Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tips & Tricks #7: Running a Green Studio – How to Dispose of Solvents and Paint

We live in a world that is being constantly polluted. The current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico where a destroyed oil rig is spewing untold barrels of crude oil per day into the water is just the most recent and a more extreme example. The polluting of our environment is going on every day in millions and millions of small ways that add up to one really bad situation. As artists, we often have a tendency to feel that we are more sensitive to such issues than the average consumer, so we'd better have some good etiquette in our own art making process to be sure that we are not contributing unduly to the environmental crisis our industrial culture is creating.

By far the most dangerous thing in a painter's studio is the solvents. Whether or not they are traditional, distilled turpentine or more modern petroleum distillates (also called mineral spirits), these are very toxic substances that can harm both people and the planet. Most of us are familiar with the basic rules of safety when it comes to solvents: make sure you are in a room with adequate ventilation to prevent fumes building up and if you are using turpentine then you need to be sure you don't let it contact your skin for any prolonged period. What's most important to the environment, however, is: what do you do with the solvents when you are finished with them?

Dumping liquid turpentine or mineral spirits into the water or the ground is effectively like poisoning the Earth a little bit each time (it sounds really bad when you say it that way doesn't it?). So what are the proper procedures for dealing with used solvents?

First of all, try reusing the solvents for as long as possible, since the best way to reduce pollution is to use less of the polluting substances. If you let a jar of used solvent sit for a day or two, the dissolved paint will settle to the bottom, leaving the remainder of the solvent clear and ready for use. So, don't toss out your solvents after every painting session! As an added bonus, you'll save money by using less solvent over the long term.

When you must dispose of solvents, check around to local gas stations, which may have a hazardous waste disposal tank, or check with your local waste management company to see if they know where you can responsibly dump the stuff. If there is no dump site for toxic materials near you, the next best thing is to open your solvent jar and leave it outside in the sun for a day. The solvent should completely evaporate and this process takes far less of a toll on the environment than dumping it in a liquid state.

Finally, consider using a greener type of solvent, like Turpenoid Natural (which is a pine oil base), or Grumtine (which is a citrus base). These non-toxic forms of solvent leave no impact at all on the ecosystem and they are safe to use in rooms with no ventilation. Unfortunately, while Turpenoid natural and Grumtine are good for cleaning brushes, neither of them are effective for thinning the paint for washes and glazes, so you may need to use some amount of traditional solvents no matter what.

Another item to consider when disposing of art materials is what to do with left over paint – and the answer is not “dump it down the drain”! Many paints contain pigments that are made from heavy metals and other substances that could be harmful to animals or plant life in rivers and oceans, which is where they will end up eventually.

The solution here is simple: let the paints dry out completely and then throw them away with your solid trash. This will be easy with acrylics, which will dry in a few minutes, but oils might be a bit trickier since they might be sitting there for a week or more before they are dry enough to throw away. One great solution is not to throw away your oil paint at all! Keep any unused paint in a special jar in which you continually add to and mix together to create a wonderfully rich gray hue. This gray is useful for desaturating your colors and may be good for all sorts of other painting tricks, so don't waste it. Gamblin actually collects all of the waste paint from it's factory and tubes it up as a color called Torrit Grey, which they release once per year in a special promotion, and each year it has a slightly different color due to the varying amounts of pigments that go into it.

With a little knowledge and a little planning, we can all be certain that we'll do our part to keep our planet healthy and our landscapes beautiful for our grandchildren and their grandchildren to paint.

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1 comment:

  1. Great article. I'd like to add: Murphy's Oil Soap is very, very effective as a brush cleaner for both oils and acrylic paints. Repeat 2-3 times Wiping your brushes clean with paper towels. When the brushes are free of paint, rinse in clear warm water and let dry. Nowadays I hardly ever use solvents in my studio.