I believe that in these days of increasing environmental awareness, we must all be conscious of how we live and the products we use.
Although I have always endeavoured to use kinder products, I have felt uncomfortable over the years at some of the products I use and wanted to make my studio as environmentally sound as I possibly could. After spending many months researching and testing alternatives I am now delighted to say that my studio is fully ECO!
As well as eradicating toxic chemicals I have also found alternatives to plastic based products. Although I am trying to avoid plastics as much as possible in the studio, I really don’t want to demonize them either. Whether we like it or not they are extremely useful. I endeavour to utilize what I can and would rather than use containers many times rather than seeing them going in the bin. What I really don’t want to do is the wash paints and inks down the drain that have a high proportion of plastic in them.
INKS AND PAINT AND GLUE
In my studio, like many others, plastic based products like acrylic paint and screen printing ink, and PVA glue were very much a feature of my store cupboard. It is true that compared to other more chemical based glues and inks, these are relatively kind to the planet, but we are still washing huge amounts of liquid plastic down the drain each year. Imagine, how many of us decorate our houses each year alone, how much excess paint we wash away! The plastic particles in these paints are so minute that they cannot then be taken back out of the water. It goes back into our seas, and even comes back out in our drinking water. Screen printing especially needs a lot of cleaning up and I looked at may possible ways of taking out the plastic, using various filtration systems, but each time I realized that although you can take out the main bulk of the plastic, you will never get out the ones you can’t see. After much testing I now have a system that is non-toxic and plastic free! As they are organic and don’t have a long shelf life, it does involve me making the inks that will be used before printing, but that is a small price to pay. The inks I make are made from a combination of Gum Tragacanth and botanical extracts or Eco pigments (https://www.magnacolours.com/product/magnaprint-eco-pigments/).
Another company that makes good sustainable water based products is AKUA, they make a wonderful water-based etching ink and pigments that can be mixed or used in mono printing.
ACRYLIC WATERBASED PRODUCTS
I am not saying that plastic based products should be totally sent to the naughty corner, there are many ways they can be used carefully and responsibly without washing directly down the plug hole, here are a few ways you can help: -
If you are using acrylic based paints, inks and PVA glues, be mindful how you use them. Maybe apply with a glue spreader that can be wiped and disposed of rather than a brush that needs to be washed. Put any excess back in the bottle and leave what is left to dry naturally, then peel it off and dispose of it in as a solid mass.
There are a huge variety of screen printing inks on the market, they all contain either many chemicals or a blastic base.
The best of these in my opinion is PERMASET. They have experimented for nearly 30 years to make marketable inks that are as environmentally sound as they can be. Please click on the below ink for more information.
Although you will never be able to take out all of the plastic and pigment in the water, there are ways to filter out some of the particles. Evaporation, a sand bucket and Flocculation are the three most simple and cheap ways.
Please click on these links for videos of artists who use these methods
R Collis - How to Dispose Acrylic Paint Water (Evaporation)
Artist Workshop - Environmental Considerations: Disposal of Paint Waste Water (Sand bucket)
Golden Paints - Removing Water-Based Paint Solids from Rinse Water. (Flocculation)
A NOTE ON LATEX
Natural latex rubber is a natural and biodegradable product that comes from the Rubber tree. Many household paints are labelled as 'latex paints', but in fact most contain no latex at all, but a synthetic variation. They are usually made from a combination of vinyl acetate and acrylates, that are not biodegradable.
If you would rather not use plastic based paints and inks at all, there are other possibilities.
WATERCOLOUR PAINTS are a mixture of pigment and gum Arabic. Additives like glycerin, ox gall and honey are also used.
GOUACHE is very similar to Watercolour but is made thicker and more opaque with chalk. Beware though; some paint companies thicken with acrylic instead of chalk so it would be wise to speak to the manufacturer before buying.
TEMPERA is a very old paint that is made when needed from powdered pigment and egg white.
You can buy ready-made Tempera paint but as with Gouache some manufacturers use an acrylic base. There are many recipes for it from all over the world, and you would need to speak to manufacturers to find one you are happy with.
OIL BASED INKS AND PAINTS
It is generally assumed that oil based paints are more harmful than water based, but this is not always the case. Many, do contain unpleasant chemicals, and certain pigments used are toxic, but there are some makes of oil paint and printing ink that are environmentally friendly. Cranfield oil paints and printing inks for example consist of mainly Linseed oil and pigment. Apart from a small percentage of drying agents, those are the only ingredients. The main problem is what is often used to dilute and clean up at the end. Artists White spirits and Turpentine are usually used which are very volatile liquids. Oils can be cleaned up with vegetable oil, and some makes, like Cranfield safe wash oils, can now be cleaned up with soap and water making them a wonderful alternative.
Try and utilize what you can rather than buying new equipment. In my studio, I have made many of the tools myself, (sometimes with the help of my lovely husband an his wood workshop). Rather than buying new sets of everything, I have really enjoyed using up scrap materials. They are ‘professional grade’ and range from bench hooks and Barrens for lino workshops, screen-printing tables, screens and squeegee rests to a large etching press made from an old mangle.
There are many great recipes to make your own glues, one that I regularly use is WHEAT STARCH PASTE, a glue that has been used for thousands of years in Japan and often used in the restoration of antique books. I find that heating for at least 25 minutes until it becomes translucent and stringy makes a big difference to the end product. You can find a good recipe at https://www.canada.ca/en/conservation-institute/services/conservation-preservation-publications/canadian-conservation-institute-notes/wheat-starch-paste.html.
But if like many time is an issue, there are a couple of other adhesives that I really like: -
COCCOINA is made from potato starch and almond and smells like Marzipan. The tin even comes with a little well in the centre and a brush!
AURO natural resin universal adhesive. Instead of the acrylic base, they have developed one from natural latex. You can find this and other products from Auro at https://auropaint.co.uk/
COPYDEX is a fantastic glue that is made from natural latex rubber and is 100% biodegradable and non-toxic. It is a bit pungent (I actually love the smell), but very effective!
VARNISH AND FINISHING OILS
Most varnish either contains many chemicals and VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) or has a plastic base. These ones are far kinder to the environment.
AURO CLEAR GLOSSY LACQUER is a water-based varnish that is VOC and polymer free! They also have a matt version and many other eco products.
OSMO POLYX OIL is wonderful for finishing wood surfaces and very environmentally sound.
I hope this information is helpful to you! If you know of any other products or good ways of going green with your art and craft please do let me know and I will add it on!
Let’s start an ECO CRAFT MOVEMENT…sharing knowledge is the key!