HAMMONTON—Artists reduce, reuse and recycle materials, so there is less waste going down the drain or ending up in landfills.
Some art materials like oil paints can be harmful to the environment because they are difficult to clean up, and contain harsh chemicals, which can pollute waterways if they aren’t disposed correctly.
Robin D’Adamo, a member of the Hammonton Arts Center located at 10 S. Second St., said water-soluble oil is an alternative for people who “like oil paints but can’t deal with the fumes and the chemicals.”
“They work just like oils. They dry just like oils. You can use impasto to make it thicker or you can have it thinned out depending on your preference on doing oils, but it’s healthier for the environment,” D’Adamo said.
Turpenoid and turpentine and mineral spirits, which are used to clean brushes, have to be taken to a dump.
“It has to be taken to ACUA [Atlantic County Utilities Authority] on their hazardous waste day. Where with these [water-soluble oil paints], they don’t have to be. Everything can be cleaned up with water, and you’re ready to go next time,” D’Adamo said.
There are different brands of water-soluble paints. The Winsor & Newton Artisan water mixable oil is used by beginners and students, D’Adamo said. For more experienced artists, there are brands like Cobra, Holbein Aqua Duo and Lukas Berlin.
“The Artisan does not blend as well. The Cobra, [Holbein] Aqua Duo and the [Lukas] Berlin are much creamier ones, so they will blend and you’ll find they’re smoother where the Artisan does not seem to blend as much with other colors,” D’Adamo said.
“I’ve never had any problem with them [water-soluble oil]. They don’t cause any of my asthma attacks, which I used to have in school working with oils. I love them,” D’Adamo said.
Water-soluble oil dries permanently like regular oils.
“Whenever I hear people talk about wanting to do oils, I recommend this to them over regular oils because one trick with these that we found out is you can heat these up and they will dry faster if you have thinner layers, which makes it easier for an artist to work,” D’Adamo said.
The water-soluble oil can also be left alone and will be dry enough to be matte within two weeks.
“You can’t tell the difference between an oil and water-soluble oil—except for the price. These are a lot cheaper than buying oil paints and they seem to last longer. ‘Cause people I know who have oils complain their oils are dried out after two years. I’ve had some of these for three, four years and they never dried out,” D’Adamo said.
Artists like D’Adamo use the entire tube of paint before throwing it out.
“When I’m done with a tube, there’s not much in it. I have a tendency that if I really like a color and I can’t get it, I’ll cut it open and I’ll scoop the paint out,” D’Adamo said.
At Piney Hollow Arts Studio, located at 19B Central Ave., owner Paula Farrar said everything they use is “water-soluble, non-toxic in today’s market.”
“There’s nothing I put down my sink that wouldn’t be safe for drinking water,” Farrar said.
Throughout history, natural materials were used for paints, but some of those materials, like lead, were considered toxic and replaced with non-toxic materials.
“The only thing I would say that would not be organic here would be acrylic paint… They’re fairly inexpensive. They dry quickly, but they are 100 percent man-made materials. Acrylic is basically a plastic, but they are water soluble,” Farrar said.
Farrar teaches her students how to set up and clean up for themselves as well as reusing materials.
Piney Hollow Arts reuses damaged canvases for showing paint samples. The studio also reuses leftover paper for test strips.
“I keep just about everything. I really do,” Farrar said.
Farrar even reuses old brushes, including a brush she has had since high school.
“This brush is over 40 years old, and it’s so worn out. You can feel how corroded it is in there. That’s all paint in there, but I never throw it away because I know I can get a good texture out of it,” Farrar said.
Meagan Rieder, art teacher at Warren E. Sooy Jr. Elementary School (WES) for grades 2-5, wrote in an email to The Gazette that “artists can be environmentally friendly in several ways.”
“A great way is by simply following the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. In addition to following the three Rs, creating awareness through art is certainly the best way,” Rieder wrote.
In years past, Sooy Elementary students participated in a School-Community Project to create environmental awareness and celebrate Earth Day, April 22.
“For this project, the students created artwork on the ShopRite paper grocery bags in hopes to encourage shoppers to ‘Be Green’ and use paper over plastic bags for their groceries that day. It was so inspiring for the children and the bags came out just beautifully!” Rieder wrote.
Rieder noted that there are art supplies that are not environmentally friendly.
“Things like acrylics, oils, adhesives, resins and chemicals can be damaging to the environment when they are not properly recycled or disposed of. We as art educators are aware of the proper way of disposing and cleaning materials so that they don’t harm our environment. As students mature through their education in the visual arts, they will eventually learn these responsibilities of handling these various mediums,” Rieder wrote.
At Sooy Elementary, toxic art materials aren’t used.
“We have come a long way from the days of finding lead, or even raw egg in classroom paint. There are laws that protect students from such hazardous materials. The classrooms and supplies are inspected by the state every year. For instance, there are ceramic glazes that are rated in various ways. There are glazes for elementary students that are only approved to be food safe, and there are glazes that are rated for a high school level that may be labeled as food-safe or not-food-safe. An art teacher would never allow a student to use a toxic glaze on a vessel that is capable of being used to eat or drink from,” Rieder wrote.
In her classroom, students reduce by using less water, by turning on the water at low flow and quickly turning it off when not using it. They also use less electricity by turning the lights off and opening the windows for natural light. Students also use fewer paper towels when drying hands after washing.
When it comes to reusing materials, Rieder said students “use the back side of a paper before throwing it out, reuse placemats as additions to collage, reuse found objects to create art and reuse plastic takeout containers to store supplies.”
For the last ‘R,’ recycle, the classroom has a marker recycle box for when markers dry out and they get sent to a recycle station.
“We never throw away crayons as we can melt them down to create new ones or even reuse them to create a collage,” Rieder wrote.
Artists can also use natural materials found in their home or backyard.
“Artists can paint with high-pigmented fruits and vegetables, coffee and teas, and other natural materials. I purchased a beautiful scarf from a local artist downtown Hammonton that was painted using natural dyes such as rusted metals, flowers, leaves and berries,” Rieder wrote.
This story was produced in collaboration with CivicStory (CivicStory.org) and the New Jersey Sustainability Reporting Hub project (SRhub.org). It was originally reported by Kristin Guglietti for The Hammonton Gazette, and may be re-distributed through the Creative Commons License, with attribution.