Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Is Your Studio Green?

By Kate Dardine

I’m not talking about color here, I’m talking about eco – and health – friendly. Most of us paint away without considering the ramifications to our own health and the health of the planet.

My intention for today’s Earth Day blog was to write about all the ways that you can “green” your studio. The reason was two-fold: to learn ways that I can, as an oil painter, lessen my environmental impact, and to share that info with you. I naively thought that after typing in a few keywords into Google that I’d come up with enough info to write a book. Hardly. There is very little information out there, and what is available can be ambiguous, contradictory and in many cases, impossible to interpret. But I was determined…

Since I am an oil painter, I decided to start there. I use mostly Gamblin paints. Gamblin has a long history of environmental conscientiousness. Their website contains a lot of great information about studio safety. Their odorless mineral spirits (Gamsol) can be used as both a painting medium and a brush cleaner. Unlike regular turpentine, dirty Gamsol can be recycled with paints at the local recycling center. Of course, it is still made from a petroleum base, which by its very nature has an environmental impact. Dick Blick sells a turpentine substitute made by Eco-House called Orange Turpene which is made from “food-quality ingredients” and no petroleum. However, it still is classified as a hazardous material. I use Gamsol and have never had any problems with it – haven’t yet tried the various orange-based solvents made by Eco-House.

I was interested to learn that the cadmium pigments used to make paint are not considered harmful to humans during normal use. Gamblin does not make their Flake White with lead as other paint manufacturers do. However, they, as do all paint manufacturers, highly recommend that you wash your hands thoroughly after painting, or wear protective gloves.

One product that is icky is one that most oil and acrylic painters use – varnish. The best products I could find are still hazardous, and extreme caution should be used - proper ventilation, clothing, gloves and a respirator are all advised, particularly when using spray. Of course there is no law that says you HAVE to use varnish, but most of us like the extra layer of protection and the way it evens out surface reflection and deepens the colors.

And how about the support you paint on? Take canvas – seems environmentally friendly enough. But was the cotton grown using pesticides? Was the wood harvested using sustainable methods? Where was the canvas manufactured? I found some canvas made from organically grown hemp – but it comes from China. The amount of fuel used in transportation may offset the good of organic and sustainable hemp. You’d think someone in the States would figure that one out. I didn’t find any artist canvas made from organic cotton grown and manufactured in the USA. Maybe as artists we need to start demanding it? I know I am going to mention it to the company I buy most of my canvas from: Signature Canvas in Kansas. They use high quality materials all grown and manufactured in the USA, which is a big plus in my book.

How about wood support? According to the manufacturer, “Ampersand panels are made from FSC certified sustainable US Forest products. We use completely green manufacturing processes that protect the natural environment. No harmful chemicals used, no dangerous emissions for artists.” Ampersand panels come in a variety of surfaces for all types of painting processes, from watercolor and pastel to oil and acrylic, scratchboard and encaustic. They are available at a variety of art supply stores, including Jerry’s Artarama. Worth checking out – I know I’m going to try them!

A quick word on cleaning up after painting. Wipe as much excess paint off your brushes onto paper towel (recycled!) or painting cloths as possible. Swirl your brushes in odorless mineral spirits, wipe off on paper towel or painting cloth. Then use an environmentally friendly soap, such as Murphy’s Oil Soap or one of the brands made specifically for brush washing. (If you paint with hog bristle brushes, don’t use soap and water, as water will cause the bristles to get mis-shapen. Use lanolin lotion instead. Dispose of the painting cloths or paper towels into a metal trash bin with a lid.

You can recycle your solvents like this: Get two glass jars with tight fitting lids. Dirty solvent is put into one of the jars and left to stand overnight. By the following day, the pigment in the solvent will have settled to the bottom of the jar. Pour the recycled solvent into the second jar for reusing. The pigment sludge at the bottom of the jar can then be poured into a separate container and disposed of at any paint recycling center.

Make sure your studio is well ventilated – if possible, cross ventilate with a box fan in one window blowing air out of the studio and a second window open to let in fresh air. Researchers have identified several varieties of houseplants that excel in removing chemical pollutants from the air. Some common ones are philodendron, spider plant, and golden pothos, gerbera daisy and chrysanthemum (mum).

Obviously, there are many more ways to green up your studio and your art work. I’d love to hear from you on what you do to protect yourself and the environment while creating your art! Please leave your tips in the Comments section – thanks!

Here are some links you might find helpful:

If you have other resources you’d like to share, please do so in the Comments section. Thank you! And Happy Spring!
Kate Dardine is a professional artist and the Marketing Director for Fine Print Imaging.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Green Spaces Provide Great Economic Potential

Some of the more heavily discussed topics of early 2010 include obesity, green infrastructure, clean water, and more. In particular, the addition and/or substitution of green spaces have been quite controversial as of late. Senior resident of Urban Land Institute Ed T. McMahon states "Green space adds value to property." Not only would these areas of conservation drive economic trends upward, but they also improve the overall health of the surrounding community. For example, substituting things like golf courses with conservation areas would essentially increase surrounding property value while diminishing overpriced maintenance fees. The same holds true for airports and other large acre-eating developments.

Some of these areas are already abandoned or unkempt. For instance, park and recreational areas that were once highly visited have become urban wastelands. In an article from the Salt Lake Tribune, Lindsay Whitehurst discusses how an area that was capped with tennis courts to replace an old reservoir had been empty for some time now. She further explains how the University of Utah received a loan to fill the old reservoir and turn the land into a conservation area. Bob Sperling, manager of the water design team for Salt Lake City public utilities, infers high costs when he mentions challenging structural design. Aside from this, safety was a tremendous issue which was later justified when a large piece of slate gave way. It wasn't soon thereafter that it was noticed by Sperling during a routine inspection.

Much larger metropolitan areas are also playing their role in promoting sustainability by implementing many Green Spaces within the city. In Meg Muckenhoupt's new book Boston's Gardens & Green Spaces, she discusses different green space within the city of Boston. With very low cost maintenance fees and little liability, these areas are perfect for protecting our wildlife and the environment. They also attract further tourism; which would in turn generate revenue from ticket/tour sales.

This aligns with the implications of "economic viability" and long term sustainability, posing the question, "Would the substitution of golf courses and airports in the short term lead to an abrupt economic downfall? It's true that this type of architecture provides undoubtedly high revenue. On the contrary, they both come with ridiculously high expenses and maintenance. Incorporating various elements of green architecture implies things like green roofing, which could in turn drive down electrical/gas costs dramatically.

Larger organizations are already taking a step in the right direction in Haiti. Brainchild behind the CGI (Clinton Global Initiative), Doug Band, has been working closely with organizations like AFH (Architecture for Humanity) to discuss potential means of green restoration. Combined with the additional efforts of many large collaborative units like the USGBC (United States Green Building Council), AFH hopes to shed some light on a terrible situation.

Recent findings have driven people like McMahon and fellow conservationists to investigate further into upgrading and expanding green infrastructure efforts. As earth day 2010 slowly approaches, it's important that we as individuals follow and support these ventures. It's equally important that we adapt greener disciplines to support both our planet and our economy.

Guest writer: Jack Lundee - "Taking a more progressive green approach."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Give a Voice to the Wildlife in Your Community

What is it about human nature that makes us continually seek out the new and unfamiliar? As a species, a common trait that we all seem to share is a longing for the emotional high that comes with a 'puppy-love' of people, places and things. However, as anyone can tell you, the inevitable conclusion to this roller-coaster of passion is a sudden dulling of the senses, when that object of our desire suddenly doesn't look as shiny anymore, and new things must be sought to sustain the level of euphoria that we crave. Our relationship with the natural world is no exception: How often do we find ourselves flitting from one flower of intrigue to another, without ever really tasting the sweet nectar of a deeper relationship built through careful observation and respect?

In his book Photography and the Art of Seeing, photographer Freeman Patterson recounts the story of a friend in South Africa who desperately attempted to grow a patch of dandelions in her garden, all the while trying to subdue the beautiful African daises, which could do nothing but thrive. And yet, here in the U.S. I know of gardeners who treasure these beautiful flowers because they are exotic and different from the local norm. This irony has not been lost on me: I didn't truly appreciate the beauty of my own state of South Carolina until after I returned from my first trip to Western Australia in 2001.

With the smell of eucalyptus and the laughter of kookaburras still ringing fresh in my mind, I recall looking out of my kitchen window at the autumn leaves which seemed so incredibly vibrant after visually digesting weeks of blue grey bush land. At that moment, a fiery male cardinal landed on a nearby shrub and I immediately recognized that its beauty was every bit as striking -if not more so- than the crimson rosellas that I had been drooling over for days during my time in Oz. I began to wonder what other amazing things I might have overlooked as a casualty of a mindset that had led me along in a high-speed pursuit for "bigger and better" things.

It didn't take long for me to recognize that there was a great deal which had in fact I had been missing. As I began to work with local conservation organizations, biologists, and naturalists, the deep diversity of the Southern Appalachians and surrounding landscape generously fed my growing curiosity both day and nig
ht. Whether I was in my backyard or out on a remote trail, I always found something that I hadn't seen before, which in-turn led to something else, and something else again. As I began to share what I had learned with others, another realization also began to materialize: virtually no one that I came in contact with had any knowledge of what was in their own backyards as well. I began to wonder, is this a trend that exists in other parts of the U.S.A., or even the world as a whole?

In attempt to answer this question, and change the perception of the value of close-to-home nature, Meet Your Neighbours was born. It is a concept that I have developed with a long-standing advocate of local wildlife, iLCP Founding Fellow and accomplished conservation photographer Niall Benvie.

Meet Your Neighbours is, in its essence, an environmental education program, which uses beautiful imagery as a vehicle to spread the message that common, local species are amazingly beautiful, are all around you, are in danger of becoming the endangered creatures of tomorrow if they are not recognized and protected today. It is our mission at MYN to offer participants a platform where they can create a dialogue within their own neighborhoods about these wild things and encourage people to get out and see them for themselves. Perhaps more importantly, we hope to press upon viewers that our children need to see and experience nature first-hand so that they might be future champions for conservation.

So photographers, how about it? Are you willing to take a stand for the wildlife in your neck of the woods? Niall and I surely hope so, because your wild neighbors need you to step up and give them a voice. If you are a conservation-minded photographer why not drop us a line at or visit our website at more information.

We are accepting applicants for the first round of submissions until April 30th, 2010.

Clay Bolt is an award-winning natural history photographer whose work has been featured by organizations and publications such as The Nature Conservancy, The National Wildlife Federation, Outdoor Photographer Magazine, Partnership for the Blue Ridge and Wildlife in North Carolina Magazine. His work focuses on environmental issues facing the Southeastern, United States and its amazing diversity of native flora and fauna. He is an Affiliate Council Member of the International League of Conservation Photographers.