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Sustainable painters

I’ve taken to walking the three or four miles to the studio rather than driving or bussing. In so doing I will be saving the planet*. I know it’s a small sacrifice but it is one I am prepared to make; although, I find it hard to believe that as I pant up the hill past the Horniman Museum, I am not expelling more carbon dioxide than my frugal car, because it certainly feels like it.

As we all know, carbon dioxide makes up a full 0.04% of the atmosphere, up from 0.03% 150 years ago and despite the best efforts of our hungry plants, who unlike us love the stuff, it continues to rise. Whilst climate change has allowed some very fine wines to be produced on the Kentish Downs, it’s not all good news so it behoves us to do our bit and reduce our carbon footprint.

As painters this presents some rather bleak choices. Acrylic paint is manufactured from the by products of natural gas extraction. Synthetic brushes are similarly derived from petrochemicals. White spirit? Don’t even go there. Pretty much all of the recent additions to the painters armoury can be traced back to fossil fuel production. So if Greta gets her way what will we do?

As it happens there are those of us who have been quietly sustainable throughout the modern era. If we were to equip ourselves in the same way as any of the renaissance painters or even the impressionists we would be working largely with natural pigments carried in linseed oil and thinned with turpentine from trees. Resins also from trees such as damar might add gloss, beeswax may also have a place. Our pigments could be produced by artisans or hacked from the earth’s crust. I’ve not come across a vegan brush I could use but I would be happy to work with bristle shaved from donor pigs as part of their tonsure. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.

Painters are highly sustainable people.

One thing we could do would be to move from white spirit to vegetable oil to clean our brushes, although that is something you may choose to do anyway to preserve the flexibility of your hogs and to avoid spending your days inhaling volatiles. It is a small change but not all of us can make the grand gestures.

* I’d just like to point out that the frightening increase in both fuel prices and my waistline have not influenced my personal plans to save the planet in any way.