Sustainability & the Art Studio

Updated: Apr 4

July 27, 2021

I am currently participating in Ivan Asin’s 5 week class Sustainability and the Studio through the Center of Art Education and Sustainability (CAES, sustainableartschool.org). Ivan walked us through sustainability as a standalone concept (i.e. meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs). I appreciate the sentiment to think ahead, it reminds me of the Great Law of the Iroquois- to think seven generations ahead. This is not the culture I was born into, however. I am a European-American who grew up just outside of New York City in the suburbs of New Jersey surrounded by an industrial landscape. I learned to make art in classes with acrylic tempera paint in plastic cups using “disposable” brushes. All of this would get washed out in the sink (entering into the water system) or thrown out in the trash (heading straight to a landfill). This is still going on in most schools around the country (and I suspect in most first world nations). How did we become so disconnected from the materials we are using as artists and art educators? This seems to parallel a tech-influenced disconnection from each-other and sense of community, as well as a disconnection from sense of place and the non-human world. I am fascinated by the different relationships to art materials throughout the renaissance, industrial and modern eras (and the psycho-social-spiritual shifts therein). In class we reviewed the historical background of the function of art and critiqued the emphasis on individualism in the modern era (see Suzi Gablik: the Reenchantment of Art). As Ivan notes, artists produced their own materials until industrialization. In the 20th century art, nature, and science drifted apart. Now largely estranged from art making processes in the post-industrial world, some artists return to the work of earlier eras (such as the renaissance) wherein artists were making their own materials. A renowned reference for such processes can be found in Cennino Cennini’s book Il Libro Dell’Arte (written around the turn of the 15th century). There are many cultures all around the world, of course, who have long been and still do make art within their means; connective to the land and culture. Class Project Ivan has tasked us to take up a class project of our choosing over the next couple of weeks. He has generously supplied us with a plethora of resources on painting & inks, natural dyes, canvas & grounds, brushes, pencils & drawing, paper making, glues & adhesives, book arts, and ceramics. I have dabbled in making my own paints, inks, dyes, charcoal, glues, gessoes/canvases, and sketchbooks before. But I have not formally gathered my documentation and written about some of these experiments. This is one idea I have for my project. My ultimate ambition within and outside of my own art practice is to provide inspiration and support around sustainable approaches to artmaking. It would be a great exercise to demonstrate and share what I have learned. An alternative idea for my project for this class is more hands on: material testing with parchment (animal hide) for future formal artworks. I have never worked on parchment^1 before, so there is much to encounter. I would like to explore stretching/framing the parchment^2 and experimenting with egg tempera^3, oak gall ink^4, and/or a Cennini gesso recipe^5 for gilding. I am quite grateful to Ivan’s emphasis on building alliances and connections within your community to trade and acquire materials. This is exactly what can help shift me/us from an individual approach to art making toward a communal endeavor. I will be seeking connections from here-out. 1. I have recently acquired a piece of parchment from Pergamena (pergamena.net) in upstate New York. As a meat eater, I am intentionally choosing to work on parchment (animal hide) as a means of reconnecting with ancient processes and the typically discarded parts of the animal whose life is taken for meat. I am dismayed that this hide is not from an animal I have been in relationship with, but rather has been collected by Pergamena from slaughter houses that distribute hides as a byproduct of the meat industry. In the future I would like to learn how to hunt and process the animal hide myself. But this is no small undertaking and I will need to find the right mentor who has a deeply respectful approach. I have many thoughts and feeling about how disconnected we are from our food sources but I will save those for another post at the time I more seriously approach parchment as a medium. 2. To building a frame to stretch it for display I am going to reach out to a family friend who is a wood worker. I will have to do more research on the right string or clips to use. 3. I am familiar with the process of egg-tempera (though it has been a while) which involves egg yolk and powdered pigment. I would like to reach out to local grocery stores to see if I can acquire recently expired eggs. I am quite grateful to Ivan’s emphasis on building alliances and connections within your community to trade and acquire materials. As for the pigment, I have a library of powdered pigments from Kremer pigments in NYC as well as many pigments that were passed down to me from a deceased family friend. 4. The oak gall ink comes from a recipe I learned from the artist-educator Caroline Ross (@foundandground), which I have made before though it is starting to mold so I will have to look into why this is happening and whether I can still use this ink. 5. As for the gilding, I will need to create an old gesso recipe from Cennini which involves plaster of Paris (gypsum? I can either get this at blick or try to use some chalk from Bologna that I have), white lead (though I may be able to get away with marble dust that I have) sugar (or honey), and egg white glair. Red clay or pigment is often added though not necessary. Gold is then applied to this gesso on the parchment. I spent 4-5 years working with a gilder, Bill Gauthier in New York city and whenever we did large jobs I would save the scraps of gold and collect them. Bill saved most of his extra metal leaf from projects and gifted me several books upon my departure from NYC. While he was an incredible mentor who was devout to his craft, I ultimately left this industry because the extraction and distribution of gold is a dark story. I am subsequently fascinated with our symbolic and material relationship to gold and would like to learn more about its extraction and distribution.



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