I’m shocked! I’ve used nearly a whole 500ml bottle of acrylic medium to make the structure of my current artist’s book.
(Working title: The Pomegranate.)
A friend of mine - previously tasked with getting supplies for me - says I have an acrylic medium addiction. But even by my standards, that’s a lot.
Why I started using acrylic paint
I resisted using acrylic paint for the longest time. The synthetic-sounding name put me off. I didn’t see myself as an acrylic sort of a girl.
But when I eventually tried acrylic paint in the early 2000’s, I found its quick drying time and opaque quality suited it my workflow perfectly. I like to be able to make mistakes and cover them easily. And I don’t have much patience for waiting for paint to dry.
So acrylic paint has been an integral part of my creative process ever since.
But I love our planet and my distress at climate change is growing.
The contradiction of "Creative Fire"
In 2013 I made the artwork “Creative Fire”. It was my response to the increasingly unbearable summers we were experiencing in Spain due to global warming.
It hasn’t escaped me how much of a contradiction this is. Acrylic paint is made from a synthetic resin binder called acrylic polymer emulsion. Basically liquid plastic!
So while I’m happy with the rapid progress I’ve been making on The Pomegranate over the last fortnight, I recognise that it's partly due to the fast-drying nature of these synthetic materials.
And, compared to my other pieces, The Pomegranate is surprisingly heavy. Since it’s otherwise made of corrugated cardboard and tissue paper, the weight is mainly due to that 500ml of acrylic medium! I feel it as the weight of my ecological footprint.
Too deep a print by far.
If I make a similar piece to The Pomegranate in the future, I'll use a cornstarch paste instead of acrylic medium. That’s not a difficult switch.
And I’ve already switched up using acrylic medium as a varnish for cold wax medium.
But substituting acrylic paint in my workflow is a much bigger ask. There’s no doubt that it’s going to require not only some changes in my process but also a change in the look of the work.
Of course I know that my tiny consumption of acrylic paint doesn't contribute to global pollution massively.
And I’m aware that a common practice among ‘environmentally concerned’ artists is to filter out the acrylic paint from the water. Then leave the left-over paint sludge to dry out before throwing it away. But this isn’t very practical now that I don’t have a permanent studio. Plus it still begs the question of what’s going to happen to those plastic solids at the end.
(Throwing away the paint I already own without using it won’t make it much less polluting. So I’ll probably still be using acrylics for quite a while.)
But I believe in living according to my core values as far as possible. So I’m not happy with using so much of a material that has no place in our planet’s ecosystem.
Tempera - an eco-friendly alternative to acrylic paint?
For 2020, one of my goals is to explore options for greener alternatives to acrylic paint. Ones that could fit with my workflow.
I began researching this last year but somehow, it got away from me. There are lots of suppliers offering earth pigments. And info about easels and paper using wood sourced from sustainable forests. But for commercially prepared ‘green’ paint alternatives other than oils, I find a lot of dead links.
So I keep coming back to the idea of Tempera. (Tempera paint consists of pigments mixed with a glutinous, water-soluble binder medium such as egg yolk. It dries to the touch quickly, but can take up to a year to fully cure.)
I'm back in Spain next month and I have in a book back there on natural paints. So I'll experiment with some of the recipes for making egg tempera paints. (There are also recipes for milk paint but I’ve never heard of artists using those.)
I can imagine myself procrastinating massively if I have to make up my own paint. It could be a big bar to entry. That said, I have used powdered earth pigments before but mixed with - you guessed it - acrylic medium.
So I’m prepared to try.
My creative voice is strong enough, my process robust enough, to subject it to some stress. I can even embrace the idea that different media will add an exciting new dimension to the work.
What about you? How do you reconcile ‘being green’ with your creative process?
Have you struggled - or do you continue to struggle - with your own dilemmas in terms of materials you previously took for granted?
I’d love to hear!
I’d be SO grateful for any suggestions for green alternatives to acrylic paint. Especially if you’ve tried them yourself.
Please comment so others can benefit from your expertise!
UPDATE 22nd OCT 2020
I've created a free online space to share ideas and links for artists who are trying to find eco materials to work with. It's a private community on Mighty Networks so you don't need to be on social media to join and no-one will be selling you anything there.
It's a place to upload pics of our own work as well as links to books, websites and suppliers of interest and generally chat about our experiences. (Yeah, that's right, it's like those networks that used to exist before Facebook took over everything.)
I’d love it if you’d join!