Sketching in the Field
The Crafty One
Rules of Art
The Art and Life of Sulamith Wulfing
Making It Last!
EMG news for February 2008
Making It Last!Healthy Green Artists
by Janet Chui
Are you having a good new year yet? If not, you can always start your new year over, with one billion people--the Chinese new year (based on the lunar calendar) starts on February 7th! What's this got to do with art making? Well... I wanted to share one of the Chinese New Year customs of putting up auspicious red stickers on everything, like the characters for "full" or "abundance" on rice pots, walls of the home and piggy banks in the hopes that reality will match the labels on these objects. (It doesn't take much for this artist to come with the idea of putting those stickers on her paint set and possibly her Paypal account!) But let's get to something more practical than a sticker...
As promised in January, this month's column is about some methods of stretching one's artist supplies, especially our paint, and for that matter, water, markers, and paperclay. I'll cover the types of paint that I've used before. I have my old art teachers from my school days to thank; with all my respect, they were wonderfully stingy and had all sorts of ways to keep us pesky students from using more good stuff than we needed from the art cupboard. In fact, using new poster paints from the jar, or fancy solvents, or artist grade paint was only allowed if there was no alternative. (What fun my art classes were, huh?)
Even if we are loaded with money for art supplies, it is just greener to use less and to make our supplies stretch--after all, manufacturing art supplies produces greenhouse gases (and in cases dioxins) just like everything else, and transporting these items from places around the world to our supply store has an environmental toll too. Anyway, back to the green penny-pinching....
1. First things first: Avoid pouring or squeezing out more paint from the jar or tube than you're going to need. Of course, this is always easier said than done. I actually don't manage to do this myself, so, on to the second paint-saving trick...
2. Don't wash your palette. This may sound "ew," but for theatre projects, my fellow set-painters and I rarely washed our paint palettes. In art class and in theatre set production (which wonder of wonders, required a lot of painting), the paint used would either be poster paints or tempra with latex paint (not tempera) that behaved a lot like opaque acrylics. If a project took several sessions to finish, often we would return to find our palettes still loaded with yet-to-dry paint that could be refreshed with a few drops of water. Or, the tempra-latex paint would have formed a layer of "skin" that could be peeled off the palette to reveal "fresh" paint below. Soldiering on, us (overworked, underpaid) set-painters used all the paint from the palette by loading our brushes with them till the palettes were as spotless as we could get them. And then we cleaned the palettes with dampened or dry old newspaper instead of using running water (if only because sometimes you were painting stuff far from the bathroom).
Out of school, I found the paint-saving tricks with tempra and poster paints carried well into painting with acrylics. I was paying more for artist grade paints now instead of poster paints, and that stuff was precious! If I put more paint than I needed on my palette, I found I needed to save that paint if I was done painting for that day/project. I had 3 friends during my acrylic-using days: cling wrap, tupperware, and a mister.
Actually, scrap the cling wrap. (I think we can all be greener and healthier by doing without PVC cling wrap in our homes.) What we need is a soft, impermeable and flat material, and a clean plastic bag suffices for this job. The clear plastic bag you get at the grocery store for bagging veggies would be terrific.
3. Saving the paint on your palette for another day goes like this: The plastic should be placed over the acrylic paint and the palette to reduce the amount of air the paint is exposed to. Of a sorts you're manually shrinkwrapping your paint to expose it to as little air as possible, so the plastic does need to touch the paint. During unwrapping just lift the plastic carefully so you can use the paint both from the plastic and the palette. And to really make sure my paint wouldn't dry out, I further placed the wrapped palette into tupperware, into which I added water droplets using the mister. So it was a moist environment that the paint was exposed to in case the cling wrap wasn't clingy enough. Everytime I returned to the palette, the paint was as wet as I had left it.
The above works for any water-based paint with the consistency of acrylics, as well as for air-drying clay. (I would use things like old plastic ice cream tubs and so on.)
A note for watercolors: A palette with a lid is very helpful, all the more so if it's airtight. (Mine is, and it's wonderful for painting on the go and for festivals!) Now, for quality buffs: while dried watercolors sometimes can be liquefied and used again by adding water, it does seem to lose vibrancy and transparency this way, so I prefer to not let my watercolors on the palette dry out if I can help it.
Extending the life from your markers: Always cap them tightly when they're not in use (and caps should be air tight, or close), and minimize damage to the pen tips by not pressing on them too hard.
And lastly and obviously, we should be capping our paint jars and tubes tight too... no point saving the paint on your palette if you're going to let the larger amounts dry out! These tips should help your paint last longer...no red stickers with the Chinese character for "abundance" needed, unless you really want those, that is!
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