Being a Greener Artist – Part 1

Creating art isn’t always very environmentally friendly. Some mediums like oil paint, for example, require special disposal procedures in addition to being made with potentially toxic substances like cadmium. There can be a lot of waste produced in the process of creating art, and premium papers aren’t always available in recycled versions. Thankfully, many art supply companies are not only making strides to be more environmentally conscious but also reducing factors that can affect your health in their products.

At the end of the day, though, it’s not just up to the companies to do their part. As an artist, there are ways you can reduce your environmental footprint as well in simple ways. In today’s post we’re going to look at ways to be greener if you are a painter, and in Part 2, we will look at tips if you work mostly with dry media.

Scrape Out the Inside of Almost Empty Paint Tubes
Every paint tube eventually reaches the point where you can’t squeeze any more out. There is still usually a lot of paint left in the tube, however. This tip works especially well for paint packaged in plastic tubing where to top can be easily cut off. Using a palette knife, scrape out any excess paint and transfer it to an airtight container.

How It’s Green: Not only does this reduce the need to buy a new tube of paint before you really need to, but the emptied, and cleaned plastic tube can then be potentially recycled. (Check with your local recycling facility to verify.) In the event the emptied tube can’t be recycled, you are still putting less toxic material into a landfill.

Store Custom Mixed or Excess Paint from Broken Tubes in Plastic Containers.

When information about plastics containing  BPA started to get a lot of media attention, people started switching their food containers over to glass or non-BPA plastics. Unfortunately, a lot of those non-BPA plastics were not getting re-used for other things. In many cases, people most likely threw them out. When I switched my food containers over to glass versions, I decided to used my old containers for excess paint. At one point, I went through a batch of paint tubes with cracked lids. Using these containers allowed me to save the paint inside those tubes. With a properly sealed container, I’ve had paint stored for over 3 years that’s still usable.

How It’s Green: Giving a new life to the old containers means that they still get used and don’t end up in a landfill. In most cases, these containers are made from durable plastics and can be reused over and over.

Use a Washable Palette

This is a pretty common tip, and many artists use these palettes already from a cost savings standpoint. The cost of a pad of disposable palette sheets over time is astronomical compared to the life you would get out of a disposable palette for a few dollars. Most varieties come in both a plastic or aluminum option.

How It’s Green: There is some argument as to the amount of water it would take to clean a palette really doesn’t make this green. My argument here is that wastewater is at least able to be treated to some degree and reused. When you are using a disposable palette, while convenient, the discarded sheets cannot be recycled and that adds up over time. There are also palettes now available with a releasing agent that will allow you to peel off the paint when it’s dry rather than needing to wash it at all. Check with your local art store for availability of these products.

Use Leftover Paint from Your Palette in a Mixed Media Sketchbook

It’s all fine and dandy if you are using a reusable palette, but what about the leftover paint on there?! This is a solution I have discussed before in other posts but is relevant here as well.  Sometimes when I’m painting I end up mixing more of a color than I end up needing or have just poured more than I needed in general. It might not be enough to put in a small container but might be more than I feel comfortable throwing in the garbage or washing down the sink. One day I decided to start to start using the leftovers in the pages of a mixed media sketchbook that I have. Later on, I would go in and experiment with markers and colored pencil in over top of the painted pages which resulted in some really fun results!

How It’s Green: As we have covered in the other tips, less waste, is less waste. There will also be less going down the drain from your washable palette when you use it in your sketchbook to create new art instead.

Use Old Metal Tins to Create a Travel Watercolor Set

The last tip comes courtesy of my sister Angie! She uses old metal tins to create travel watercolor kits. In the above example, the Staedtler pencil box holds both half and full sized pans and closes still nicely. Using a gloss metal spray paint primer from the hardware store to spray the lid, she then masks out the parts where the paint pans are so that no spray paint will be applied there. This was done because the lid side had a bunch of writing on it and having a solid white background is ideal to mix color on.

The pans are held in place with a floral adhesive that is removable. This allows for easy change out of colors and repositioning. It also keeps the pans from slipping around while inside the container.  The metal boxes are ideal because she uses magnets to stick the palette to her sketch book. Similar products made by companies are super functional but can be heavy. Lastly, the hinged lid is a nice feature because it’s one less thing to lose when you’re painting on the go.

Bonus Reusable Item: The Golden container seen in the photo above has a new life as a water reservoir as part of the On-the-go kit.

How It’s Green: Once again this involves finding a new life for an old item. This option takes a little trial, error, and engineering to make it suitable for its end use, but is a great way to reuse a metal tin. If you’re an avid reader of my blog, you know how much I like products and gadgets that make creating on the go easy and functional!

Read more about the process behind Angie’s On The Go Kits on her blog post here:

There are a lot of little things you can do to reduce your environmental footprint as an artist. As creative people, we can find creative ways to reuse items that once had a different life and also make the most of the products we purchase before they are discarded. These are just a few examples, but every little thing adds up over time.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next month when we discuss Green Tips for Dry Media Artist!

Do you have a Green Tip for Painters? Share with me in the comments!



Barb Sotiropoulos

Barb Sotiropoulos

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

5 Responses

  1. I’ve scoured the inside of my tubes of paint before…and my lotion tubes as well (just need to make sure I remember which is which!). I love the watercolor travel kits and your mixed media sheets look great. I do hate how hard it is to find eco-friendly (and affordable) acrylic paint, though, which – even though I love working with acrylics – does add to the guilt factor of that medium for me.

    1. I totally agree. I hope that companies are working towards better solutions. Part of that is artists asking for it too. It might be an outrageous thing to say but it would also just be nice if they did it without us having to ask 😬

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Hey, I'm Barb!

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

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