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Art & Environment (& our health)

Updated: Jan 27, 2023

Did you know you shouldn't pour acrylic paints down the drain?

I have always been interested in, and most enjoyed anything art and craft related since I was little. Somewhere somehow, I decided to become a graphic designer, and this was the early 90's, when not all household had a computer. The college in America taught me mostly how to design by hand, using fumy markers and acrylic paints. It did not even occur to me at the time they could be harmful to the environment, not to mention my health. The school did have a small computer room though, where I learned how to use Adobe Illustrator. I ended up working on a computer as a graphic designer for 15 years.

After having children and wanting to get back into hands-on art making, I thought of toxicity of lots of art practices. I wanted to be able to share my practice with my children, but didn't want to bring anything toxic into my home. Did you know you shouldn't even wash your paint pallet or brushes after using acrylic paints? Acrylic paints use plastic binding which is bad for the environment. Kids use it at homes, at schools, and at preschools. Are teachers educated in how to 'clean up' art materials? I've always wanted to delve deeper into printmaking, but I never forgot the print workshop I took etching course at, where they had warning signs everywhere and special eye washing faucets. I honestly did not even want to go into the room where giant acid baths were. Also most printmaking practices use oil based inks, which to clean up, you need mineral spirits / turpentine. But I knew of one printmaking practice that was probably the least toxic of them all, did not need any bulky equipment, and that I was already familiar with. This is how I came to practice woodblock printmaking.

Here I have tried to simplify the comparison of toxicity of some of the printmaking practices.

A chart listing different printmaking methods, their needed materials and cleanup methods

And so Woodblock printmaking is taught to 4th grade children at school in Japan.

4th grade children in Japanese primary school carving woodblock

        Credit: 江戸川学園取手小学校

Good news is that more and more people are concerned about materials that are harmful to the environment, and more people and companies are developing safer alternatives. It is exciting to think of near future where I may be able to experiment with other safe printmaking practices, and share them with my children.




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