Waste Art Studio

Minimizing Waste in the Art Studio

Waste frustrates me. Wasting time. Wasting food. Wasting water. In general, the waste of resources stresses me out. I’m always looking for ways to make my home and my life a little more efficient and a little greener. My studio is no exception. It’s is with the intentionality of minimizing waste and making my practice more eco-friendly that I’m giving you some of the tips and ideas I use to minimize waste around my studio.

This is not just for fellow artists, if you’re a hobbyist, a teacher, or a parent who makes art projects with your children, you too can use some of these tricks!  Please leave me a comment if you have any other waste saving ideas for me!

Paint Waste:
I’m going to tell you a secret. I never throw out paint. Never. Because I mix all my own colors from scratch I end up with a lot custom mixed colors. Even if I mixed the color of vomit, I’m not going to throw it out. I don’t throw my paint out, or wash it down the drain (neverrrrrr do it!) for a few reasons. Here are the ways in which I save every paint I’ve ever mixed. I do one of two things with it. I either:

  1. Use my leftover paint as underpainting or texture on another piece.
  2. Put it in one of the many reusable jars or paint containers I’ve collected over the years, and save the color I mixed for the perfect piece.

Buy Jars, Not Tubes:
Here’s another tip when it comes to paint waste. I really don’t like buy tubes of paint if I can avoid it. Instead, I prefer to buy my paint in jars. I buy Golden brand paint, and all of their colors come in various sizes. I buy white by the gallon in a giant tub, but most other colors I prefer to buy in 125ml jars. These jars are usually plastic. The reason I prefer jars is because once I finish the color, I can reuse the container for a color I have custom mixed or I can use it for storage of other custom mixed paints or other items. You cannot reuse a paint tube once it is done. Recycling centers will not recycle paint tubes, they go straight to the landfill. You can however recycle or reuse the jars. Reuse the jar by putting paint or other items in it, or clean the plastic container thoroughly, and send it to you local recycling center, where they can recycle cleaned plastic jars.

Disposing of Paint:
I paint in acrylics and use a paint palette to mix and paint from. Once I have finished painting and have scraped any leftover paint into one of my reusable jars. I let the paint left on my palette dry. Once dry, I scrape the left over shavings off into the trash. For the cleaning of brushes, I wash them water in a separate container before heading to the sink. I let the paint water sit overnight so all the paint pigment settles to the bottom of the container so that when I pour out the water most of the paint remains at the bottom of the container, which I scrape out and throw away instead of pouring it down the drain. Avoid pouring paint down the drain at all costs, some paints contain biocides, a type of pesticide that inhibits mold growth. Some types of paints contain harmful metals, like lead and cadmium that end up in the water supply.

If you’re working in oil, you won’t use water to clean up. Instead you’ll use some kind of oil solvent. You can reuse turpentine (or similar products) to thin and clean up your oil pints till it is pretty saturated. Keep it in a jar and just seal the lid any time you’re not painting. I’ve been able to use a single jar of turpentine for several months. The only thing is when you do want to dispose of it, you do need to take to a disposal facility. Your local dump should a program for disposing of toxic chemicals like paints and turpentine. If you’re curious about oil solvents, read one of my former posts on oil mediums. 

Reusing Surfaces:

  1. Painting over works I don’t like….
    If there is ever a painting that just “didn’t work out” or that I haven’t been able to finish for a long time, I paint over it, over and over and over until I get a winning work of art. Throwing out stretcher bars and canvas is never necessary unless the stretcher bars get warped. In that case, they become fire wood for a fall bonfire!
  2. Reusing paper….
    I can’t repaint over paper over and over like I do on canvas. So if I am working on paper and the work on paper doesn’t turn out the way I want. I flip it over and use it for studies or practice on the backside.

Reusing Packaging Supplies:
If I have ordered supplies, I save bubble wrap or Styrofoam to reuse in future shipments. I also cut down cardboard to use in wrapping corners of paintings and protect pieces in shipments. Any cardboard, or plastic or plastic that I’m not able to reuse to insulate and pack paintings with gets recycled at my local waste management facility.

Not Driving:
I paint out of my at home studio. Aside from loving that I can pop in and out of my studio even in the middle of the night when inspiration strikes. I love that I don’t have to drive and use gas to get to work. My goal is to always work within walking distance of my studio. When considering getting different studio spaces in the past, I’ve always come back to working from own or on my property for the ease it is to work whenever but also because it takes less time and gas to get to and from my place of work. No commute plus zero emissions equals the best job location.

This list is a few of the things I do around the studio to minimize waste around the studio. Do you have other ideas to minimize waste? Leave me a comment below if you have other ideas for making the studio a little greener!

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  1. Hi Christine, love your work and your ideas. Just wondered if you have previously painted on canvas and want to paint over it but it has been water based sealed with a varnish, what can you do? Is it OK to just paint over it, I have some disasters to cover. Thanks

    1. Author

      Hi Shez, thanks so much for the support. Yes, if you are using a water based paint like acrylic it’s ok to paint over that varnish. If you are using oils though, it is best to remove the varnish before continuing to paint on the surface as oils won’t bond to varnish well. Good luck!

  2. Hi Christine, hope you’re having fun in your studio. I was wondering, is there a way to show beyond doubt that after the paint settles at the bottom in the water, that there are no harmful contaminants left in the water?

    1. Author

      Hey Christopher, That’s a great question. I don’t know of a way to make sure that there aren’t harmful contaminants left in the water. I am hoping that whatever residue may be left in the water gets processed at the water treatment plant. Since water treatment is not my speciality, I don’t know if there is a solvent or something I can put in the filtered water. If you find out a more thorough way to filter paint water, I’d love to know!

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  4. I just started painting, so I don’t know if this works in this application, BUT I also decorate cookies. I never throw out tinted icing. If you mix all your leftover icing together in one jar: it makes a lovely brown. A lot of blue throws it off a little so I keep two “waste” jars: brown and “ever evolving” blue.

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