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April 2008

April 2008 -- Unicorns

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Columns

  • Artist Spotlight:
    The Mystery of the Works of Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516?)
  • Behind the Art:
    It's All Relative
  • Myths and Symbols:
    Fierce and Sweet
  • Healthy Green Artists:
    Down to the Wire
  • Wombat Droppings:
    CONundrums
  • EMG News:
    No Foolin'! April news

    Features

  • Learning to License

    Fiction

  • Fiction: The Wrong Kind of Snow
  • Poem: Alive Again
  • Fiction: Letting Go

    Comics

  • Falheria: Unicorns
  • Tomb of the King: The Map, Pt 3


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  • Down to the Wire
    Healthy Green Artists
    by Janet Chui

    Like the good, planet-earth-loving, tree-hugging artists that I'm going to assume my readers all are, I gather all my scrap, used, scribbled, ruined and yellowed sketchbooks and papers every once in a while to drop off at my nearest recycling center. Carrying the papers to the recycling bins sometimes takes all of five minutes to walk to them and back, luckily for me. It's actually usually the sorting that takes a longer time! Sketchbooks or paper pads are a bit of an exercise in deconstruction. There's the white paper in the middle, the paperboard backing that I rip out and save (for packaging and shipping) and then, if the sketchbook is wirebound (and I seem to receive these as gifts a lot), I may take 5 minutes to get the wire separated from paper, especially if it was wound in a spiral.

    The neat freak buried deep, deep inside me hisses at my inner pack rat whenever I find wire to salvage from trash. I don't throw twist ties away (these may come from grocery stores or bakeries, secured around clear plastic bags) as these are useful for securing to the ends of paintbrushes, which makes the brushes easy to hang up for drying with their tips pointing down. (This stops water from entering the ferrules, making our brushes last longer!) And, in a cardboard box I've labeled "miscellaneous," I've been collecting what must be metres of wire in various colors and of various gauges and hardness. Every once in while, like a mythical dragon admiring its hoard of treasure, I open my "miscellaneous" box and gaze at my scrap materials...

    And it's that inner pack rat again that smirks whenever I run into any online craft tutorial or project description urging me to run to the craft supply store for steel or copper wire. For crafting, wire can be used for anything from binding journals to making glass jar lanterns (from simple to more complex) to wine glass charms. Even salvaged wire that may look ugly (but is free of rust) can still be hugely useful for sculptors to use as armature for small doll art or clay figures. Electrical wire can be salvaged as well (I'm still hanging on to an ethernet cable that is no longer working) though that's harder to use and would really need a good wire-stripping tool to get to.

    It may be a little silly to make so much ado about wire, but we must recognize that extracting any materials from earth; then purifying, treating and transporting it involves huge amounts of energy, water and pollution, all of which affects not only the health of the workers (and our own eventually), but mining destroys animal habitats and poisons our water sources as well. Mining remains the most polluting and toxic industry on the planet. (Cyanide is used in the mining for gold, for example...try remembering that when we look at those goldleafing projects!) Even after metal mines are abandoned, they may continue to leak strong acids and heavy metals into the environment.

    According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 1.1 billion pounds of toxic materials were released by the metal mining industry in 2004. (This was 25 percent of all toxics released by US industry overall.) This includes 105 million pounds of arsenic, 369 million pounds of lead and 4 million pounds of mercury. (And if those numbers aren't scary enough, they actually aren't the whole story. As a result of an industry lawsuit in 2003, the mining industry is not required to report its toxic releases in full.)

    Now, while the fraction of mined metal going to make craft and jewelry wire must be minisicule compared to the metal going to the construction and electronics industry, well, we artists are here to do our part in protecting the earth aren't we? What disturbs me is, like so many products that attract our eyes when we go shopping, wire is yet another one of those literally "ooh, shiny" items that hides so well the devastating environmental toll that goes into its manufacture.

    And so... the simple wire. It's innocent-looking, bendy, environmentally-destructive to make, but oh so useful! It's also so ubiquitous, that perhaps we can open our eyes and start seeing how we can reuse what's already around us and in our homes, than reaching for that shiny new coil of it on the store shelves and racks?

    See you again next month!

    Mining and pollution links:

    Janet Chui
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