Despite many dead-end google searches I have been replacing “all too hard” with a list of ethical producers and suppliers and alternative ideas to our fast paced art cupboards. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about starting and transitioning one thing at a time.
So you have your eco hit list; the one with your regular purchases and habits that your determinedly and slowly switching out for more ethical and environmentally friendly alternatives. Reusable shopping bags-tick Glass Tupperware- tick, reusable straw- tick, stainless steel razor- tick, art materials- um, cross. It’s no secret that certain things are harder to find ethical alternatives for and art materials, i believe, are right at the top of that list. It’s not that there aren’t ways to make art without the plastics, environmental toxins and ocean threatening micro-waste, it’s just that these ways aren’t as convenient or as pretty and sometimes they are even a bit hard to find. Bright colours, fast-drying and affordability have all become trade-marks of the art supplies industry. For the last year as i slowly wade through my back-log of art materials i have wondered, where to next? Despite many dead-end google searches I have been replacing “all too hard” with a list of ethical producers and suppliers and alternative ideas to our fast paced art cupboards. There is now enough of a list of eco art materials I thought i would share. Each mention of a store or brand should be hyper-linked for you to click for more info- I hope you enjoy!
As a painter by choice (my major medium at university), the realisation of paint toxicity for the environment hit me like a ton of bricks. To be honest i was a little slow to catch on, i think it was after i had followed the Take 3 For the Sea campaign and had begun learning more about micro-plastics in waterways that it dawned on me the acrylic paint i was eagerly washing down at the end of my classes or my own painting sessions was going somewhere. And that place had a not welcome sign. These are my 3 recommendations for making your paint habits more environmentally friendly:
- Purchase products like Natural Earth Paint. They make lovely face-paints, dyes and also pigments for mixing into poster and acrylic type consistency. If your in Australia or NZ and wanting to order some online, Eco Warehouse is their stockist and they also stock a small range of other eco art materials. They list all the product details on their website and all pigments are earth derived except for blue (blue can’t be naturally sourced) which is non-toxic. By mixing your paint on a as needed basis there is usually much less wastage!
- Opt for pan type paints. If you follow some of Instagram’s many art hashtags you will have likely seen the watercolour variety. They are tins and trays with little squares or “pans” of colour. The colours are replaceable so you reduce your use of container packaging over time. They are usually long lasting as a little goes a long way. There is such a huge range of watercolour pan sets from beginner to professional quality. Big brands like Montmarte, Micador, Windsor Newton and Derwent all make them. Just check you can buy refills. If you want the pleasure of double ethical; a low waste and natural pigment pan set is available from Okonorm.
- The third option is to have a crack at making your own. I could explain, but Jackie from Happy Hooligans has all the recipes sorted. Some are more environmentally friendly than others, but anything that helps to reduce waste and uses a higher portion of natural ingredients is on the right track in my book. I particularly like that she shares how to make watercolour paint from all those left-over dried up texta’s! Happy mixing!
Texta’s and Crayons:
My alternative to texta’s , coloured pens or markers is actually in the subtitle. It’s crayons. You will be excited to know that thanks to some coverage of the potential nasties in commercial crayons (including traces of formaldehyde and several disputed claims of asbestos) there has been a wave of natural, home-made style crayons on the market. My personal favourite brand is Stockmar (which you can buy online in Australia in shops like Mercurius), but i also love to support etsy sellers like Funny Little Things .
It can be nice to try different crayons. A harder variety will create a textured line whereas a soft crayons often creates smooth and rich colour that is similar to Textas’s. Crayon’s also come in a variety of shapes from egg shaped to square to the thin pencil variety. So there isn’t really many excuses in the crayon department to not find something that suits you but is also a little kinder on the planet.
When it comes to eco art materials a direct swap for texta’s unfortunately doesn’t exist yet (hopefully one day they will have refillable cartridges). Their plastic body and limited life doesn’t make them great for the environment at all and they can’t be recycled in mainstream recycling. You may be able to find a texta/pen Terracycle bin in your local community as they do list this as a product they are able to collect and recycle on their website.
Ah pencils! This one is a biggie. No one wants the guilt of buying pencils that were shaped from forest trees. It’s hard to believe that still happens, but the horrible truth is that it does. The good news though is that there are options to ensure your pencil purchases don’t fund any orangutan home-clearing. Pencils were one of the first eco art materials i looked into!
- FSC certification means “Forest Stewardship council” and there are varying levels of their certification. 100% of the wood comes from FSC certified sources, “Recycled” means that the wood or paper comes from reclaimed material and “Mixed” means that at least 70 per cent comes from a FSC certified source or recycled materials whilst the remaining 30 per cent is made of controlled wood. Plenty of mainstream brands have the FSC certification, so even if you are shopping in your local store keep your eyes peeled. The same certification applies to paper or wood materials so when out shopping for any such eco art materials look for the same information. Paper should also declare where it was made and sourced. Avoid companies with unethical histories and from countries with vulnerable forest coverage.
- My personal favourite are pencils made from recycled newspaper. When you sharpen the pencils you can see the layers of newspaper. I have seen several brands, including the popular Onyx + Green .
- I also had to include sprout pencils in this list, they had me at planting my pencil stub. If anyone knows of any Australian stockists let me know in the comments. You can find them on Amazon here
Glitter is at least on par with pencils for having a dirty rap sheet. This culprit for water and soil contamination is by far the most heart-breaking for many. Glitter is an easy way to add sparkle to your life and is a hallmark of fairy, princess, unicorn and mermaid craft as well as invitations and celebratory cards and decorations. A lot of people find it hard to give up when transitioning to eco art materials and i understand why. I have a drawer full of glitter that i don’t know what to do with since i realised just how damaging the material is. Glitter is made up of PET plastic which is not only known for hormone disruption but it is also a micro-plastic that’s impossible to remove from the environment once its found its way there. Not all hope is lost though here are three ideas for continuing the sparkle in your art and craft sans traditional glitter:
- Now i can hear you yelling at your screen that there is biodegradable glitter! Haven’t i heard? Yes there is. Am i sceptical? To be honest VERY. Type eco glitter into your search bar and you will be met with a plethora of companies selling bright, sparkly glitter that looks like real thing. Click on the websites FAQS and you will be assured that the product is safe for the environment and guilt free. The facts on what it is actually made of and coloured with though are often extremely vague and this is what triggers my inner cynicism. Glitter Revolution gives some of the most detail saying that the foundation ingredient is made from Eucalyptus. On top of the vague details, there apparently seems to be some interchanging vocabulary and invalidated claims by some brands. Check this article out for tips on how to spot fake biodegradable glitter. I am not saying i won’t ever purchase any but choose wisely and be cautious!
- Find your sparkle other ways. I love to use hole punches to make confetti. This confetti, depending on the size and shape of your hole punch can be used like glitter to decorate art projects. Save old wrapping paper, magazines and cards to punch and give them a second life. If you want to get organised then punch your confetti according to colour and store in different bags or tubs as you would glitter. For a temporary or natural sparkle use leaves.
- Get your inner inventor out and try mixing your own powders. You don’t always have to buy eco art materials. Particularly when creating with children it is the feeling of adding something precious that is just as special as what it actually looks like. The Home Craft has recipes for home-made eye-shadow, but i think it could easily be used on art-work!
Playdough and Modelling Clay
This one is definitely not rocket science. When it comes to play-dough and modelling clay the best way to make it environmentally friendly is to make your own. Trust me when i say that making your own play-dough is so easy. It smells so much nicer, lasts just as long in an airtight container and will leave you happy. I promise. My favourite play-dough recipe is in an older blog post here. If you can’t face making your own and can’t rope in the help of a play-dough-making friend, there are a few local small businesses that make and sell small batches, one i have come across that also uses glass instead of plastic packaging is Happy Hands Happy Heart.
As for modelling clay, things get a little trickier. The allure of commercially bought is so appealing and sometimes i do use it. What makes it a fast art cupboard material is it’s lifespan once used and that its basic composition is PVC (plastic). If your going to use it be intentional. Use it to make projects you want to keep long-term and not throw out after a few weeks or when your children aren’t looking. I think modelling clay company Sculpey explain the difficulty in making their product environmentally friendly here. If you use it, use it wisely and responsibly and buy from brands who are looking to evolve their business to be as earth conscious as possible. There is nothing to say that these products won’t evolve over time. There are already some natural or high component natural modelling clay products, for example Staedtler make a 95% natural air drying clay that can be bought in art stores like Eckersley’s . Of course you can always make your own with plenty of recipes circling the internet, most which use easy-home bake ingredients. They might offer a different texture and present some hurdles re: colouring but the fun is in the process and you can be content that they are non- toxic for humans and mother E. Try these from Thought Co or scroll a few art, craft or home-school blogs to find your own.
Since i started researching eco art materials the rolling stone has well and truly got rolling and i am beginning to find a lot more options popping up. For stationary one of my go to stores in Australia is Buy Eco Green, they stock a variety of eco art materials and stationary options made from a wide range of recycled or natural ingredients, including tape and glue. Lousy Ink is a recent discovery that shows rethinking the whole design of products is not always necessary. A pen made with recycled body, refillable cartridge and recycled ink is my kind of pen. They are a relatively new small business and growing exceptionally fast , so be patient as they organise their supply and demand chain in a way that matches there ethos.
So there you have it, this is my current, ever evolving list of options for environmentally friendly and eco art materials. Really your favourite R’s should set up home here as much as anywhere in your life. Reduce, reuse, recycle. In that order they will help you tailor you art habits to be a little more ethical. As well as reducing single-use art materials like stickers, glitter, tape and buying quality materials that can be refilled and reused like pan or powdered paint, Invest in some proper palettes that can be washed as well as brush jars, avoid using things like plastic or paper cups and plates as quick alternatives. I also suggest setting up little art buckets for reusing ribbons, buttons, cards and paper scraps. Become a collector, collected materials come in handy for many a project and can easily replace the decorative, single use products we are used to. You can read my storage advice here. Finally recycle what you can. This is particularly pertinent to paper but also applies to finding art materials that can be recycled back to the earth like paints that are safe enough to make grey water. If you are buying instead of making things like play-dough, glitter and clay then read and research both the business and the ingredients.
It’s not about being perfect, it’s about starting and transitioning one thing at a time. You can do it! Small changes all lead to big impact.
If i have missed something or you have a product or business that deals with environmentally friendly and eco art materials please pop it in the comments below.