So how should we respond to proposed European legislation to limit artists’ materials containing environmentally harmful substances, like cadmium?
I have discussed this with representatives from the trade, and others, and we agree that not only do artists need to become more sensitive to their own environmental issues, but we must be seen to improve our practices so as to safeguard the environment. These should in turn remove the threat of future legislation to control the pigments and other substances in our materials.
I have emailed various art institutions, inviting them to consider the issues raised in my previous post here, but so far have not received any response from any of them. The list includes:
- The Royal Academy of Arts (twice),
- The Royal College of Art, London,
- The Royal Watercolour Society,
- The Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours,
- The Royal Institute of Oil Painters,
- The Royal Society of British Artists.
If you know anyone who has been admitted to membership of any of these, or other institutions, who can help make contact, please let me know so that I can cast the net wider and more effectively.
What we can do, and should be doing, to minimise the release of potentially environmentally harmful substances, and so protect our environment, includes:
- minimise the use of such substances, particularly pigments and media containing environmentally toxic substances,
- when we need to use such substances, ensuring that all waste is collected and disposed of according to local rules,
- where there may be inadvertent release of such substances, for example to waste water, minimising that release by using waste processing and filtering systems appropriate to the volume of waste and the substance released; this includes solvent processing to precipitate pigments, filtration, and reverse osmosis.
I am not advocating that we all switch to using only earth colours, or ‘safer’ ‘hue’ pigments. However when painting sketches not intended as finished works, perhaps plein air, it makes sense to use non-cadmium hues, which reduce the potential harm in the event of spillage of wash pots, for example. Neither am I suggesting that we all need to invest in expensive wastewater treatment systems: measures should be proportionate and reasonable throughout. Many of these would be aided if we were able to see more clearly which paints and other materials that we use contain potentially harmful substances; currently warnings are concerned primarily with toxicity to the user, which remains the most important issue, but we also need information on environmental impact, which can be quite different. In most cases, the change that is required is not onerous or complex.
Once we have thought through our practices carefully, it is often very simple to make small changes which can have large benefits. Instead of automatically washing those brushes under the tap (which also wastes water), simply set up a wash pot system, allowing pigments to precipitate out before disposing of the solvent, for example. A simple filter system is described by Golden Artist Colors in Just Paint issue 3.
Each stakeholder has different roles, and here are some suggestions for actions each might take.
The Art Supplies Industry, particularly paint vendors, should:
- improve labelling of paints and other products which contain substances which need careful disposal to avoid environmental damage; although not statutory, a voluntary scheme which would fit existing label designs and tube sizes would be very helpful to users;
- provide downloadable and printed advice to help artists using their products to minimise release into the environment. These could include topics listed elsewhere here, as appropriate;
- continue to support activities to monitor proposals which would affect artists, through CEPE and associated organisations, liaising with artists groups too; this could be enhanced by the corresponding group proposed below.
Art institutions, societies, and clubs not providing teaching, should:
- promote environmental protection and practices to implement it in their written, oral, and downloadable information for artists;
- ensure that all studios and other areas under their control incorporate practices and systems to minimise release of potentially environmentally harmful substances, and to ensure their safe disposal;
- nominate a person (or sector representative) to act as a focal point for environmental and regulatory issues, including liaison with industry (through the corresponding group proposed below).
Art schools, colleges, and other organisations, which provide teaching in painting should:
- provide formal instruction on environmental protection and practices to implement it within taught painting courses; an example presentation is given below; this could sensibly be added to existing teaching on health and safety issues, perhaps;
- provide copies of printed information, such as that provided by industry, to all those undergoing instruction;
- ensure that all studios and other areas under their control incorporate practices and systems to minimise release of potentially environmentally harmful substances, and to ensure their safe disposal; these should be seen as examples of best practice to students and others;
- nominate a sector representative to act as a focal point for environmental and regulatory issues, including liaison with industry (through the corresponding group proposed below).
Individual artists, groups who share studio facilities, and businesses employing artists, should:
- ensure that all studios and other areas under their control incorporate practices and systems to minimise release of potentially environmentally harmful substances, and to ensure their safe disposal.
Those writing publications describing techniques of painting should include appropriate coverage of practices which protect the environment, and art magazines, blogs, and other published sources of information should be encouraged to carry similar material.
A corresponding group should be formed to ensure effective liaison between industry (via CEPE), lead art institutions, societies and clubs, a representative from art schools and colleges, and anyone who wishes to volunteer to be involved. The purpose of this should be to disseminate information about environmental issues and art (specifically painting), and regulatory matters such as proposed restrictions or legislation. Although at present I see the UK as taking the lead in Europe, CEPE is Europe-wide and in time it would be wonderful for this to extend throughout Europe. It would also be good to involve industry outside Europe who wish to be involved.
This sounds a lot, but in practice should not be officious, bureaucratic, or a burden, nor should there be any cost to anyone or organisation involved, beyond what we should already be doing (e.g. suitable systems for eliminating release of pigments into waste water).
If it safeguards our future use of cadmium and other pigments, is it not worth this little extra effort?
What do you think?