Making art while also making waste just doesn’t sit right with me. I believe there should be little if any environmental downside to our creative expressions. Becoming a zero-waste artist is still a VERY long journey for me but I’ve committed to it and have come across one particular art studio practice, a method of disposing of my acrylic paint, that you may want to adopt if you feel the same way. I’m calling it the artist ecobrick.
First, what is an Ecobrick
Before we go on, I must say, I didn’t come up with the ecobrick idea. The concept has been around for several years already championed by an organisation called the EcoBrick Exchange. This is a specific application for it and it makes for an amazing practice for any eco-conscious artist or creative.
An ecobrick is a repurposed 2L plastic bottle, that once contained milk or some sort of beverage. The empty bottle is filled with compressed non-recyclables like small scraps of plastic, cellophane or clingwrap, wrappers or packets for chips or sweets and such like.
Once the bottle is as full as can be – it usually weighs about 600g – the cap is screwed on and it is then repurposed in its entirety as a brick for building structures.
The idea behind the ecobrick is that it alleviates pressure from landfills as well as making sure that bits of environmentally harmful plastics don’t end up in the biosphere.
The bricks are mainly used to build structures like play areas for kids, boundary walls, raised beds for gardening and temporary structures as well as development centres and schools within township communities that support the communities living there.
Here’s the problem that led to my making Artist Ecobricks
Now that you know what an ecobrick is, let me share how I came to making Artist Ecobricks.
I’ve painted in many mediums and have found with miniatures, I enjoy painting in acrylic paint most. Acrylic paint is essentially pigment suspended in a polymer emulsion. They’re water-soluble but become water-resistant when dry, which means they’re essentially a tinted plastic when dry.
The problem is not the final painting, because hopefully you never throw the artwork away.
The big shitty problem is the paint palette. You see, because acrylic paint isn’t water-soluble like water paints, the dried paints can’t be washed off of a plastic or wooden artist palette. Most of my life, in any art setting, be that at school or in art classes, acrylic artists are instructed to use carboard or polystyrene trays that fruit and veg come in as their palette and then when dry, just toss it away. Recycling is already a hefty process. Add a thick goopy layer of water insolvent polymer to it and you’re bound to end up with an environmental shit storm.
The definition of an Artist Ecobrick
An Artist Ecobrick is a plastic bottle that that lives in your art studio or creative space and is stuffed full of all the tiny waste particles and acrylic paint peels from art palettes that come about as a result of your creative process.
The unexpected joy that comes from disposing of your acrylic paint in this manner
Not only are you keeping your creative waste out of the environment but by containing it in the brick you are simultaneously creating something new with something you once would have discarded mindlessly. There’s something quite humbling of watching it all amass inside your brick, knowing that you’re being as responsible as you currently know how to be while being creative.
What kind of crap should you put in your Artist ecobrick
These are the kinds of things that end up in my Artist ecobrick but I’m sure it would serve to contain much more creative waste.
- Acrylic paint – because when it dries it is essentially a plastic of sorts
- Dried glue – also becomes a plastic polymer
- Small scraps of cut off fabric or canvas trimmings (if you’re not reusing these for stuffing pillows say)
- Small foam shavings
- Old sandpaper
- Tiny glue tubes
What to do with a full ecobrick?
I’m still filling the very same ecobrick I started at the beginning of my 365challenge. And I’m already forming ideas of where I hope my artist ecobricks will live one day.
Full ecobricks can be dropped off at many drop-off sites around the country where your creative waste will be put to use making something useful with positive impact.
I hope this article inspires you to start ecobricking in your studio. If you’re still with me way down here, thank you for taking the time to read this far. I appreciate the time you’ve given this article. Please share it with any other artists who you think would benefit from an eco practice to accompany their creative practice.
You can’t open Instagram these days without seeing picture-perfect studio spaces where other artists create their masterpieces. What that picture isn’t showing you is how they came to own that space. Maybe they worked their buns off for it? Maybe it became available through loss in another area of their life? Maybe they just got lucky? You don’t know.
But you take what you see and use it to put yourself down anyway. What you see is that they have the ideal space and you don’t.
Beginner creatives dreaming of starting something often equate this to the fact that they can’t start painting, drawing, sculpting (insert particular craft here).
It’s fine to acknowledge that this is what the ‘perfect feed’ elicits in you initially, but you don’t have to let that be the end of the thought. Social Media shouldn’t get that finite an effect on you and your beautiful creative dreams are not that easily snuffed out. Really not.
I had that mindset too for the longest time. Here’s how I overcame it.
Big trees don’t start out as big trees
It dawned on me that an oak tree doesn’t just appear large and grandiose out of nowhere, lush with many green leaves in the centre of a perfectly manicured lawn and cute squirrels running up its trunk. It begins as a tiny little seed, stowed in a hard AF shell with a funny hat, buried way deep down in some dark, earthy mud for who knows how long. So I embraced my tiny acorn status and decided to flex my painting muscles right where I was planted, in my self-perceived mud (it wasn’t – Social Media just made me feel that way). And of course, minus the funny hat.
3 things you can learn from my creative studio journey
I wanted to share with you the various iterations of my painting spaces in hopes that it would inspire you to begin creating where ever it is you are now planted in your life.
The goal is never to suddenly appear at the end of the big picture. The goal is to enjoy all the many small steps of grafting on your way to building the creative life of your dreams.
1. Starting small reduces the creative pressure
About 2 years ago my “studio space” was a coffee table in my bedroom next to the desk where I did my content writing work (which was also my dressing table). I sat on the floor on a pillow and painted by the window light. If you had plopped me into my “dream studio space” I would very likely have felt unworthy. Feeling like I wasn’t a ‘real artist’ who hadn’t YET earned the right to be there could have put a serious block on my creative confidence. There’s a reason we bake cupcakes before attempting wedding cakes. Think of a small studio as your creativity cupcake.
Starting small eased the pressure and allowed me to grow slow
KEY TAKE AWAY: All you need to start creating is a flat surface and somewhere to sit your butt. Make use with what you have.
2. Distractions are first a curse, then a blessing
From the bedroom, I moved into the lounge space. [If you’re asking why I didn’t start there first; I had decided to renovate my kitchen in order to Airbnb the second room to create a side income to support the creative journey]. At this stage, my entire studio was a desk in my open plan lounge kitchen. I contended with many disturbances because that’s what was required. Other people enjoying the lounge space, cooking noise, music of not my choosing, television shows, pets wanting to go in and come out – and the worst of it all – the constant pile of dishes glaring at me from across the room.
But in order to give yourself to the creative process, you have to learn that commitment means averting your gaze and fickle attention span from other things.
There will ALWAYS be distractions in life. Sitting down to paint is a choice.
KEY TAKE AWAY: You choose to give focus to your creative pursuit in spite of all the imperfections and distractions of the moment, not because they don’t exist.
Learning how to not attach to them and, for the moment, letting them just ‘be’ there, will show you that you don’t need ‘the perfect studio space to get creative’.
3. Creating in the less than optimal fuels your drive for better
There was an ideal space on our property but due to a complex string of life scenarios, it required MASSIVE decluttering and sorting before you can even move in there, let alone, create. It was something we as a family had been putting off for yonks. But, working in that cramped, distraction hot zone in my lounge was just the sort of consistent discomfort I needed to motivate me to make shit happen.
While I had managed to contend and create amid the distraction and messy kitchen and home clutter, I eventually lost the plot and a fiery beast with the energy to move the seemingly insurmountable room of clutter awoke within me. So the massive outside studio renovation began. It took about 2 months of weekend grafting to sort, drive away, donate, fix, properly store etc – a task I previously couldn’t find the gumption for.
When you prioritise your creativity, regardless of the conditions, it rewards you with the energy you need to move bigger obstacles.
Now, this is the space I paint in. It’s still not large by any stretch, still mostly the size of that same desk with some added shelves. But it’s a dedicated space for painting that I’m all too grateful to have access to.
KEY TAKE AWAY: You will never be fully primed in the present for the environment you believe you’re destined for. You get there by beginning where you are.
The discomfort is how you begin to make the waves to traverse big seas.
Here’s my best nature guided tip
Put a plant by the space you want to start creating in. It has a way of helping you feel like there’s intention there. And plants grow slow too, so you’ll be in good company,
Start where you are with what you have and embrace being the little seed in a nut with a funny hat. But please start. Your creative journey can’t begin unless you do.
Aren’t you curious to see how your tree will grow? I’m excited for you.
If my studio journey thus far has ignited a spark in you to begin but you still feel a little stuck, drop me a comment and let’s figure out a creative solution. I’d love to help you get creative in whatever space you have available to you.
If you found this article helpful or think it might inspire a friend who’s feeling creatively stuck, please share it. I’m sure they’d be grateful to you for thinking of them.