Eco-ethical Art and Sustainability
To help preserve the beauty of the natural world I am determined to improve the sustainability of my artwork by making more environmentally conscious decisions with regards to my practice and choice of media. I am not claiming to be an expert and my intention for this page is simply to share some thoughts and steps that I have taken so far. As I continue to research more about this topic I would love to hear from you if you have any recommendations. I hope sharing these ideas might prompt discussions, raise curiosity and help generate demand for a larger range of environmentally conscious art materials of archival standard.
The papers used for watercolour and giclée printing are traditionally made from cotton; a crop which requires relatively large areas of land and high volumes of water to cultivate. My giclée prints are produced on alternative papers made from a high percentage bamboo, hemp or agave mixed with cotton fibres. These plants produce more cellulose for a given area, requiring less water and fewer pesticides. For original coloured pencil drawings I have been working on an archival standard paper which is composed of 30% recycled material. I am experimenting with other papers for watercolour, including some papers which are handmade in the UK.
Unless you have easy access to a specialist paint disposal site it is inevitable that some waste pigment gets 'washed down the drain' as a result of cleaning brushes. Although watercolours are generally considered to be 'safe' I have become more conscious of the toxicity and degradability of the pigments that I use in order to minimise potential contamination to water systems and aquatic life. Many manufacturers provide safety data sheets for their products which outline hazards to human health but the information about environmental toxicology and degradability is sadly often vague or not specified. As a simple rule, I avoid pigments containing lead, cadmium, chromium, nickel or cobalt as these are likely to be toxic. Mineral pigments based on iron oxides are usually fine. The pigment codes on products (see image on the right where the example code is PR101) can be used to look up the properties of the pigment such as it's composition, lightfastness and toxicity. A helpful free database of pigment properties categorized by pigment codes can be found on this website .I use this to ensure my pigments are grade A (i.e. least hazardous) for toxicity. Plant derived pigments can be both non-toxic and biodegradable but the compromise is they are often not guaranteed to be lightfast so their colours can change or fade over time.
Packaging of prints
Prints are packaged inside clear film display bags which are manufactured in the UK from renewable vegetable starches (such as potato/sugar beet starch). They are fully biodegradable and compostable which means they will decompose to water and carbon dioxide (although they will take longer to degrade in home compost than a commercial composter). One thing to bear in mind is that these materials are not as resilient to heat, moisture and light exposure as polypropylene or PVC so these display bags are not suitable for long term storage of a piece. Inside the display bags prints are supported on a 2mm thick sheet of recycled greyboard which is made from 100% post consumer waste.