Sustainable art supplies

I have always loved painting and drawing. From the age of six my friends and I used to dream up and manifest whole little worlds together on shared pieces of paper.

Throughout school I always found that art class was my favorite. Even though I wasn’t always the best at it, it just felt so good to be able to create something with my hands in an instant.

As I grew older and changed schools a couple of times the drawing games from childhood stuck with me. Eventually I became better at it, and even gained my classmates admiration sometimes. But still I didn’t have the courage to explore my craft further when it came to choosing an occupation as an adult. I majored in communications science and became a sustainable packaging designer. Until two years ago.

These past years, as I have begun to shift toward a more sustainable lifestyle in many ways, the subject of creating a good work life situation for myself came on the agenda. And this time I had the courage to listen to my intuition. Was I really doing what is most meaningful to me, using my potential? And most importantly was my work situation suiting my life in a more cosmic sense? As my journey toward a more sustainable life began, so did my search for sustainable art supplies.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away.”
– Pablo Picasso

Paints and colors

The first thing I did when transitioning from amateur painter to sustainability explorer was to question my art supplies. In the acrylic colors I had been using there was sure to be some plastics and chemicals. I have no idea how they are produced, or where, or by who. And without much hope to find out easily I decided to make my own artist paints out of food scraps instead. What a win-win I thought, to both reduce food waste and produce my own supplies.

Food waste I have tried to use for paint:

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Spinach
  • Strawberry juice
  • Blueberry juice
  • Black bean water
  • Black currant juice
  • Beetroot decoction

I am not counting on any of these food colours to last more then a few years as they will start to bio degrade. To me that’s the whole point and an important part of the project. To question how important it really is for me as a human to leave long term marks on this planet. However, if the great artists through out history would have thought like this in their work we would perhaps not have as many important pieces of art preserved from history. There is a balance to everything.

 

 

Paper and canvases

The next thing I was curious about was the sustainability of the paper or canvases I was using. For starters most paper comes from renewable resources, trees and such, but as with anything new you can count on a lot of energy going into the paper making process. And why chop down even more trees to create my art?

Being who I am means I somehow didn’t even consider ordering something organic from overseas or anything like that. I wanted to learn how to make my own paper myself. Mainly to find out what ingredients my supplies need to contain and also to find out if there are ways to make use of “waste materials” just like with the painting colors.

 

The comments I received during this process were usually something like “Oh, you are making paper, just like they do in kindergarten?”. My reply being “Yes, just like kindergarten or like they do in the paper mills”.

My paper is still not very easy to paint or write on, but I’m learning the craft as I go. If you have any tips for making good quality sustainable paper at home please write me a comment down below!

I still haven’t tried making my own canvas yet, but am looking forward to trying it out with some old fabrics or cardboard sheets. Also, just painting onto old book pages would be really cool to try!

 

Brushes and sponges

My next endeavour will be to try and figure out how to make pencils, brushes, sponges and ink. These are the first trials, but I’m looking into making ink with blueberries and maybe make my own brush set with some sort of fur or hair. I don’t know, tip me off in the comments down below if you have any clever ideas lined up for me to try!

More techniques

I have also tested etching on wood, making collages with pictures from reused magazines, making my own glue with flour and water, making stamps of old wine corks and erasers, making bracelets of second hand beads, and a whole bunch of other stuff all with the aim of being completely climate neutral and sometimes even climate positive.

Fun facts about sustainability in art supplies:

  1. Glitter is micro plastics instantly ready to mess with the ecosystems. Please, make sure to use the bio degradable kinds of glitter for your crafts.
  2. Many traditional techniques and hand crafts are using locally sourced and natural materials such as leather, wool, plant dyeing and so on, which is very inspiring to me.
  3. Land art is an art form in which artists venture out in nature and using nature itself to create art on location. Such a beautiful idea.

 

As you probably could tell I am not fully educated in this area yet, and it is a definitively a work in progress for me to figure out more about sustainability as an artist. I am still adding new materials and ideas to my art supply set and can’t wait to see what cool things can be created when I have gathered all the practical tools and skills an artist needs.

Please let me know if you have any further tips or thoughts about sustainable art supplies. It would be great to to hear about it and maybe explore further together!

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Original Unverpackt, Berlin: Shopping with no-added plastic

Original Unverpackt_ Jendrik Schro¦êder_ Foto3

Photo credit: Jendrik Schröder for OU

According to the German Environment Agency, there are up to 140 million tons of waste at the bottom of oceans, floating in the water, or washed up on beaches.

This shocking statistic is one of the first things you’re confronted with when you visit the website of Original Unverpackt, Berlin’s first packaging-free supermarket, that this month celebrated its first year anniversary. Original Unverpackt means something like “Originally Unpackaged” in German, and the concept is simple: they offer the same products as a normal supermarket, but they buy them in bulk, and the customers bring along their own jars, bottles, boxes and bags to put their items in (or they pay a small deposit and borrow some containers from the store). Fruits and vegetables are all free of plastic packaging, and dry stuff like rice and cereals are in big vats where you can take as much as you want to fill your container.

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Photo credit: Katharina Massmann for OU

It’s all really simple actually – the only thing you have to remember to do on your first visit is to weigh the empty containers before you start, so that the weight of the container can be removed from the total weight at the till, allowing the cashier to work out how much of each product you’ve actually bought. (I forgot to do this a couple of times on my first trip, but the workers there were really nice, and very patiently helped me empty, weigh and then refill my beloved mason jars).

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Photo credit: Jendrick Schröder for OU

And at the end of it you end up with a whole load of groceries, minus the added plastic, and for a similar price.

This is what a quick trip to a normal supermarket in Germany usually ends up looking like (particularly because I usually try and buy organic things, which until recently at least, were for some reason always packaged in more plastic than the non-organic ones, example: bananas in a “bio” plastic bag). And yes, I went to Netto rather than an organic supermarket, where lots of things are sold in reusable glass bottles, so it ended up looking pretty horrible and package-y…

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And this is what my shopping looked like after a trip to Original Unverpackt.

shopping from original unverpackt berlin

I was surprised that they even had things like tofu (pictured in the jar in the middle), that was locally produced, and lots of different sweets, nuts, cereals, spices and herbs.

Original Unverpackt_ Jendrik Schro¦êder_ Foto5

Photo credit: Jendrik Schröder

The only thing I couldn’t find that I usually buy every week was soya/rice/almond milk. I’m assuming this is hard to source directly in bulk from a supplier, and maybe it’s something that they’ll start stocking in the future. They had normal milk though, and they even sell beautifully-designed (and very expensive!) glass bottles for you to take your liquid stuff home in.

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And I was surprised that they had vodka on sale…

held vodka original unverpackt berlin

…and even red wine!

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I went there on a Saturday evening (just before they closed for the weekend – German supermarkets aren’t open on a Sunday), when supermarkets are usually really busy, and Original Unverpackt was no exception. This shop was busy. It was almost difficult to move around. And it wasn’t just the kind of people you might expect to be shopping in a place like that (women in long hippy skirts and men with manbuns maybe?), but a completely average mix of people.

inside original unverpackt berlin

I was annoyed for a second at first when I realised that they didn’t have some of the things I wanted, particularly when it came to fruits and vegetables, but then I realised that that is actually exactly how a supermarket with fresh produce should work. If their shelves had been full half an hour before closing time, they would have had to throw away a whole bunch of stuff, just so that I could have the luxury of buying that one pomegranate, or whatever it was (I can’t even remember, that’s how important it was).

Original Unverpackt_katharinaMassmann_Foto4

Photo credit: Katharina Massmann for OU

Okay, so I have to admit I haven’t been shopping there regularly since – it’s just too far for me to travel for a few things – and I tend to get most of my food from the sort-of-dumpster-diving organisation known as Foodsharing (an article about that will follow some unspecified time in the future). Doing your main supermarket shop here requires dedication, like any lifestyle change does. You need to plan ahead and have your containers ready, and be ready to transport your really heavy shopping home (there’s extra weight of course, because glass jars are way heavier than flimsy plastic trays and cardboard cartons). You basically need to be ready to not be as lazy as I am.

Despite all that, going there is definitely an eye-opening experience, and a really good reminder of how much waste we as consumers create in our day to day lives. And although I’m currently too lazy to go all the way to this shop to buy my groceries, there are other things I try to do when I do end up in a supermarket, as an attempt to minimize the amount of plastic I end up taking home. Like trying to avoid putting my vegetables in a plastic bag when I buy them – either choosing a paper one, or just putting them loose on the conveyer belt (even though this means the cashier and the other customers look at me really strangely while my tomatoes and all other round things roll all over the place), and choosing things in paper packaging rather than over plastic (like really simple bags of oats, rather than buying the fancy pre-mixed müsli in a plastic bag). Actually, even just writing this article has inspired me to go back. After all, is there a better sight in the world than a mason jar full of goodness?

Photo credit: Daniel Lee on Flickr

Photo credit: Daniel Lee on Flickr

For an interview with the owners and a look around the shop in more detail, check out the video below