My Earth-Friendly Art Practice
As a painter of landscapes, who travels to beautiful natural sites, I have a concern that my art practice does not add to the challenges our environment faces. Over the past several years I have been slowly visiting different aspects of my practice to move closer to a more sustainable practice. Here are the elements of my practice that I have changed:
Canvas - I have switched from a cotton 10 duck canvas to linen. There are many reasons for changing to linen from cotton, linen being better for the environment is only one of them. A six foot by four foot cotton canvas can take as much as 54 gallons of water to produce. Although linen uses water in its production it is five to twenty times less than cotton and other synthetic fabrics. To see more details about the environmental advantages of linen over cotton, please read my blog entry about it here.
Ground - the ground is the prepared surface on which I paint. In particular, ground refers to what some would call the primer or material that is between the paint and the canvas or panel. The purpose of the ground is to protect the surface from chemical interactions with the paint. With oil paint, in particular, the oil from the paint can interact with the canvas causing stains and eventually deteriorating the canvas. Most artists today use a product called acrylic gesso as a ground. Acrylic gesso is a petroleum-based polymer. I have switched to an Oil Ground which is plant based - most often linseed oil or a nut oil. Oil ground takes longer to dry, but I always have several paintings going at once, so timing is not such an issue. Plus, I would rather use something plant-based than petroleum-based.
Stretcher Bars - I have been making my own stretcher bars, the wood that the linen is stretched over to make a canvas, for many years. Starting this spring, 2023, I will be making my stretchers form sustainably-forested lumber. I have found a source of sustainably-forested lumber in Northern Minnesota and am very excited about this change. Sustainable forestry practices ensure that the environment is not destroyed when the wood is harvested. This means no clear-cutting. This means no water pollution from erosion and runoff.
Paint - I use oil paint. The fact that oil paint is made with plant-based oil is a bonus. Like acrylic gesso, acrylic paints are petroleum-based polymers. But, many of the pigments for paints, these days, are petroleum based. Painters from history used to use natural, raw materials to make their pigments for oil paint. In some ways this was much more environmentally friendly. But on the other hand, they often used toxic materials like magnesium and cadmiums. Many toxic materials have been replaced over the years, but they have often been replaced by petroleum-based chemicals. I am looking at some natural pigments that aren't toxic to see if mixing my own paints is an option.
Stains - when staining the frames for my paintings, I have switched to eco-friendly stains. They have fewer Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's) that pollute the air and are non-toxic.
Paint Thinner - I have switched to Oderless Mineral Spirits for when I paint. It is less volatile than turpentine and is about the weakest thinner that will still work with oil paints. I use it sparingly.
This is my current list. This is always changing. I am looking deeper into each of these and other materials I am using. If you have suggestions or recommend a product that you have used, I would be glad to hear about it.