On the Path to Zero Waste Artistry

As an artist who focuses much of their time on conservation and the betterment of the environment, I find it surprising how much waste an artist produces unintentionally! From the empty paint tubes, to the plastic covering my canvases, to colored pencil shavings, to the fabric scraps from creating my Halloween costumes – there is so much waste!

As of 2019, I have made it my goal to be a more conscientious consumer and to be careful and purposeful about the art supplies that I use and what I end up getting rid of.

Speaking of, did you know that I host several workshops geared around sustainability? Int hese workshops, we discuss the importance of “Zero-Waste”, how to create waste-free alternatives, and then create our own item! For example, before the holiday season, I host a Zero-Waste Gift-Wrap event, and during the spring and summer seasons, I hold DIY BeesWax Food Wrap workshops! To check out my events and see if there’s an upcoming Zero-Waste themed workshop, click here.

This photo was made using upcycled, reused, and sustainable materials! The glow sticks used are non-chemical, the lensball is sitting on a mirror that I accidentally shattered and now use for light painting projects (and mosaics - see below!), and what you don't see behind that crazy color is a large sheet of glossy black cardboard, perfect for subdued reflections, that was upcycled from a picture frame box!
This photo was made using upcycled, reused, and sustainable materials! The glow sticks used are non-chemical, the lensball is sitting on a mirror that I accidentally shattered and now use for light painting projects (and mosaics – see below!), and what you don’t see behind that crazy color is a large sheet of glossy black cardboard, perfect for subdued reflections, that was upcycled from a picture frame box!

Here are some tips for those of you that are arts-and-craftsy as well!

This jar was once a Pickle jar and those tiny mirror pieces was once a rather large mirror that I had set up in my basement (I had a mini in-home gym set up) and one day my yoga ball got away from me and the mirror shattered... Don't throw them out - use them!
This jar was once a Pickle jar and those tiny mirror pieces was once a rather large mirror that I had set up as part of a mini in-home gym and one day my yoga ball got away from me and my mirror shattered… Don’t trash it – use it!
  • Make your own paint – Did you know that in ancient times (think Byzantine era), paint was made without chemicals? Shocking – I know. They used an egg based paint, and the process of creating it is so simple! All you need is the pigment (in the form of chalk pastels), water, an egg, and something to grind down the pigments! By going this route, you can easily store your DIY paints in cute glass bottles (I find mine at Thrift stores!!!), or only make what you need.
  • Donate leftover fabric scraps – So many animal shelters and clinics are in dire need of rags! Simply hem squares (or rectangles) of leftover materials and put them in a box to donate to the local shelter.
  • Upcycle When Possible – Did you accidentally break a plate? Keep the good pieces for a mosaic! Did you rip a pair of jeans? Turn that fabric into shorts or even create a cute denim stuffed animal as a gift (or keep it yourself)! You’ll be amazed at what art you can create with old household objects.
  • Purchase Loose Canvases – Individually wrapped canvases are torturous to someone who tries to avoid unnecessary plastic! By purchasing a large roll of canvas, I can either stretch it over a wooden frame myself, or I can simply clip it to a large sheet of upcycled cardboard (between my husband and I, we get a ton of cardboard boxes that I can cut the sides out of), and then paint on that! I find that this is a fun way to paint because it’s thin enough to cut out (creating custom sizes!) and stick in a standard photo frame that many people have access to.
  • Use DIY Crayons – I work a lot with kids and we use a TON of crayons. Often, kids don’t want to use broken or stubby crayons, so I collect those pieces and we create new crayons out of them by melting them down and pouring the liquid into cute little molds! Now the kids have custom crayons that they can design themselves! It’s a fun project for the kids to experiment with color mixing and a great way to ensure that every last bit of crayon is used. You can also search out beeswax crayons. Most typical crayons and even some colored pencils, are made from a synthetic wax. When possible, avoid those and snag the beeswax variety for a more sustainable art supply!
  • Create Natural Dye – There are so many beautiful colors that you can create with nature. I once made a wreath using purple (kinda pinkish-purple), golden-yellow, and green dye – all made from veggies and spices! Purple cabbage, turmeric, black beans, beets, and spinach make great dyes. Click here for a list of what plants make the most vibrant colors!
I created a wonderful octopus paper mache and used 5 paper-based egg cartons, 10 old wire coat hangers, 3 large sheets of old brown wrapping paper, and 4 whole newspapers.
I created a wonderful octopus paper mache and used 5 paper-based egg cartons, 10 old wire coat hangers, 3 large sheets of old brown wrapping paper, and 4 whole newspapers.
  • Explore the World of Paper Mache – What better way to reuse and get rid of old papers than by turning them into beautiful works of art! This can use up old newspapers, magazine, college notebooks (why do I still need my old BioStatistics and Fine Arts notes?).
  • Eco-Adhesives – Get rid of those plastic glue bottles (or reuse them to store the glue you MAKE!) A great way to create a sticky adhesive that’s more earth-friendly is to combine hot water, corn starch, vinegar, and salt! By heating all of this up, you’ll create a sticky paste that can be stored and used to adhere paper, fabrics, and other light-weight materials together! I have found that experimenting with the ratios can create different consistencies that work better for different projects.
  • Got Wood? – Choose wooden art tools instead of plastic. Mechanical Pencils and plastic brushes may be easy to clean and less expensive in mass quantity, but not only are the wooden or bamboo tools more earth friendly, they also are beautiful!
  • Think Before You Crumple! – Did your drawing not really come out the way you hoped? Can you turn your paper over and still use it? Did you rip (we’ve all accidentally erased so frustratedly that we’ve ripped the paper…) it or smudge it? Is there something that you can glue on top to hide the mistake and turn the piece into a 3D or Mixed Media project? Many times, I have found, if you take a look at your mistake and think about it before getting discouraged, you may discover a happy accident and incorporate it into the piece anyway!
  • Ultimately, do you need it? – This one is self explanatory. I know it’s hard, but when you’re in the art supply store or scrolling on pinterest, think of how you can create it using what you already have OR find a project that is better suited to your equipment. Can you borrow equipment from another artist friend?

Have some more ideas or are you already doing one of these? Let me know in the comments below and share your experiences! As life goes on, I will upload my various art projects that I have done so that you can become inspired!

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My old wedding dress was turned into it’s own, new dress and I reused the fabric to create this infinity scarf instead of throwing the scraps into the trash! The dress was dyed with Black Beans – making it navy blue, and instead of dumping out the old, used dye, I used it again for the scarf fabric.

Visit my shop for more nature-inspired art! And remember to stay tuned for upcoming Sustainability and Zero-Waste themed events on my calendar! A portion of all proceeds benefits wildlife conservation & habitat preservation efforts.

In July 2020, I was interviewed for a Zero-Waste Art Supply project by Samantha Nelson, an Art-Therapy Masters program student. She had interviewed some other artists as well on their methods of creating art sustainably. Read her report below and give her a follow on instagram @3monthsoftrash

1 Comments on “On the Path to Zero Waste Artistry”

  1. Pingback: DIY & Eco-Friendly Projects to Fill Your Time – The Art of Ecology

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