

Is Your Studio Green?

By Kate Dardine

I’m not talking about color here, I’m talking about eco – and health – friendly. Most of us paint away without considering the ramifications to our own health and the health of the planet.

My intention for today’s Earth Day blog was to write about all the ways that you can “green” your studio. The reason was two-fold: to learn ways that I can, as an oil painter, lessen my environmental impact, and to share that info with you. I naively thought that after typing in a few keywords into Google that I’d come up with enough info to write a book. Hardly. There is very little information out there, and what is available can be ambiguous, contradictory and in many cases, impossible to interpret. But I was determined…

Since I am an oil painter, I decided to start there. I use mostly Gamblin paints. Gamblin has a long history of environmental conscientiousness. Their website contains a lot of great information about studio safety. Their odorless mineral spirits (Gamsol) can be used as both a painting medium and a brush cleaner. Unlike regular turpentine, dirty Gamsol can be recycled with paints at the local recycling center. Of course, it is still made from a petroleum base, which by its very nature has an environmental impact. Dick Blick sells a turpentine substitute made by Eco-House called Orange Turpene which is made from “food-quality ingredients” and no petroleum. However, it still is classified as a hazardous material. I use Gamsol and have never had any problems with it – haven’t yet tried the various orange-based solvents made by Eco-House.

I was interested to learn that the cadmium pigments used to make paint are not considered harmful to humans during normal use. Gamblin does not make their Flake White with lead as other paint manufacturers do. However, they, as do all paint manufacturers, highly recommend that you wash your hands thoroughly after painting, or wear protective gloves.

One product that is icky is one that most oil and acrylic painters use – varnish. The best products I could find are still hazardous, and extreme caution should be used - proper ventilation, clothing, gloves and a respirator are all advised, particularly when using spray. Of course there is no law that says you HAVE to use varnish, but most of us like the extra layer of protection and the way it evens out surface reflection and deepens the colors.

And how about the support you paint on? Take canvas – seems environmentally friendly enough. But was the cotton grown using pesticides? Was the wood harvested using sustainable methods? Where was the canvas manufactured? I found some canvas made from organically grown hemp – but it comes from China. The amount of fuel used in transportation may offset the good of organic and sustainable hemp. You’d think someone in the States would figure that one out. I didn’t find any artist canvas made from organic cotton grown and manufactured in the USA. Maybe as artists we need to start demanding it? I know I am going to mention it to the company I buy most of my canvas from: Signature Canvas in Kansas. They use high quality materials all grown and manufactured in the USA, which is a big plus in my book.

How about wood support? According to the manufacturer, “Ampersand panels are made from FSC certified sustainable US Forest products. We use completely green manufacturing processes that protect the natural environment. No harmful chemicals used, no dangerous emissions for artists.” Ampersand panels come in a variety of surfaces for all types of painting processes, from watercolor and pastel to oil and acrylic, scratchboard and encaustic. They are available at a variety of art supply stores, including Jerry’s Artarama. Worth checking out – I know I’m going to try them!

A quick word on cleaning up after painting. Wipe as much excess paint off your brushes onto paper towel (recycled!) or painting cloths as possible. Swirl your brushes in odorless mineral spirits, wipe off on paper towel or painting cloth. Then use an environmentally friendly soap, such as Murphy’s Oil Soap or one of the brands made specifically for brush washing. (If you paint with hog bristle brushes, don’t use soap and water, as water will cause the bristles to get mis-shapen. Use lanolin lotion instead. Dispose of the painting cloths or paper towels into a metal trash bin with a lid.

You can recycle your solvents like this: Get two glass jars with tight fitting lids. Dirty solvent is put into one of the jars and left to stand overnight. By the following day, the pigment in the solvent will have settled to the bottom of the jar. Pour the recycled solvent into the second jar for reusing. The pigment sludge at the bottom of the jar can then be poured into a separate container and disposed of at any paint recycling center.

Make sure your studio is well ventilated – if possible, cross ventilate with a box fan in one window blowing air out of the studio and a second window open to let in fresh air. Researchers have identified several varieties of houseplants that excel in removing chemical pollutants from the air. Some common ones are philodendron, spider plant, and golden pothos, gerbera daisy and chrysanthemum (mum).

Obviously, there are many more ways to green up your studio and your art work. I’d love to hear from you on what you do to protect yourself and the environment while creating your art! Please leave your tips in the Comments section – thanks!

Here are some links you might find helpful:

If you have other resources you’d like to share, please do so in the Comments section. Thank you! And Happy Earth Day!

Kate Dardine is a professional artist and the Marketing Director for Fine Print Imaging.