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For centuries humans have given themselves over to artistic expression in all kinds of weird and wonderful ways. Often artists put their hearts and souls into their craft and, depending on the form, that art can take a toll, in many ways, on their bodies.
Many art supplies can have a negative impact on the artist and the environment in terms of the toxic ingredients found in paints and the continuous waste from empty paint tubes, dirty paint water, and soiled solvents.
No one here is asking artists to give up painting or even their preferred paint of choice. This is just about taking a moment to give a second thought to the ingredients in the paints and how to protect yourself better, and a little thought to how better deal with typical artist studio waste.
Source: Chris Beaven/YouTube
Many paints, including seemingly harmless water-based acrylic paints, release chemicals, such as formaldehyde and ammonia, into the air while they are drying. Make sure that when you are painting at least have a window open.
If you are an oil painter and use turpentine to clean your brushes, don’t leave unopened jars of turpentine or rags covered in it in your studio overnight. Leave them outside. This way, you can walk into a clean space in the morning and not be breathing in fumes from the get-go.
One alternative to using turpentine and other solvents to dilute your paints is to use linseed or walnut oil instead.
As well, certain paint pigments by default contain toxic ingredients. Some colors contain heavy metals such as lead, cobalt, and cadmium. Nowadays, there are paints that offer similar properties and colors without hair-raising health warnings.
If you do have to use these toxic pigments, consider wearing gloves when painting to avoid having these toxic ingredients contact your skin.
Painting creates waste. From empty tubes, dried-up paint, and dirty rags to spent paint brushes dirty water, and paint-filled solvents, it’s almost impossible to be a painter and avoid it completely.
However, there are a few measures you can take to make painting clean-up safer for you and the environment.
Source: Alison Watt/YouTube
After you have cleaned all of your brushes in water, don’t pour the dirty paint water down the drain. The chemicals in the paints will ultimately find their way into our water sources.
You can just allow the water to evaporate leaving the acrylic paint particles behind in the jar, but this can take a very long time. Instead, you can get some hydrated lime and aluminum sulfate. These are things you can buy at garden centers as they are used as soil amendments.
Add these amendments to your acrylic paint water and a process of flocculation will occur. This is where all of the acrylic particles start to bind together again creating a solid.
This process makes it much easier to separate the acrylic from the water. You will just have to filter the dirty water through a paper towel or rag to remove the paint particles. You can then dispose of the rags (see below) responsibly. You will likely be able to use the water again for your paintbrushes.
Equally as important, don’t pour solvents containing paint particles down the drain, either. Instead, allow the paint particles to sink at the bottom of your jar and carefully pour off the solvent. You can use this again.
Then, pour all of the remaining paint sludge into a non-corrosive container with a lid and look online for a local chemical disposal center. You could also contact your local City Council for help finding a disposal center.
Source: Doris Rose Art/YouTube
Similarly, keep all of your spent rags that are covered in paint separate from your regular household waste and dispose of them along with the paint sludge.
IMPORTANT: Rags or paper towels that are covered in oil paint have the ability to spontaneously combust. When the oil drys in contact with oxygen it created heat.
Allow the oil paint-covered rags and paper towels to dry completely. Lay them out individually, flat, and out in the open air before containing them. A pile of oily rags or screwed-up rags acts as insulation and traps the heat.
Whether is for rags or paint sludge, if you know of particular chemicals present, such as cadmium or lead, put this on the label before dropping it at the disposal center.
Often, it is worth checking your art supplies’ manufacturer’s website for recycling options. There is a chance that they may accept spent tubes or at least give advice on proper disposal.
If you are not entirely attached to your traditional paint supplies, have a go at looking for some environmentally-friendly paints instead. There are many online suppliers and even local art shops that stock earth-friendly alternatives.
As well, if you build your own canvas frames, try to find wood that comes from sustainable sources.
Another important thing to consider is buying art supplies secondhand. It might be that someone bought a bunch of paints, brushes, papers, and canvases with all good intentions of becoming the next master, only to find that they didn’t have the time or talent!
Alternatively, someone may have bought a bunch of supplies and finished their project only to be left with a surplus.
Look in local ads, thrift stores, or online for options to buy secondhand.
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