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Eco-friendly Art ~ Brands & Tips

Many people have asked me to share some information about eco-friendly brands and tips and the day has finally arrived! Grab some tea and sit comfortably because I’m bringing you a bunch of good stuff.

What is eco-friendly art?

Some people think that living in a more sustainable way implies buying fancy utensils and organic cotton reusable bags. Even though the most consumerist side of eco-friendly living is really appealing, the most important point - and the least profitable one - is to actually consume less. The idea is to start asking yourself whether you need something or if you just want something. We shouldn’t make exceptions when it comes to art, even if those new and flashy color markers from your favorite brand look irresistible.

Once you start thinking about where those materials came from, how they will affect you while you’re using them, and what’s the most likely place where they will end up once you’re done with them, making the decision weather to buy or not to buy something is much easier. Switching to a more sustainable way to make art requires doing some research and comparison. It’s about trying not to be wasteful, investigating which are the responsible brands, taking good care of your tools and doing some thrifting. The good thing is that once you find the materials you like, you can just relax.

These are some things that I find important to ask myself when buying art supplies:

  • Is it sustainable? Does the production of this material require the pollution of water and/or destruction of ecosystems?

  • Is it toxic to the environment, my pets and/or myself?

  • Is it biodegradable?

  • Is it made locally or in the country where I’m at?

  • Can it’s packaging be responsibly disposed in a facility close to where I live?

  • Can it (or will it) be recycled, up-cycled or reused?

  • How long will it last?

  • Can I get it second-hand?

  • Do I really need this?


Photo Credit: Sol Anzorena

Why I use eco-friendly art supplies:

It’s been years since I started caring more about the planet and my impact on it. Little by little I started changing my way of living, doing things, buying stuff and eating, but it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I switched to non-toxic art materials. It hadn’t occurred to me that the things I was getting exposed to could harm me or anybody else until my hands started to get dry and my skin break with painful and ugly injuries. I’ve always been sensitive to harsh soaps and detergents and I had been careful not to use them, but I had never wondered about the acrylic and oil paint in contact with my skin being harmful. I hadn’t questioned the intense headaches after smelling turpentine for hours in art college very much. I hadn’t paid much attention to the hands of my classmates either, which were as dry and irritated as mine. It’s finally in 2018, when I could only caress my husband using the back side of my hand due to the blisters in my palms and fingers, that I decided that enough was enough.

Wanting to stop feeling itchiness and pain is what make me want to make the change, but soon I realized how equally important is to protect those who I love and the planet in which we all live. How could I continue painting beautiful landscapes when I was throwing poison down the drain? How could I paint animals whose beauty and freedom I admire while using brushes made with fur harvested from enslaved ones? These questions troubled me until I found how to replace my old materials with ones I could feel good about.

Photo Credit: Sol Anzorena

How to start?


  • Use what you already have. By now you might be considering switching to eco-friendly art supplies. My advice is that if you aren’t allergic to them, that you first try to use the materials you have and then switch to the new ones. Hoarding things in your drawer for fear to pollute the planet won’t make them disappear. It’s better to give them use and then never buy them again. If you don’t want to use them yourself maybe there is a resale shop, donation center or friend who will take them.

  • Use what already exists. Do you need to use those toxic enamels for your next project? Do you really? Okay, then try to find if there is a resale store in your town where you could get them second-hand. Another idea is to find (or create yourself!) a group in social media where you can find other artists giving away or selling their used materials. Ask your artist friends if you can borrow or buy the materials they are not using anymore. The idea is to avoid consuming new stuff as much as possible, and if you can’t get it second-hand anywhere, at least take the time to research how to dispose your waste appropriately.

  • Find the greener options. Nowadays there are many art supplies brands that are doing their best to be more sustainable. When it comes to being eco-friendly there is always a grey scale of possible answers. You can’t expect everything to be 100% eco-friendly or you’ll get frustrated. See which options you have available and then decide what is best for you. Maybe they don’t have the biodegradable watercolors you want in your country (shipping them from the other side of the world might not be the greener option!), but there is a watercolor set you can get which was made locally by a small business. You will not always find the perfect art supplies, but at least you can feel good knowing that you tried your best.

  • Take good care of your materials. Trying to waste the minimum amount of materials is great regardless of how old or new they are. Try to think of your art practice as something sacred. Your tools are the medium through which you can express yourself - they deserve to be treated with respect. Keeping your things organized will allow you to see what you have already so that you don’t buy more than you need. Taking care of your brushes and pencils will make them last longer and in the long run you’ll be saving money.


WHAT MATERIALS I USE / RECOMMEND:

Watercolor:

  • Da Vinci Denise’s Earth-Friendly Palette. I’ve been using exclusively this palette for two years now and I love it. The colors are vibrant, opaque and saturated while still looking natural. They are also non-toxic, vegan, and can be refilled individually when they run out. This is the set I took to my seven-month-trip in Asia last year and it was perfect. I didn’t have to refill any colors during this time and I was happy to have just a minimal art supplies set with me.

  • Princeton Neptune Series brushes. These are the watercolor brushes from your dreams. Although they look like traditional squirrel fur brushes, they are vegan. Their bristles can hold a lot of water in one dip, and the handle of these brushes are normally made of wood. They might seem expensive at first, but they will last for years and years if you give them proper care. Shape the bristles after rinsing them with water and leave the brushes to dry with the bristles standing up (NEVER LEAVE THE BRUSHES RESTING ON THEIR BRISTLES OR YOU WILL HAVE BAD KARMA FOREVER).

  • Hahnemühle Bamboo Mixed Media Blocks. I haven’t tried this paper yet, but it’s next on my list when I run out of the one I have. This paper is 100% vegan, made from 90% sustainable bamboo fiber and 10% cotton rag. The only disadvantage is that they don’t come in bigger size than 16 x 22 inches. For smaller works this paper looks like the best option!

  • Canson Heritage Watercolor Paper. Yes, I know, this paper is expensive, but the results are really great. I haven’t been able to find a greener option for watercolor paper in this size and which gives such good results. It’s made of 100% cotton and it’s vegan (if you were wondering what makes other papers not vegan, sometimes they contain wool and gelatin). I get 22 x 30 inches (300lb) sheets and cut them if I want to work in a smaller format.


Photo Credit: Sol Anzorena

Acrylic paint:

  • Natural Earth Paints Pigments. These pigments don’t contain added fillers, additives, preservatives, stabilizers, or heavy metals. You need to use an acrylic medium to make your paints, which can be a bit messy, but it also gives you more control of the consistency of the resulting paint. The pigments come in compostable packaging, which is why I chose them over other environmentally-friendly options. This company also offers children’s art supplies, gesso, oil paint kits and more.

  • Earth Pigments Acrylic Gel Medium. Although this medium comes in a plastic jar, which is not ideal, the packaging can be used to store your mixed acrylic colors or store pigments. It’s vegan, non-toxic and with zero VOC (volatile organic compounds). Earth Pigments also offers a series of non-toxic pigments, but since they all come in plastic jars, I prefer to get the ones from Natural Earth Paints.

  • Earth Safe finishes. This is a company which offers a variety of great eco-friendly products. I haven’t tried any yet, but I appreciate that they make varnishes with low or zero VOC, which are also water-based, non-toxic and made in the US. They also have already mixed acrylic paint, paint brushes, and so much more. Check them out!

  • Second-hand brushes! I’m more picky about what brushes I use for my watercolor paintings, since with that technique you get better results when the bristles of your brushes are able to hold more water. When it comes to acrylic painting, I really don’t mind using second hand brushes even if their bristles look split. Sometimes an old brush can create a nice texture, and you can always cut the bristles to make a thinner brush if you need one.


Photo Credit: Sol Anzorena

Oil paint:


  • Eco-friendly Oil Paint Kit from Natural Earth Paints. I haven’t tried to make my own oil paints yet, but this kit contains the same pigments you can use to make acrylic paint. This kit allows you to make non-toxic paints which are UV resistant and durable. They are also free of fillers, additives, synthetic preservatives, toxins, petroleum-based pigments, and heavy metals. The kit also provides you with a bottle of Eco-solve, which is a sustainable paint thinner made from soy bean oil, and a bottle of refined walnut oil to use as medium to make your paints.

  • Natural Earth Paints also offers eco-friendly Gesso, certified organic raw cotton canvases, varnishes and the tools you need to mix and store your paints.



Painting murals:

Even though I have always been mindful about not wasting materials for painting my murals and reusing things as much as possible, I only started painting murals using eco-friendly paints about a year ago. This is because I started working as a muralist when I was doing volunteer work in different countries. This skill allowed me to stay in wonderful places for free in exchange of painting something for my hosts. Almost all the murals I have painted so far were made in this manner, and that means that I didn’t have much freedom to choose which materials I wanted. I simply used the materials that were given to me and after doing my job I moved onto the next place.

Luckily I was able to spend the last year living in Kansas City, and that’s why I was finally able to invest in paints that I feel good about and that I can store and reuse safely.

  • Interior paint. Again, Natural Earth Paint is one of the best options to make an indoor mural. You can always mix the pigments with some acrylic paint that you already have if you can’t invest in buying too many colors at first. I painted this mural in my room mixing new eco-friendly pigments with leftover paint:


Photo Credit: Sol Anzorena


  • Exterior paint. I just finished painting a 8 x 40 feet wall using ECOS Paints, and I must admit I love this brand. The colors are bright, vibrant and really easy to mix. I got the primary colors (cyan, magenta, yellow and write) and a terracotta one, and that was all I needed to get all the shades and hues I wanted. These colors are non-toxic, have zero VOC and no smell. This last feature can be particularly important when painting an outdoor mural, because the strong smell of paint could disturb the animals, specially pollinators, who live around the area. This company is also very transparent about the ingredients they use to make their products. The only thing that bothered me was the way the paints were packaged when they arrived to me. I think there are many options that don’t require using styrofoam even if it can be processed to reduce 90% in size. You can’t trust that this material will be recycled or processed after you use it, so this is something I would like for them to change. Despite this, I’ll probably keep buying paints from them because the quality is amazing.


Photo Credit: Sol Anzorena

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SCRAPS KC

If you are an artist and you live in Kansas City this might be your next favorite place ever. I found out about Scraps KC after another artist I know shared a picture of some of the items she saw at the store. I was desperate to get second hand frames for my paintings at the time, and in the picture I saw dozens and dozens of frames ready for me to get them. I went to visit Scraps that same day and realized I had arrived to my dreamed art shop. Scraps offers all the second-hand fine art and crafts supplies you can need along with a extended collection of fabrics, beads, sewing machines, containers and most items you can think of. It’s basically a supermarket for sustainable creators. They also accept donations and organize fun events to help them sort out their fabrics. This year I have started making clothes and jewelry using upcycled materials and it’s all thanks to Scraps. I also framed my works for two exhibitions in the last few months just using second-hand frames. The possibilities are infinite!

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More vegan art supplies:


Here is my go-to website to find vegan art supplies. I believe that using tools and materials to express ourselves that don’t harm innocent beings is extremely important. It’s true that many traditional recipes contain animal products and they have done so for centuries, but this doesn’t mean that they are better than other vegan options. Take a look, you might even like these more!

Double Check Vegan



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INSPIRATION:


Here are a few artists which are doing art using eco-friendly materials.

Corinne Loperfido is a Texas based artist who is an advocate for self-expression and anti-consumerism. She’s also a magnificent costume designer and jewelry maker. She uses up-cycled materials to create her pieces and even created a temple made out of trash in Santa Fe, NM. Her most recent project has been creating a movable tiny house using trash and mostly second-hand materials.


Trash Temple at MeowWolf in Santa Fe, NM

Andy Goldsworthy is an English sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist who produces site-specific sculptures and land art situated in natural and urban settings. He uses the natural materials that he finds in the locations in which he makes his land art. Many of his works are not meant to last for a long time. Instead, Andy documents the changing of his sculptures with the weathering and passage of time.


Tasha Cathey is a talented artist who specializes in beautiful watercolor landscapes and earth pigment abstracts. She makes her own watercolor and acrylic paints using Natural Earth Paint art supplies. Her beautiful photography will inspire you to want to make your own paints too!


Photo credit: Tasha Cathey