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4 Eco friendly Artists on Sustainable creativity

When we think of the impact of art on our environment, packaging or global shipping is what might jump into your mind. However, art can have a greater polluting impact than you’d ever imagined. Although popular material choices, plastics, non organic resins and even acrylic paints are overwhelmingly not biodegradable, causing great harm to our environment, especially marine life, when they break-down into microplastics. Even oil paints have toxic properties due to the pigments used and the solvents required to thin the paint and clean paintbrushes, all of which normally ends up down the drain and entering and disturbing nature’s delicate ecosystems…

However, many artists have taken the initiative to educate themselves and their audiences of the danger of art to our environment. In celebration of Earth Day, we spoke to Kurtis Brand, Sienna Martz, Alexia López Sosa and Leo Wijnhoven our eco-conscious and environmentally ethical artists about how they incorporate sustainability into their artistic practices. 

How is your artistic practice sustainable/environmentally aware?

Sienna: As a vegan textile artist, I use plant-based and recycled synthetic fibers. I avoid all materials derived from animals, including fibers such as wool, silk, alpaca, leather, mohair, and so on. I made this choice so that my art doesn’t directly support the animal agriculture industry, which is not only inhumane, it is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions and the climate crisis. 

Kurtis: My main medium and favourite material to use is upcycled canvas from The New Denim Project in Guatemala. They buy used denim scraps from jeans manufacturers and upcycle the scraps into thread to create their environmental textiles. Sometimes my pieces are made from only this product and wood, such as my Large Connected piece. When I use dyes I try to use natural dyes or non toxic dyes. 

Leo: All the polluting paint ends up on the canvas, even the paint from cleaning the brushes in solvents. 

Alexia: I hate to waste so I’ll always try to give the longest life to my tools & materials. I give extreme makeovers to my brushes so that they’ll live forever and upcycle/reuse everything I can; I make my canvases from recycled wood &  fabric, recover old/damaged doors which are great support for painting. I use old clothing for rags & reuse food containers for storage/palettes. I make some of my paintings and varnishes in an artisanal way, using natural ingredients. For packaging my work I rescue cardboard panels/boxes from supermarkets.

When did you become aware that creating art could be potentially unsustainable/polluting?

Kurtis: While living in Guatemala I became obsessed with using sustainable materials after meeting the folks at The New Denim Project. I realized this must be in my future of art making. Everything we do these days should be eco conscious.

Sienna: Learning about the negative environmental impact of animal-derived materials frequently used by textile artists was the first time I realized how art could be unethical and unsustainable. It was surprising to discover that materials such as wool, leather, mohair, and feathers are marketed as “sustainable” but can have a larger impact on our planet than a majority of its synthetic counterparts. 

Alexia: Luckily, I have always loved to keep useless things just in case. 12 years ago I had this box with paper scraps & bad sketches… it became several boxes and then an almost full credenza. I was aware of the toxicity of some pigments and solvents that I avoid, but somehow I had not thought about the waste of paper! So I started to pay more attention to reusing it for collages.Then I came across a wonderful paper-manufacturer in Colima where I learned to recycle these scraps myself and transform them into new beautiful paper sheets.

Leo: I was always aware of the polluting aspect of painting in oil, especially when I developed Organic Psychosyndrome from using toxic solvents and toxic-metal-pigments, which can lead to early- dementia.

Leo Wijnhoven

Does your method of creating affect the content/theme of what you create?

Kurtis: Absolutely! I find the sustainable canvas to have a very natural and engaging energy and this energy makes me want to create more. And people feel that engaging energy when they see the pieces. My methodology is doing meditation before the work is created and carrying that mindfulness and meditation through the completion of the work. This serene energy combined with the natural material is what really makes the work what it is.

Sienna: My methods of creating and the materials I use tie into a common theme I work with, which is a dialogue about how, through time, we see the Earth reclaiming and raking over the marks that we, as humans, have left on our planet and how our actions are met with repercussions by nature to establish balance. 

Leo: When I saw that neoliberalism (and climate change as a consequence) is the biggest danger for the world, I started to create very dark, dramatic, surrealistic works.

Alexia: It’s the other way around, the theme I love the most to explore are botanical and landscape motifs so every time I’m working it’s a reminder that I want to preserve nature’s beauty, be greener in life and art.

What advice would you give to other creators about how to incorporate sustainability/eco-consciousness into their practice?

Alexia: I think the best is to stay aware of our process, maybe there is a local alternative or a less polluting pigment that will actually look the same… Observe what you could improve and start with the easiest.

Kurtis: Explore different types of natural materials, there are so many, and begin to experiment with them and find one that feels right and speaks to your current work. You may even find that the material inspires you to create a whole new body of work. This is what happened to me and I never looked back.

Sienna: For anyone interested in transitioning into a more sustainable and eco-conscious art practice, I highly suggest you look into where your materials are coming from and the impact they have on our planet. Recent textile advancements have given us an incredible array of plant-based materials that are available online and in local stores, such as vegan wool made from bamboo, wood pulp, and even pineapple fibers; vegan leathers made from mushrooms and coffee grounds; as well as fabrics and other materials made from recycled synthetics.

Winter waves
 Alexia López Sosa,