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Green Fine Arts Careers: Creating Earth-Friendly Art

Many of today's artists are thinking green when they're working on a new piece. But that doesn't mean art stores are suddenly going to run out of green paint. These artists are striving to use reused materials in their work, and many are looking at environmental themes in their art. They're concerned about their environmental impact and finding ways to express those thoughts -- without hurting the planet in the process.

For some artists, this awareness isn't just a trend. The Woodpile Collective is a group of artists who work together. They have been conscious of their impact on the environment for quite some time.

"We try to decipher between useful eco-practice and the new eco-hype, and apply what we can in our daily rituals to lessen our negative effect," says Woodpile member Shawn O'Keefe.

"We have always used recycled materials, whether it's found wood, old house paint or paper, and enjoy the character and aesthetic of materials with history. Recycled materials make up a large part of our work and we're fortunate in that it enhances the work, in our eyes."

Juanita Canzoneri is a Colorado Springs, Colorado, artist who creates mosaic artwork, among other projects.

"In traditional mosaic work, the artist/artisan uses blocks of colored materials -- marble/stone, tile, colored glass, etc." she says. "Using or reusing cast-off glass -- auto glass, storm doors and windows, shower doors, window panes, etc -- and other materials such as newspaper circulars, magazines, catalogs and other junk mail has allowed me to stretch my color and texture palettes as well as my artistic vocabulary.

"The other form of re-purposed material work I do is to create functional or sculptural items out of old video and audio cassettes using forms of fiber art usually reserved for yarn and other conventional fibers," she says.

Reusing material not only helps lessen the environmental impact of art, but it can also open doors to new ideas. Stefan Thompson is an artist who is known for his creative and environmentally friendly techniques.

"I do things like make my own pigments rather than buying them," he says.

"That way I know exactly where they come from and that I'm not supporting the mining industry. My main medium this winter has been crayon and paper collage. The crayons I use are beeswax-based with non-toxic organic pigments, by a company called Stockmar, and there is always lots of paper that I can recycle into the illustrations.

"I do miniature relief carving with layers of wax," he continues. "This is something I would never have discovered had I kept on with my conventional paints. I just had faith that there would be a green way of making art, and so there is. I think that's the main challenge -- just believing you can do it.

"I've also done lots of fabric sewing onto canvas. Using colored recycled fabric opens up a whole palette of colors. I've also experimented with fabric collage, wood burning, fabric mache, and learning to mix my own acrylics and oil paints that are totally non-toxic."

What about the themes they explore with their art? Well, that actually hasn't changed a whole lot. Many artists have always thought about the world around them, so it's hard to say this is a trend.

"We don't really set out to tackle themes or channel the viewer by intentionally taking them to a planned destination point," says O'Keefe.

"We have a genuine love for the land that surrounds us and its history. I think that within this common thought you see a re-occurring theme throughout our work. Whether we create an imagined moment from the past or a prophetic narrative of a dark future, the environment and its state is apparent."

And while it's great that people are making art with green materials, one does wonder: are people buying green-themed art? Thompson answers quickly when asked that question.

"Yes," he says. "I have to say that my art is not as brightly colored as what I used to paint, but people are still buying it. I'm very lucky for that. And to some, I think the process is important -- sort of like buying organic food."

"It certainly can making the art more appealing, as it's always a great additional selling point to be able to say that your materials come from a responsible place," says the Woodpile Collective's Sean McLaughlin.

"Would potential buyers pay twice as much for work made from green materials? I think for the right kind of art lover, yes... but for the average one, likely not. It's still always going to be about the art itself and how it connects to the viewer visually."

In addition to her work as an artist, O'Keefe is also one of those customers. She has bought some of Thompson's art. "[Thompson's] work is beautiful and we have all bought pieces for our collections," says O'Keefe. "I don't know to what extent his noble pursuit helped solidify the sale or will further his career, but we think it's cool."

With the advent of artists wanting to use recycled or more environmentally sound materials, will there be new possibilities for careers in art? Thompson says he hasn't noticed that happening yet, but he's optimistic.

"This industry is largely untapped, mostly because I think it is still a low priority amongst consumers, but as time goes by I think more and more people will demand it. Certainly I think many would make the change if they knew there was a choice, and it was easier."

"Art creates discussion," says McLaughlin, "so, naturally, if people are willing and wanting to have a dialogue pertaining to environmental issues, then work that stimulates that is going to find a market.

"Of course it's easy to be heavy-handed with that... not everyone wants a painting of a garbage truck dumping its load on a bird's nest on their living-room wall. I think the best work is subtle enough to cast a shadow in several directions depending on the viewer's experiences."

So where does all this talk of changing supplies and exploring green themes leave the future of art?

"I have no idea," admits Thompson. "But art being one of the things people do, it should be investigated with this new understanding of our place in the world. I don't think it makes much sense to try and create something beautiful while polluting the planet that bore us and allows us to create art."


Green Art Guide
A collection of eco-friendly artists' sites

An eco-friendly paint company

Environmental Art Museum
An online collection

Woodpile Collective
An artists' collective with a strong focus on environmental issues

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