Two of my missions in life are to live creatively and to live sustainably. Both goals give me pleasure and purpose on a daily basis. While a lot of arts and crafts involve buying materials made with plastic and packaging, you can make art a zero waste activity if you’re conscientious about it. Below are a few strategies to make sure your artistic endeavors aren’t adding to the world’s waste and pollution.
With a little research and brainstorming, I bet there are many more zero waste art concepts we can come up with. If you have more ideas, please tell us about them in the comments section below or we invite you to write about it.
1. Broken pieces? Make mosaics
This zero waste strategy is easy for me because I’m a ceramics artist. The world of pottery is full of disappointing moments—glazes don’t turn out how you expect and pieces crack or break during the firing. Thus, I collect all of the unwanted ceramics, break them into smaller pieces and use them to create my mosaic artwork.
If you don’t have easy access to a pottery studio, you can use broken dishes, tiles, glass and mirrors. You can also use pasta, rocks, buttons, shells or any small items that might otherwise be thrown away. This technique is sometimes called ‘Trencadís’, a Catalan word meaning ‘chopped’.
Barcelona is the perfect city to find inspiration for mosaics and ceramic art. Antoni Gaudí incorporated broken dishes, bottles and other items in his iconic mosaics around the city. What’s more, every district in Barcelona has a designated day to put furniture and miscellaneous junk out to the street. Pedestrians with a watchful eye can find all kinds of treasures. You can find your district’s trash day here.
2. Unwanted newspapers & magazines? Compose a collage
Don’t let old papers clutter your house. Instead, use them to create a beautiful collage to decorate. Collage is a wonderful way to avoid waste and exercise your creativity. You don’t need experience or artistic knowledge. Just a pair of scissors, glue, old magazines, photos or newspapers, and some imagination. You can also make it a fun social activity by adding a glass of wine and a few friends into the mix!
There’s an amazing collaborative collage group called Coll² in Barcelona. Coll² is an open, multicultural gathering of people working on collage based on a monthly theme. They offer free events on Facebook to create collages in a group atmosphere while inspiring reflection, conversation and creativity.
3. Valuables in your garbage? Upcycle anything
Upcycling is the process of combining, reusing, refurbishing or transforming stuff that would otherwise be thrown away. In fact, many artists around the world are already zero waste heroes! If you’re not familiar with upcycling, there’s a ton of inspiration online. Check out Upcycle That.
As I mentioned before, Barcelona is ideal for this because the city has a weekly trash day for furniture and miscellaneous junk. Everything from wooden pallets or crates to vintage lamps and sofas are saved from the garbage dump and upcycled into something beautiful. There’s even a gallery in Barcelona called Artería BCN that hosts an event dedicated to recycled artwork.
What more motivation do you need?
4. Using toxic paint in small tubes? Try egg tempera
If you’re a painter you’re probably dealing with a lot of garbage from your paint supplies and toxic chemicals such as solvents. One solution is to use egg tempera, which is an ancient painting method. In fact, some of the most long-lasting paintings on the planet were made using the tempera method. It consists of using colored pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder medium, such as egg yolk. No fancy tools or equipment is needed. All you need is water, egg and raw powdered pigment (a little goes a long way). Here’s a good egg tempera demonstration video to learn more.
Another option is to create your own colors using plants and spices such as beet root and turmeric. Snacking in the studio is no longer hazardous to your health!