Spring Cleaning in the Studio
Art, Escapism, and Despair
Folds and Fabric in Art
A Gift from the Netherworld
News for February!
Spring Cleaning in the StudioHealthy Green Artists
by Janet Chui
February doesn't usually strike one as springtime, but for the one billion people on this planet who celebrate Chinese New Year, spring cleaning is one of the most important preparations for the festival. The idea is to rid one's home (or office, or studio) of all long-untouched, unwanted objects that bring lethargy and bad luck, banish the cob webs and dust bunnies, and spruce the space up with bright decorations. Because chi and good luck (that flows abundantly on the first days of the new year) is attracted to clean, fresh spaces that invite new activities and successes in the year ahead.
On the practical side, it's a great time to renew your work space by separating the clutter from the actual tools, the dead weight from the inspirational pieces, the distractions from the reference materials. The exercise in spring cleaning often frees up work space, reminds us of forgotten papers or paints in deep drawers we'd forgotten, and either saves us money in the finding, or makes us generous by encouraging donations of unused materials to charity thrift stores or creative reuse centers.
Donating Usable Items
If you're like me, constantly amassing craft materials that you barely use, and you want your materials to go only to artsy types and you do not have a creative reuse center in your neighborhood, Etsy is now setting up Etsy Labs and is accepting donations of art materials at their new Brooklyn space. Etsy.com is a fabulous place for artists and crafters to sell and buy handmade wares. Details about the new Etsy Labs and where to send donations are here: http://blog.etsy.com/?p=140.
In the environmental spirit of reducing, reusing and recycling, Freecycle (http://freecycle.org/) lets you connect with people in your area who may happily take the items you're looking to get rid of, and in that same spirit, you can also lay claim to free furniture, tools and materials that others are trying to lose! Connections are usually made through an online mailing list or bulletin board system. Free online classifieds (like Craigslist at http://www.craigslist.org) are also great places to advertise your offered goods, conversely, you may see "Wanted" ads requesting donations of art materials to schools or daycare centers.
Lastly, check your free, local alternative weeklies - many of these will not only accept and publish free classified ads for people offering free household/craft/office items, but they may also list events in your area like flea markets (where you can offload your stuff), or "free markets" where everyone who turns up can pick up or give away whatever they like.
Starving artists can save the planet, help their community and share and receive art materials for next to nothing!
Disposing of Hazardous Materials
Maybe you've got something that no one wants or that no one should have. Cans holding old house paint, wood stains or strippers that are still sloshing around, solvents that you're done using, ancient aerosol cans of fixative, glue, or paint... These items fall under the category of household hazardous waste (http://www.epa.gov/msw/hhw-list.htm) and should not be poured down the drain, into the ground, or tossed out with the regular garbage. (Personally, that's why I try not to procure many of these items at all!) The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 1.6 million tons of household hazardous waste are generated per year, and the average home can accumulate up to 100 pounds of it in storage. (Out of sight, out of mind, eh?)
While many of the hazardous substances like solvents or paint strippers or lacquers come in glass or metal containers that contain them safely (for the moment), it's pertinent to note that glass can break, metal can corrode, rubber stoppers can disintegrate, plastic caps can crack, and so on. Even when a toxic substance is hermetically sealed, for health and safety reasons it should still be stored away from common living or working spaces - should the seal be broken either suddenly or because of the slow deterioration of its container, you'll be a little more protected from the leaking of toxic compounds into your indoor air.
A quick summary on the subject of indoor air pollution: The concentration of air pollutants in closed, "normal" indoor spaces are already much higher than in the outside, and presents a toxic soup of plastic phthalates, formaldehyde, acetone, and narcotic chemical compounds (not counting things like dust, mold, synthetic clothing or carpet fibres, and fibreglass). Without worrying about hazardous art materials, these come from clothing, plastic housewares, furniture and building materials. If you use a lot of conventional household cleaners like "409" or Lysol, you can bet the concentration and variety of chemicals in your indoor air is much higher. In places with strong air fresheners or that "new car smell", people often experience headaches, nausea and coughing - signs your body is giving you to tell you to get out! Over the long term, even lower concentrations of certain air pollutants can be responsible for depression or constant flu-like symptoms. Treatment? Open the windows whenever possible, shop smart, and keep some indoor plants!
Now let's get back to the safe and environmentally way to dispose of your household hazardous waste. The EPA has a page on it (http://www.epa.gov/msw/hhw.htm) but your best bet is to check with your local city council (now as easy as Googling for its website online) about where hazardous waste is collected in your area. Following their guidelines will help keep the chemical nasties out of your ground, water and air where you live.
Making Your Own Cleaning Products
If you're going whole-hog cleaning your studio or home, and you were reading closely when I described where indoor air pollution can come from, you may be wondering what to use now when you're wiping down your work surfaces or even mopping the floor. (For a cool list of natural fix-its for common household cleaning jobs, try here: http://pinksunrise.com/fixit/cleaning.htm or search online for "natural cleaning recipes". There are also many books on the subject (and more are appearing everyday) but you'll discover with time that it's almost always a matter of baking soda and vinegar, and sometimes borax for tough jobs, and/or lemons and essential oils for extra pizazz. These recipes will not only have you breathing easier, they're gentler on the environment, do not need hazardous disposal, and they're ridiculously cheap!
So, you should now be armed with a plethora of cleaning and greening information to make the new Year of the Pig a money-saving, healthier, more co-operative and environmentally-friendly year! Happy spring cleaning, and gong xi fa cai*!
* Mandarin Chinese, a common Chinese New Year greeting. Or gong hei faht choy for those speaking Cantonese.
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