A visual artist's journey with nature

The art gallery awaits you!

Leftover materials?

Have you ever regretted a purchase? I definitely have. Collecting art materials is a guilty pleasure for me. Every time I stepped into Art Friend, I would walk out with something new, even if I didn’t need it. By the time I discovered that this was getting out of hand, it was too late and my shelves were already filled to the brim. In the end, I only used a small handful of these materials and the rest just sat there. Tired of keeping all these extra materials, I ended up throwing some of them away (which was an absolute mistake).

My art material stash (still a lot even after clearing some off)

Thinking back on my (shameful) actions made me realise how I fell victim to the linear economy. What exactly is the linear economy? The linear economy is a phenomenon where products experience a one-way life cycle. An item is created, used and then disposed of once it reaches the end of its lifespan (Government of the Netherlands, n.d.). Profit is generated from this model by producing more and purchasing higher quantities, which can encourage wasteful consuming habits. Unfortunately, many of the art materials I use follow this life cycle (in some cases, I even skipped the usage step and went straight to disposal), which definitely adds to the amount of waste I produce from practising art. Is there any solution to this?

Thankfully there is, and that’s where the circular economy comes in! Through such an economy, resources are incorporated back into the cycle of production or are actively reused. As such, a smaller amount of resources is maximised, cutting down on both the amount we consume and waste (Sariatli, 2017). How can this be applied to our art practice? We can start to move towards such a cycle by selling or donating old art materials to others instead of disposing of them. By keeping them out of the trash, their lifespans can be prolonged and remain in use for a longer period of time! Not only would this help to cut down on waste, it would also help your pre-loved art materials to find a new and loving home! Determined to amend my past mistakes, I have begun to sell or give away my leftover art materials.

Revisiting the circular economy concept made me wonder if others did the same too! As such, I conducted a survey among my artist friends to see how they managed their art practice. When asked about what they do with unused materials, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that 64.8% of the respondents opted to donate, sell, reuse leftover materials.

Furthermore, 88.2% of the participants also expressed that they were willing to make changes towards sustainability, suggesting that artists are becoming increasingly aware of the waste their practice may create.

While my sample size is a little small, I still think it’s great that more artists are adopting the circular economy approach and perhaps we can all begin to practice art sustainably by starting with small actions like these!

 

References

Government of the Netherlands. (n.d.) From a linear to a circular economy. Retrieved from https://www.government.nl/topics/circular-economy/from-a-linear-to-a-circular-economy. 

Sariatli, F. (2017). Linear Economy Versus Circular Economy: A Comparative and Analyzer Study for Optimization of Economy for Sustainability. Visegrad Journal on Bioeconomy and Sustainable Development, 6(1), 31-34. Retrieved from https://content.sciendo.com/view/journals/vjbsd/6/1/article-p31.xml.

The Art Exhibition

Hello and welcome back! Today we will be covering the most fulfilling part of the art journey, the art exhibition! After spending countless hours working on art pieces, the time has come to share them with the world. Last year, I had the chance to showcase my artworks at my school’s graduation show and it was a surreal experience that I will never forget. While I had a fun time setting up my space, I couldn’t help but think about some of the impacts that art exhibitions can have on the environment. Let’s look into this a little more!

My final year exhibition

As discussed in an earlier post, we talked about how wasteful creating the artworks themselves can be, but it doesn’t stop there. Beyond the artworks, one of the most wasteful practices when it comes to maintaining art exhibitions is excessive air-conditioner usage. Not only do we waste lots of electricity from this practice, we also add to greenhouse gas emissions from the increased electricity usage, which can exacerbate climate change (Hill, 2018).

So, how bad is the impact of a student exhibition exactly? Our graduation show ran for about 7 days from 12pm to 8pm each day and the air-conditioner was turned on throughout its duration. I thought it would be interesting to calculate how much electricity we actually used for the show so I went to search for some data! According to Vivint Solar’s company website, the wattage of an air-conditioner can be as high as 3500 watts per hour (Vivint Solar, n.d.). Multiplying this value by the duration of the show, we would have used a grand total of 196,000 watts of electricity from the air-conditioning alone!

After seeing how much energy is consumed, this begs the question: is keeping the air-conditioner on throughout an exhibition really necessary? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. High humidity levels can promote mould growth and cause certain pigments to fade (Aslan, 2018). As such, stringent atmospheric controls are recommended to help maintain the physical integrity of the artwork (Moskalyuk et al, 2016), and sadly such measures include the use of air-conditioning to dehumidify exhibition spaces. Although it may be a little difficult to compromise on this part, we can still do our best to look out for more energy-efficient air-conditioner models to help cut down our energy usage at art exhibitions. Perhaps in the future there may be even more environmentally sustainable ways to maintain optimal atmospheric conditions at art exhibitions!

 

References

Aslan, A. (2018). Why Is It Important to Maintain Humidity of Art Galleries? Retrieved from https://artefuse.com/2018/09/02/why-is-it-important-to-maintain-humidity-of-art-galleries/.

Hill, T. (2018). High time Singapore does something about its inefficient reliance on air-conditioning. TODAY. Retrieved from https://www.todayonline.com/commentary/high-time-singapore-does-something-about-its-inefficient-reliance-air-conditioning.

Vivint Solar. (n.d.). How much electricity does a ceiling fan use? Retrieved from https://www.vivintsolar.com/blog/how-much-electricity-does-a-ceiling-fan-use.

Moskalyuk, V. M. et al. (2016). Study of air conditioning systems for storage and display of artworks. ARPN Journal of Engineering and Applied Sciences, 11(23), 13878-13883. Retrieved from http://www.arpnjournals.org/jeas/research_papers/rp_2016/jeas_1216_5468.pdf.

Crack 2.0: The Art-Making Process

Welcome to the world of pottery and ceramics! Pottery is the art of creating forms out of clay and firing or drying them to maintain their desired structure. This ancient art form has a great history and the earliest records of pottery production date back as far as 16,500-14,920 years ago (Violatti, 2014). As the art form developed, three main types of pottery emerged: earthenware, stoneware and porcelain (Savage, 2020). I had the opportunity to work with stoneware and I’ll be sharing more on the process behind one of my graduation show artworks, Crack 2.0 (2019), as well as estimating its carbon footprint.

Crack 2.0 explores the stretching and manipulation of the clay medium. To expand on this concept, I made fifteen small discs out of stoneware clay and stretched them by pushing them inwards with my thumbs. The pieces were then bisque fired to a temperature of 1000 degrees Celsius in an electric kiln. After the first round of firing, I glazed them with a layer of red iron oxide to emphasise the cracks created. Finally, the work was sent for one last round of glaze firing. Here is the finished work!

Close up of “Crack 2.0” (2019)

My artwork “Crack 2.0” (2019)

How wasteful do you think this process is? While I could not find any statistics on stoneware, I was able to find some data on the carbon footprint of earthenware. From moulding, to firing and glazing, the footprint of producing one 10 X 10 X 10 cm earthenware piece adds up to around 1.22kg of carbon dioxide (Quintero et al, 2014). The total volume of my artwork is approximately 375 cubic centimetres (fifteen 5 X 5 X 1cm pieces). Assuming both stoneware and earthenware have similar properties, the carbon footprint of Crack 2.0 would be 0.458kg!

If you’re wondering what the 2.0 in the artwork title refers to, here’s where it comes into play. Ten of the original pieces in this series were remade from scratch due to a change in artistic direction, so an extra 0.305kg of carbon dioxide should be included!

Although there are limitations to my estimates (for example, how different the carbon footprint for stoneware may be in comparison to earthenware), what the calculations do show is that even producing the smallest ceramic works can have a large impact on the environment. As wasteful as pottery and ceramics may be, there are still ways we can reduce our environmental impact. Some things we can do include sealing unused clay properly so that it does not dry out, recycling unwanted clay works that are in their wet or greenware (unfired) stage, firing multiple clay works in batches to maximise the kiln’s use and pouring excess glaze back into the container to reduce wastage. With these in mind, let’s continue to create art sustainably and I hope this has opened your eyes to another unique art form!

 

References

Violatti, C. (2014). Pottery in Antiquity. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/pottery/.

Savage, G. (2020). Pottery. Encyclopedia Brittanica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/art/pottery.

Quintero, P. et al. (2014). The Carbon Footprint of Ceramic Products. Assessment of Carbon Footprint in Different Industrial Sectors, 1, 113-150. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-4560-41-2_5#:~:text=The%20carbon%20footprint%20of%20the,of%20the%20total%20carbon%20footprint.

What’s goes into paints?

Now that we have covered the impacts of art on environmental awareness, let’s delve into materials and the art-making process! I’ve done quite a few paintings myself and out of the three mediums I’ve used (acrylic paint, watercolour and oil paint), acrylic paint is my favourite. It dries within minutes and colours can be layered over easily. Such features make it a forgiving medium to use, hence it’s my go-to for painting. Is using acrylic paint sustainable in the long run? Let’s unpack this a little further!

My acrylic paints

Acrylic paints are produced by binding powdered colour pigments to an acrylic polymer emulsion (Liquitex, n.d.). Depending on the brand of paint, you may smell an odour as it dries. Wonder why the paint is able to produce this smell? Parts of the emulsion base evaporate during the drying process, releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like naphthalene, ethylbenzene and styrene (just to name a few). As Dr Coleman mentioned in a lecture, VOCs can contribute to the problem of air pollution and inhaling these substances could lead to an increased risk of “hepatic or nervous damage as well as carcinogenic effects” (Bauer, Buettner, 2018). In response to this, some paint companies have switched to water-based solvents to minimise their release. While it sounds like good news, the Bauer and Buettner paper notes that trace amounts of organic solvents are still present in some acrylic paints and “exposure to VOCs cannot be fully excluded”.

Are VOCs the only environmental concern associated with acrylic paint? Sadly, no. The disposal of acrylic paints could lead to water pollution as well. Some acrylic paints were revealed to contain additives like dimethylformamide stabilisers and dimethylphthalate plasticizers (Izzo et al., 2015), which have toxic properties (NCBI, n.d., Kovacic, 2010). Many artists wash their brushes and flush the leftover paint water into the sink, unaware that they might also be pouring chemicals into the drainage system. If not treated adequately, such chemicals could eventually end up entering other water bodies in the ecosystem, affecting water quality.

Learning about the components of paint shocked me greatly, so I did a quick check on the acrylic paints I have. Fortunately, the student-grade paints I use are generally solvent-free, but not all paints are equally safe. When purchasing paints, some artists only think of the colours they might need at the moment and what goes into them may not cross their mind. While it’s understandable that one requires the right materials to produce a great work of art, we should also start to be more conscious of what goes into our materials so that we can protect not only our own health, but the environment too.

To end on a nicer note, it’s great to know that some companies like Natural Earth Paint have started to produce eco-friendly paints and I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Let’s continue to work together to create art sustainably!

 

References

Liquitex. (n.d.). What is Acrylic Paint. Retrieved from https://www.liquitex.com/us/knowledge/what-is-acrylic-paint/.

Bauer, P., Buettner, A. (2018). Characterisation of Odorous and Potentially Harmful Substances in Artists’ Acrylic Paint. Public Health. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2018.00350/full.

Izzo, F. C. et al. (2015). A Preliminary Study of the Composition of Commercial Oil, Acrylic and Vinyl Paints and their Behaviour after Accelerated Ageing Conditions. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274014713_A_preliminary_study_of_the_composition_of_commercial_oil_acrylic_and_vinyl_paints_and_their_behaviour_after_accelerated_ageing_conditions.

National Centre for Biotechnology Information. (n.d.). Compound summary: N,N-Dimethylformamide. Retrieved from https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/N_N-Dimethylformamide.

Kovacic, P. (2010). How dangerous are phthalate plasticizers? Integrated approach to toxicity based on metabolism, electron transfer, reactive oxygen species and cell signaling. Medical Hypotheses, 74(4), 626-628. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306987709007890.

The Photoshop Experiment

In an earlier post, we discussed how art is able to influence one to make a positive change for the environment, but what if the artwork is not what it appears to be? Jo commented that she felt disheartened after seeing photographs of animals having their habitats destroyed, like the one below*, but she had concerns as to whether photographers and artists may over exaggerate their works. Are audiences able to tell if a work has been exaggerated and what implications does this have on art-making?

(*Note: I originally attached a photograph of a dying koala in a burning forest but due to copyright issues, it has been removed. If you would like to see the image, do let me know in the comments and I could share it with you privately.)

To see how audiences responded to artistic and photographic works, I conducted a survey among my peers (includes both BES and non-BES respondents), asking them for their thoughts on the photograph above. Many respondents expressed that they felt very sad for the koalas after seeing the photograph and 63.3%  of them believed that it was real.

Results of the survey

Here comes the big plot twist: I fabricated the image of the koala (bet you didn’t see that coming)!

If you thought it was real, this can mean two things:
1. My Photoshop skills are fantastic.
2. Audiences can easily be manipulated to believe inaccurate information.

Although this was a fun experiment (and I probably burnt some bridges along the way), the second statement is rather worrying. With the advent of the internet and the advancement of photo editing software, it is getting easier to spread misleading works which could be used to misinform. Some may exaggerate their work because they wish for audiences to understand that environmental issues are no laughing matter. While it is commendable that some artists want to use their work for the greater good, there is a fine line between artistic representation and over-exaggeration. If artists are not careful in this aspect, their work may provide an inaccurate picture of the environmental situation. Furthermore, artists and creators should reflect on how this may affect their integrity and credibility as using such works may discourage audiences from taking action if they were to find out that some works are not what they seem to be.

It may sound like artists are the ones to blame but audiences have a part to play in this as well. As the results of the survey suggested, apart from a few sharp-eyed respondents, many were unable to tell that my photograph was fake, highlighting the need for audiences to be more conscious of the works they are consuming. Perhaps audiences could do a quick fact-check before sharing artistic works so that they do not contribute to the issue of misinformation being spread online. That being said, this issue is far from easy to solve, I hope that both artists and audiences can work together to ensure the authenticity of environmental artworks!

 

References

Image source for the forest fire: Bushwick, S. (2019). Watch a Raging Forest Fire Surround You in 360 Degrees. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/watch-a-raging-forest-fire-surround-you-in-360-degrees/. The image on the website was originally sourced from Getty Images (creator unknown.) “Raging Bushfire Kimberley Region Western” (n.d.) is licensed by Getty Images.

Image source for the koala: “Australian Animals” cover image (n.d.) by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA). Retrieved from https://www.nfsa.gov.au/collection/curated/australian-animals 

Sketch Walking: Nature and Wellbeing

Do you remember the painting in the first post? It’s located at the Visitor Centre in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR)!

Before coming to NUS, I interned at SBWR and had the opportunity to plan educational activities, create collaterals and do botanical illustrations. I really miss the great outdoors and it would do me some good to make art, so I thought why not revisit SBWR for a sketch walk?

Sketch walking entails drawing what you see when visiting a site. The routes I followed for the sketch walk were the Coastal and Migratory Bird Trails. Initially, I planned to do live drawings while at the reserve (I even brought my old pencil set and notebook!) but the intermittent raining that morning made it unconducive to do so. Instead, I took photos of interesting finds and drew them when I returned home. Here are the drawings!

My sketches

Prior to my field trip, I was overwhelmed by the school workload but soon felt at ease after spending time at the reserve and while drawing. It really got me thinking about how the natural environment can affect human wellbeing. According to a paper featured in The Journal of Emergency Medicine, it was found that exposure to artworks featuring flora and fauna resulted in medical patients experiencing “reduced stress, anxiety, pain perception, and improved perception of quality of care”. The paper also indicated that being able to see nature, even for a brief period of time, had “restorative” effects on the patients (Nanda, U. et al, 2012), demonstrating that the natural environment could play a role in promoting good health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, it’s also worth mentioning that on top of environmental degradation, climate change can also negatively impact human health. Research has shown a link between rising temperatures and elevated cardiovascular or respiratory disease risk (Cheng, Su, 2010), as well as an increase in the occurrences of natural disasters that could affect one’s mental health (McMichael et al., 2006), which is rather worrying.

The outcomes of these findings suggest a greater need for conservation as these green spaces show promise in helping us recover during troubling times. If we continue taking the natural environment for granted, we may end up hurting ourselves as well. Distancing ourselves from nature has desensitised us to how much we have contributed to the issue of climate change, especially as we spend more time at home during the pandemic. Perhaps we could step out and look to nature once again (and nature-inspired art) to help bring healing to the world!

 

References

Nanda, U. et al. (2012). Impact of Visual Art on Patient Behaviour in the Emergency Department Waiting Room. The Journal of Emergency Medicine, 43(1), 172-181. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0736467911013953.

McMichael, A. J. et al. (2006). Climate change and human health: present and future risks. Lancet, 367, 859-869. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0140673606680793.

Cheng, S., Su, H. (2010). Effects of climatic temperature stress on cardiovascular diseases. European Journal of Internal Medicine, 21, 164-167. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0953620510000439.

Art and Environmental Awareness

Have you ever come across a work of art that inspired you to make a change in your life? Well, I sure have and I’m not the only one! After conducting a survey with my peers, 66.7% of respondents indicated that a work of art has influenced them to do something good.

Indeed, art is a powerful medium that can be used to raise awareness on environmental issues. In the case of visual arts, the use of images and representations opens up new perspectives to others, allowing them to “reach new levels of intellectual maturity by responding metaphysically” to it (Khemji, 2018).

A visual artist whom I look up to is Diane Burko. Having collaborated with scientists at various research labs around the world, she is no stranger to ecological issues. My favourite work of hers is “Waters: Glaciers and Bucks” (2007-2011), a photography series documenting glacial movement in New Hope, Pennsylvania and Glacier National Park, Montana in the United States. Juxtaposing close up shots of a flooding canal in the top row against wide shots of melting glaciers below,  viewers are able to get a bigger picture of how rising global temperatures can affect natural environments at different scopes (Science History Institute, 2017). The contrast created between earthy tones and white glaciers further emphasises the idea that the effects of climate change are not limited to a single type of landscape, calling upon viewers to reflect on the severity of the issue.

Looking at Burko’s work simultaneously stirred a sense of awe and fear in me. In sunny Singapore, these aren’t places you actively think about every day and it’s sad to see them melting away. Her work has further strengthened my resolve to be more conscious of my wasteful art-making practices and I hope that one day I can inspire others to make a positive change for the earth with my art too!

 

References

Khemji, A. (2018). Why art has the power to change the world. Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@alyakhemji/why-art-has-the-power-to-change-the-world-c57def373d05.

Burko, D. (n.d.). THE ARTIST EXPLORER | DIANE BURKO. Retrieved from https://www.dianeburko.com/artist-activst

Science History Institute. (2017). Waters: Glaciers and Bucks. Retrieved from https://www.sciencehistory.org/waters-glaciers-and-bucks

 

Welcome to the gallery!

Hello, I’m Sarah-Ann, a Y1 Environmental Studies student from NUS! My blog will centre around visual arts and its relationship with the environment.

Art has always been a constant in my life. The earliest memory I have of creating art was drawing dinosaurs (yes, I had a dinosaur phase) on every piece of recycled paper I could get a hold of during my kindergarten days. Creating something with my own hands was a form of catharsis and it’s something I came to enjoy. Since then, my passion for visual arts grew and eventually, I started to pursue visual arts.

Growing up as an art student and creating my own artworks has opened my eyes to how wasteful the arts industry is. To complete numerous art projects, I frequently needed materials, making trips to Art Friend to get brushes, oil paints, canvas, wire, sprays, you name it. Sometimes, I would only use these items for one assignment and then never touch them again, but instead shove them into the cupboard. Over the years, the pile of leftovers grew.

The problem truly hit me when I realised how many half-used art materials I had stashed away while cleaning up. Many artists and patrons of the art industry do not realise how unsustainable art-making can be. As a budding botanical illustrator, I wish to explore how I can make the most of my remaining materials, as well as how I can alter my art practice to be more sustainable in the long run.

My wall painting

Wonder where I did this wall painting? (Hint: Look at the tree!) Stay tuned to find out!

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