Experimenting with pastels as an eco alternative!

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‘Let them eat carbon!’ A piece I have wanted to do for years. How can we compare our modern lives to that of Versailles? Are we aware of the impact of our actions? (Context, it was fashionable for women contemporary to Marie Antoinette to wear ships on their heads.). Really enjoying the various campaigns to encourage people to fly less, like  Flight Free 2020.  I believe that by making it a fun pledge and seeking alternatives makes the transition a positive challenge rather than a dismal loss!

‘Let them eat carbon!’ A piece I have wanted to do for years. How can we compare our modern lives to that of Versailles? Are we aware of the impact of our actions? (Context, it was fashionable for women contemporary to Marie Antoinette to wear ships on their heads.). Really enjoying the various campaigns to encourage people to fly less, like Flight Free 2020. I believe that by making it a fun pledge and seeking alternatives makes the transition a positive challenge rather than a dismal loss!

Experimenting with pastels as an eco alternative.

In my previous blogs I have outlined why I am exploring different methods and materials that produce less excess which ends up washed down the sink. So, here I explore pastel as an eco alternative to painting. 

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Positives:

  • I used Talens Rembrandt pastels I bought from Cass Arts (reduced from £100 to £20- that was a good day!). They have very high colouring powder due to high concentration of pigment and they release beautifully on the paper. They are free of pigments based on the metals lead, cadmium and cobalt therefore better for both the artist and the environment.

  • According to Sophie Ploeg (a blog a recommend for artists) Talens Rembrandt is one of the few brands that clearly states it uses kaolin (a type of fine clay. Sounds eco but I wonder where is is from and how it is extracted?) as a filler, most brands keep their ingredients a secret.

  • Pastels are not simply coloured chalk, intact true pastels don’t have chalk in them at all. The stick is mostly pure pigment, the filler is only added to hold the pigment together. Compared to oil paint or acrylic with all their toxic ingredients, it is one of the purest art materials you can use. 

  • Although pastels are messy, I didn’t have to worry about staining anything as it can be wiped away with a damp cloth, the less dust in the air the better.

  • I would always describe my practice as drawing no matter what materials I am using. I find mixing colours very difficult in paint and have a twiddly, soft hairs on the end of a stick frustrates me! I love being able to have closer contact with the paper with pastels. You can see the colour immediately and layer quickly.

  • In ‘negatives’ I discuss fixatives, but you don’t necessarily have to use them. Framing them immediately under glass will preserve them.

Negatives: 

  • Expensive! The pastels I used are medium hard, but the soft pastels I have used before I very expensive and soft and crumbly… deliciously soft but frustrating. Unison an especially deliciously soft pastel will set you back about £30 for eight. You have to generally have back up pastels incase they run out too fast. Harder pastels won’t crumble as badly.

  • Made me sneeze a lot. Essentially you’re breathing in multicoloured dust. Mask is recommended. I bought two from B&Q which came wrapped in plastic. I suppose I could have used a piece of cotton instead. I may invest in a more durable mask. For the same reason you should use a damp cloth to wipe up surfaces.

  • Also, when the drawing became too dusty my instinct was to blow it off. But what I realised is that immediately after you blow, you breathe in all the dust which is now swarming around your face! So I started to use a vacuum cleaner to suck away the dust. This works very well, although it is using electricity which is problematic as I am trying to make my practice more eco friendly. I looked up advice and people said to ‘lightly tap’ the paper from the back. I tried this and yes it worked at the beginning but as more layers of pastel were caked on, it became harder. Also, it means the dust then falls to lower parts of the paper. So in future, I will use the tapping method for the first part of the drawing and later used a vacuum for the last parts.

  • Because pastel drawings are so fragile, they must be kept under glass. You can store them on shelves with sheets of glassine but you have to be careful what is placed on top. Best way to prevent them from smudging is to frame them under glass (with a mount so that the glass doesn’t touch the drawing).

  • A lot of people use fixative so that the pigment binds together. This doesn’t protect it completely though and it can still be smudged. It also dramatically darkens the image. So you can add brighter highlights after. Jackson’s have an excellent blog detailing fixatives

  • Obviously fixative itself is full of harsh chemicals that are flammable. Do you really need it?

As a summary, I would say that pastels are an excellent way of ensuring your practice is an eco friendly alternative. Especially if you should to go without fixative (although this means you have to frame quickly).

What inspired me to experiment with pastels?

A couple of months ago I went to see the Paula Rego show ‘Obedience and Defiance’ in Milton Keynes (5 star Guardian review). I was first faced with her challenging work at 16 and found her pastel drawings compelling because as I looked closely at the layered details I could almost ‘feel’ her hand viscerally working, both gliding and scratching across the paper. I go to a lot of exhibitions, and this experience is rare and special. Yes I have many reproductions of Rego’s work in books but nothing compares to being in their presence. Moving around the gallery looking at her Abortion series, up close and at a distance, the raw application of pastels match her challenging subject matter (she has covered illegal back street abortions, female genital mutalation and dark fairytales). I highly recommend looking her work up and going to see some if you can.
Links:

Jacksons guide to fixatives

Sophie Ploeg’s guide to pastels


It feels like there are skeletons (literally) in the closet of every sustainable choice I make!

As I concluded in my last blogpost, I want to make my art practice more sustainable but move away from the self-flagellating ‘pencil on paper’. My first step is to start using dry materials like pastels and oil sticks to eliminate heavy metals and microplastics from acrylic going down the sink when I wash up. However, with oil sticks suggested by Julie Caves (see end of last post) I would still need to prime board or canvas as oil rots raw wood, canvas, cardboard.. I usually use acrylic gesso to create a barrier between the two. Before the invention of acrylic gesso, artists used rabbit skin glue which is problematic because I am mostly vegan. However I must admit here that oil sticks have beeswax in them! It feels like there are skeletons (literally) in the closet of every sustainable choice one makes! I hope I don’t eventually conclude that I shouldn’t make art at all…

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SLUDGE! While researching how to reduce the microplastics going down the plughole for my last post, I came across TriArts a paint supplier. They turn the acrlyic sludge into paint you can use as a primer for board or canvas. Terrific! However, they are based in Canada- so unfortunately not for me. Are any other paint suppliers doing this?

SLUDGE is made through a process of flocculation, separation, pressing, filtration, re-dispersion, production and packaging.

100% of water used in the factory for clean-up processes goes into a waste pit and is then pumped into a storage tank. The water is chemically processed every two weeks by flocculating the wash water. The accumulated solids sink to the bottom of the tank (1). The clear water is then siphoned off and re-introduced into the plumbing system and used for cleaning. The remaining semi-solid material is then pumped into a filter press (2) that compresses it at 9000 psi into what is called press cake. These cakes are then broken up and re-disperse into water to form an aqueous dispersion. The aqueous dispersion is re-filtered and is introduced into thick and thin acrylic paint bases. The resulting SLUDGE is then packaged, labeled and is ready for use.

What eco-friendly ways are there to prime board or canvas? Please comment or send me your ideas!

Who am I to preach to shopaholics and globetrotters about curbing their carbon heavy hobbies when I get to lavish in my own toxic painting hobbies?

‘Agatha’ November 2018. Acrylic on paper (sold). Flushing micro plastics directly down the plughole? Ignorance is bliss!

‘Agatha’ November 2018. Acrylic on paper (sold). Flushing micro plastics directly down the plughole? Ignorance is bliss!

Time to address my toxic art practice?

Living sustainably has been a project for me for the last few years. I have approached making changes systematically; pledging not to fly, giving up plastic packaging, becoming mostly vegan, stopping buying new clothes or new unnecessary things. It’s not been an easy job as Instragram zero-waste eco warriors make it look. I’ve fallen victim to various greenwashing campaigns several times. Some lifestyle changes have enormously improved my mental health. I don’t buy new clothes (I did have to buy a new swimsuit this summer I admit) anymore which means even stepping into a clothes shop has a really surreal tinge to it. Ten years ago I all the money I spent working in retail I would spend on the highstreet in my lunchbreak or after work. I can’t begin to say how lighter I feel. But again, when my friends and sisters tell me how much they learn from traveling around the world I can’t compare this to my shopping addiction. Their travels always seem wholesome. But flying is often the poster boy for evil carbon footprint. So what have I got to compare it to? Well, there is one area of my life left unscrutinised… *drumroll please* …. MY ART PRACTICE. (Although admittedly not the same as flying, having children etc). There is a general acceptance that art has the divine and superior right to last through the centuries by either the materials the artist used or the chemicals used in the conservation process. But it is unfair for me to boast about how my passport pages remain so angelically bare when I have been using heavy metal oils paints (cadmium, cobalt), acrylic paints (microplastics) and PVA glue for years. I love making art, and teaching it, but how much toxic waste in landfill and the waterstream am I responsible for?

Richard Long.   The most environmentally conscious way of making art would be to arrange pre-fallen leaves or rocks artistically and leave them for people to find like Richard Long. Even photographing or uploading them to Instagram has a carbon footprint (I read that one email is the equivalent to a piece of toilet paper)

Richard Long. The most environmentally conscious way of making art would be to arrange pre-fallen leaves or rocks artistically and leave them for people to find like Richard Long. Even photographing or uploading them to Instagram has a carbon footprint (I read that one email is the equivalent to a piece of toilet paper)


Nervous about the toxic secrets inside my art cupboard I decide to dive in at the deep end and take control! *spoiler*- Unsuccessful!

Inkmaking- (to be continued)

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I’ve been reading Jason Logan’s ‘Make Ink: A forager’s Guide to Natural Inkmaking’. He also sells his inks, but alas all the way in New York and I obviously can’t justify the carbon emissions from delivery. I have purchased most of the apparatus needed second hand which has taken time due to having to hunt for them in charity shops or wait for them to come up on Ebay. I’ve started to grind up brick and rock so far. The brick broke down relatively easily. But the various stones I collected by the River Bollin took a lot of time and effort to break down into dust. As a result, I had shooting pains up my arm for two days and couldn’t hold anything. I really have been spoilt with convenient, easy squeeze paint tubes haven’t I! I’m now waiting for the gum of arabic so that I can boil up the ink. I’ll update this soon. I’m used to using acrylic inks which are permanent and won’t fade.

Glue making

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I made my own glue and paste (method link). As a glue on paper this seems good. It’s the same recipe (video by Andrea Green) as homemade wallpaper paste; sugar, flour, vinegar. I also mixed in some of the powdered brick to produce a paste which I really liked. About a month on though, it looks more brittle and I’m unsure if it will last.

There is definitely a security in toxic paints knowing it has been specifically designed to last. This is a great method for children but not so good if you need to ensure a buyer that the art will still be around several decades later. On a side note, I looked at the pot of eco-glue I made and left in the fridge last night and it’s warm, healthy colour has now turned into a slippery grey sludge with small islands of mould. I recommend making this glue but being aware that it will discolour and become brittle eventually.

Some really good advice on www.ultimatepapermache.com about ‘keep mold from growing on your papermache’


Reflection: Making paint and ink means you can control the process and packaging. You also can sleep easy knowing that the art will rot back into the earth. Guilt free art! However, this is very time consuming to do everything yourself and for not much quantity.

Reducing impact rather than eliminating it

Acrylic paints- convenient and easy for artistic use! Also, an artist can be confident it will last hundreds of years (positive side of plastic????) It is often celebrated as more environmentally friendly than oils. However where does all that murky microplastic waste water go after I pour it down the sink?

DIY Sludginater- I found four different ways to reduce the acrylic sludge entering the water system. Sadly, all result in an acrylic sludge that ends up in landfill.

One. DIY- Although I think this is a really good way to demonstrate to students how much solid plastic matter is in acrylic wastewater I don’t think it is actually effective. The waste water treatment system is a lot more effective than doing it this DIY way. The waste water after this method is still coloured so the tiniest of microplastics are still going down the plughole and perhaps it is these that are missed by the wastewater treatment. If your aim is to stop the acrylic clogging your pipes though, this is a easy one to do.

Two. FAVOURITE! ‘Working with the force of evaporation’

Pour the acrylic wastewater into a wide tray and leave outside. Of course you need to have faith that not only will it be sunny but also not rain (I’m from the North West of England, it rains a lot!). Also, I imagine birds and next door’s pets would clamber inside. So perhaps best to use some sort of mesh over the top? After evaporating, remaining acrylic sludge will peel off and put in the bin. Still sending to landfill.

Three- evaporating and use of fan. Similar to the above but she uses an electric fan/heater to speed up evaporation. Another evaporation method- although she says you should leave the bucket next to a fan to help with evaporation. Not keen on this use of electricity. 

Four. Finally with regards to removing water based paint solids from water, Golden paints have a blogpost detailing how to effectively get the waste water back to clear. When I first saw this process I thought that Aluminum Sulfate sounds a bit problematic- I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to chemicals. Itt is actually the chemical used in water treatment. Because there are hazardous chemicals involved you need to keep away from children and wear gloves etc. Again, you will end up with acrylic sludge you need to dispose of. Seems like a very lengthy process.

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Can I paint with eco household paint instead of traditional mediums?

 There are loads of brands who boast excellent eco awareness and are without the acrylic or oils. They come in tins and are a lot cheaper. And I had thought this may be a solution. Lakeland paints, Earthbornpaints to name a few. I was ready to order some samples to experiment with when I read this blog about household paint on Jacksons Art website. I don’t necessarily mind if my art doesn’t last into the centuries however it seems that household paints can’t be painted onto flexible surfaces like canvas or paper. Jackson’s have a couple of really informative posts about household paint. Below Julie has responded to my question.

https://www.jacksonsart.com/blog/2018/08/04/priming-your-canvas-with-house-paint/ 

My question in response to the blog,

My question in response to the blog,

Julie’s response.

Julie’s response.


Conclusion

I’d love to be able to make my own paints and inks but it seems like a huge undertaking so unlike other areas of my life where I could change quite quickly, changing my art practice will be a slower undertaking. My aim for now is to sop using wet materials that I have to wash down the sink. For example, stop the use of acrylic paint and wet oils and instead trial dry mediums like pastels and oil sticks.

As always, I’d be grateful for any comments that will help me make my practice more sustainable!







Foreshortening corrections: 'The return of my detritus'

Since my last blogpost, I’ve been imagining what it would be like if our rubbish forced it’s way back into our lives. Here is the resulting drawing. Wondering if it is clear that the artist is looking at the rubbish which is indeed you, the viewer?!

Half way through the drawing I realised the legs were too long. This is a common mistake to make as our brain often wants to lengthen the limbs even if they are foreshortened because of the angle of vision. I did this drawing from my reflection and due to standing quite close to the mirror my upper body was closer to my line of vision and therefore appeared bigger. The brain does funny things though and wants to adhere to what Betty Edwards (Drawing on the right hand side of the brain) calls the symbol system, drawing things how they should be and not how they are.

I’m not overly precious about everything being exact but I wanted to evoke a feeling of disorientation in the viewer and as if the pile of rubbish mounting in the foreground was dwarfing her. So I felt it necessary to make the adjustments.

Please note, the vlog was not sponsored by Sellotape.

The return of the detritus!

Our recycling is working it’s way back to us. And it’s not been given the new leash of life we were promised

There is a certain self worth one feels when putting out the carefully washed and sorted recycling for collection. Doing this, we are promised, enables all this ‘stuff’ to reenter the circular economy (recover and regenerate materials to reuse). But the reality is that only about 9% of our recycling gets recycled. So where does the rest end up?

“What the citizens of the UK [and other countries] think they have sent for recycling are actually being dumped in our country … Malaysians have a right to clean air, clean water and a clean environment to live in, just like citizens of developed nations.”

“Malaysia will not be the dumping ground of the world,” … “We will fight back. Even though we are a small country, we can’t be bullied by developed countries.’’

Malaysia’s environment minister  Yeo Bee Yin

Household plastic waste from the UK found at a dump site in Ipoh, Malaysia. Photo: Unearthed.

Household plastic waste from the UK found at a dump site in Ipoh, Malaysia. Photo: Unearthed.


This week, Malaysia’s environment minister  Yeo Bee Yin assertively told us that they wouldn’t put up with our illegal waste exports anymore. They will send it back. And yes, a lot of it is our recycling we spend time sorting. Developed countries, like the UK embarrassingly don’t have the infrastructure to support the volume of recycling we produce, ‘plastic needs to be sorted into its separate polymers and formats in order to facilitate final reprocessing back into reusable pellets’ (Jessica Baker, Director at Chase Plastics Ltd.) If we can’t do it, how do we expect the developing countries to be able to! But it is cheaper for us to put it on a boat and export it. Until January 2018 China took on our recycling but because we imported so much that was badly sorted and contaminated they closed their doors. Our own recycling infrastructure cannot cope with the vast quantities we create. And because we have high regulations it’s easier to export it to countries with lower regulations than us. So as long as our recycling isn’t being recycled with makeshift, dangerous and toxic methods on OUR own precious, beautiful land- who cares! Out of sight, out of mind!



“You [developed countries] have so-called high recycling rates; as citizens do you know where your plastic waste and pollution ends up? It’s in other people’s countries, affecting other people’s children. Your recycling rate is nothing to be proud of,”

Dr Theng [an independent waste consultant]

Yeah I admit it must be a terrible eyesore, but it’s not like plastic rots and can affect health?

‘‘A former civil servant, who declined to be quoted by name, said the smells were sometimes so strong they would pervade the house even when windows and doors were closed. He added that he had noticed increased pollution in the river over the past couple of years,

“There are still some fish but you wouldn’t want to eat them… We used to take wild tiger prawns from the river. Now there are none left. There’s something wrong.”

CK Lee, a local solicitor who works with the Kuala Langat Environmental Association, said:

“Local residents were having breathing difficulties, having difficulty to sleep, feeling nausea, [and] feeling unwell.”

Quotes takes from: UK household plastics found in illegal dumps in Malaysia Unearthed October 2018

‘…as long as we keep sending poorly sorted plastic overseas for reprocessing a significant proportion of this mix will end up in open landfill, the rivers and then oceans overseas.”

The solution, she suggests, is to make products more recyclable, collect these and reprocess them in the UK, adding: “Exported plastics should be of a sorted, single polymer stream or format so that overseas reprocessors do not have to re-sort it and throw out what they can’t use. Only this is going to address our contribution to the problem of ocean plastic.”

Jessica Baker, Director at Chase Plastics Ltd,



Further reading:

UK household plastics found in illegal dumps in Malaysia Unearthed October 2018

Malaysia to send up to 100 tonnes of plastic waste back to Australia Guardian May 2019

Why the world’s recycling system stopped working Financial Times October 2018

Government ‘clutching at straws’ over waste plastic exports Axion Circular economy specialists June 2018

Individual action is important!

Recycle less, not more. Moving towards zero waste.

Now, what I have written here is simplified and I must confess I always feel overwhelmed when I read into it and try to distill the information. As always, I try to suggest something that consumers can do, because I believe fervently that individual action is important. Now that self worth serotonin hit we get from recycling is somewhat dampened, what can we do? Prevention is key here. And that will mean something different to everyone. I suggest coming up with realistic goals. When I gave up single use plastic I started with food because there was a market shop near my house in London and it was easy to go in after work. I highly recommend watching Bea Johnson author of ‘Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate guide to simplifying your life by reducing your waste’. I love her message; recycle less, not more. REFUSE, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot. In that order! See more at zerowastehome.com

Feeling guilty? Feeling judgemental?

Once you start to live by these rules it’s very easy to start judging people who don’t. And even if you don’t judge them, it’s often difficult to talk about what you are doing without it sounding that way! Someone who I find endlessly inspiring is Andrea Marie Saunders, a mindfulness meditation teacher and artist who believes you should meet people where they are on their own journey. There is no point in guilt (something I struggle a lot with) for being part of a system that we did not design.

She appreciates that living zero waste is easier for her because of her privileges as white, abled bodied (can walk, ride a bike) woman living in an affluent town in Colorado who has access to bulk stores and farmer’s markets. Andrea appreciates that zero waste is currently impossible due to our infrastructure. She encourages people to do what they can to move towards it.

Live Electrical Waste drawing at Odd Macc Folk night!

On Wednesday I was asked along with folk singers, poets and artists from Macclesfield to perform at The Print Mill for a spring evening of music and laughter. As a teacher I have done many live demonstrations, some with London Drawing that go on for about 20 minutes so didn’t think this would be much different. However, it was more challenging than I thought. Usually my cable drawings take a few days to do and sometimes I sit and stare at them for hours at a time working out the composition. With this, I only had 90 minutes so I launched in with almost no thought as to what I was doing. Unfortunately I didn’t get to the point where I felt fully engaged with the entangled cables so I’m not too fond of the final one. It was a super evening though and I enjoyed being able to draw while listening to the sounds of the busy evening.

The woman with the hat who bobs her head in , is Dr Deborah Maw the biochemist and environmental artist who gave the Microplastics talk last week (see last blog entry).

This was my first live drawing video so naturally it was a makeshift production, my phone is sellotaped to my tripod! I have loads to learn with regards to filming (lighting, post-production, sound etc) so am looking forward to doing more. I’ve been commissioned to do another drawing of a levitating lump of cables so I’m going to film it and discuss the process in detail.

Burping cows cause climate crisis!? I’ll believe it when I see it!

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The link between my dinner and the Mozambique floods feels tenuous because methane and C02 is not visible. Photo: Taken by me in Clitheroe, Lancashire.

The link between my dinner and the Mozambique floods feels tenuous because methane and C02 is not visible. Photo: Taken by me in Clitheroe, Lancashire.

Do we have a better understanding of the plastic pollution problem because the objects are visibly and physically present in our lives? Whereas the ideas of Climate Breakdown is less easy to ‘grasp’ because methane and C02 is impossible to ‘grasp’…

On Thursday I went to see Dr Deborah Maw, Biochemist and Environmental Artist at the Bollington Arts Festival, talk about her experience with Exxpedition that sailed around the British Isles in 2017.

‘Sailing for 19 days aboard 72-foot vessel Sea Dragon, the team sampled the ocean for plastics and pollutants, feeding these results into wider studies examining the impacts of toxics and plastic pollutants on personal and environmental health. Studies have shown that humans have over 700 foreign synthetic chemicals in our bodies, so the team also underwent 'Body Burden' analysis, a UN Environmental Program initiative to assess our personal exposure to known toxic substances, shed light on the science of ecotoxicology and its relationship with disease rates.

Above all, eXXpedition is a mission to inspire hope for a healthier future. ‘

Extract from description with documentary and website.

Link to Dr. Deborah Maw’s blog

Dr Maw explained that one of the main objectives of the expedition was to make the ‘unseen, seen’. Exxpedition, Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet’ and the various campaigns over the last few years on tackling plastic pollution has been a giant success in terms of spreading awareness. We are now familiar with the vocabulary ‘single use’ and images of the colourful plastic detritus scattered across beeches and plastic bags blowing gently in the wind are common to us all. Visual quotes like ‘by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans’ are unforgettable. Indeed, the plastic bottle is like the poster girl for the campaign! People are taking action in their personal lives and increasingly corporations and governments are putting in place objectives to cut down on usage. So, two years after Dr Maw’s journey with Exxpedition I would say that yes the ‘unseen’ is now ‘seen’. As Dr Maw told us, if we all stopped using single use plastics it would significantly cut down on the plastic problem.

How else is the ‘unseen’ plastic problem woven into our lives?

But the ‘unseen’ bit has really made me think about the visibility of other environmental causes. Plastic has been villainised. We are all familiar with it. We’ve held it in our hands. Found them on empty bus seats. Casually dropped them in the bin. Ignored them lying on the curb. Learnt to hate them. And now increasingly (unless your algorithms don’t show it to you), we see the harrowing photographs of them, crawling, squeezing along rivers in developing countries poisoning environments. On mass they resemble a Slush Puppie being sucked through a narrow straw. In early 2018 for the first time I read about how the thousands of microplastics are released from petroleum based fabrics (polyester, poly blends, nylon) when washing. I’d been living single use plastic free lifestyle for about a year and I only bought clothes second hand due to the ethical and environmental problems with fast fashion. Everytime I washed my clothes, second hand or just old, I was flushing thousands of microplastics into the water. This news was alarming considering I thought I was doing well on the no-plastic front! It’s interesting that I’d only been concentrating of plastics that I could see; plastic bottles, packaging etc. These microscopic plastics found in fabrics can’t be ‘seen’ and therefore easy to ignore. The definition of mico-plastic is anything smaller than 5mm. I can ‘see’ 5mm with a naked eye. I’ve seen thousands of photos of beaches with bits of plastic debri of 5mm. But the micro-plastics from my clothes? Nope I can’t see this with my naked eye at all.

Individual action is important! And be loud about it- share with your friends! Usually about £25. A short tutorial on how to wash synthetic clothes with the Guppyfriend washing bag. www.guppyfriend.com Learn more about microplastic pollution: www.stopmicrowaste.com

And what happens to these as they are flushed out? Dr. Maw explained that they don’t float as you would expect. They sink, joining the sludge at the bottom of the sewer which is then collected and used as manure. Yup, the microplastics are spread on the fields that grow our food. Eww. Bummer. That sounds like bad news to me (another thing that Exxpedition were doing were testing how chemicals are affecting health- see more on their website or documentary. Plastics attract certain chemicals forming toxic bonds. And in our body they are stored in fat). One way you can prevent this, Dr Maw explained, is to use a Guppy bag that stops most of the microplastics from seeping into the water. At the end of the wash they then collect in the seams and you can put in the recycling bin (?) or in the bin. No perfect solution yet, but as one audience member confirmed, there isn’t any plastic in the world that can’t be recycled, only that we don’t have the infrastructure of recycle it currently.

I can’t SEE the link between my dinner and the Mozambique floods

So only when we use the Guppy bag to collect the microplastics can we see them collected in the seams. Which is probably why this area of concern hasn’t taken off as much. If the plastic pollution campaign has really taken off because beaches and plastic filled belly’s it can be easily and emotively documented, is this why people can’t relate so easily to climate change? Yes, we see news reports from around the world of weather, fires, floods, melting ice caps. But somehow, even with a good understanding of science, it is still difficult to relate this back to eating steak for dinner or taking a flight somewhere. The link between my dinner and the Mozambique floods feels tenuous. Imagine I am watching a YouTube video of a bird having its (link) stomach pumped and a chewed up Highland Spring bottle top is thrown up and I’m sat there, drinking from a Highland Spring bottle, well, you know, I’m going to see the part I play in the problem. It’s visible. Let’s just pause on the ‘holding’ part. I can ‘hold’ it in my hand, grasp it. But climate change you can’t. Perhaps physically grasping something helps us grasp the idea better. Just as throwaway plastics have become the villain of plastic pollution, meat and flights are that of climate change. And it’s almost absurd to think that cow’s burping up methane gas is a huge part of the problem.  I’ve been chased by cows across a field before, the visual memory of calfs enthusiastically running towards me is burned into my memory. But cows burping? Pah! I’ll believe it when I see it! I have NEVER seen a cow burp. Or maybe I’ve just not noticed it. I guess it would be easy to miss, it’s not like a cartoon cloud of fluorescent green methane would dissipate up into the cartoon blue sky. I’m not a scientist but I believe the Climate Crisis is real even though I can’t ‘see’ the link from me to it with my naked eye. This may explain why the campaign for considering washing clothes differently hasn’t taken off as well as single use. It’s simply difficult for us to comprehend that ominous microplastics lurk inside the fibres of our clothes waiting to be released.

Highland Spring immersive detritus

And all this philosophising about invisibility vs visibility ties very nicely into this weird detritus left over by the Highland Spring advertising campaign in Manchester Piccadilly train station. I saw it on Friday evening. I’m assuming the ‘happy to help’ representatives in branded t-shirts and had gone home for the week and that there had been some sort of immersive technological element to it. But now the highland imitation stood eerily silent among the hustle and bustle of the station tightly guarded by the yellow plastic roadwork barriers. Not a plastic bottle insight. Only the cool highland water running down the screen.

Craftivist Collective- Changing our world one stitch at a time...

Is hurtling your milkshake at politicians a good way to get their attention? I think Craftivist Collective has a kinder, thoughtful and more strategic way…

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Every five years in Bollington, the village near me in Macclesfield hold a festival which hosts music, films, walks, dancing, art exhibitions and talks. Tonight Sarah Corbett who started the Craftivist Collective came all the way from London to come and speak to us.

‘The Craftivist Collective is exactly that – a collective, an inclusive group of people committed to using thoughtful, beautiful crafted works to help themselves and encourage others be the positive change they wish to see in the world.’

@craftivists #gentleprotest #craftivist

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Usually when I think of political and environmental activism I think of loud and in your face protests with banners and all sorts of ‘disobedient objects’ (oh how I loved that V&A exhibition in 2014). Or the images of punks with subversive messages scrawled on their clothes (biography of Vivienne Westwood in the 70s and 80s rocked my world as a teenager). Often the voice of this sort of activism shouts ‘WE OPPOSE YOU’. And as I write this, current trend for sharing photos and videos of Tommy Robinson and Nigel Farage lookin forlorn and understandiably pissed off after milkshakes have been hurled at them, are being shared on social media. While Sarah didn’t mention this in her talk she did ask us if we would engage with and listen to people throwing eggs at us? NO- it would only anger us as a knee jerk reaction! She believes it is important not to demonise the people you are trying to get to listen, even if it makes other people laugh momentarily. Craftivist Collective is about empowering people to be activists with methods that will be effective instead of only inflammatory. Activism should inspire positive action not aggression.

Craftivism Collective workshops

At these workshops people are invited to consider carefully the message they want to give to whoever they feel can make the change they want to see in the world. The way the craftivism is received is important as ‘everyone likes positive surprises’ which gives you a little dopamine hit. Sarah showed us examples of hankerchiefs with the words ‘Don’t blow it…’ neatly embroidered. If you receive a piece of intimate craft that has had very human time and care put into it, you are more likely to keep it and engage with it.

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Shopdropping

My favourite piece of activism Sarah discussed, and I have heard people talking about this before, is Shopdropping. People dropping their craftivism into the pockets of fast fashion in the shops. Imagine trying on clothes in a shop and finding a little message inside asking you to consider it’s ethical and environmental journey to you! You can hear more on Wardrobe Crisis podcast (incidentally one of my favourite podcasts about ethical and sustainable fashion).

As I have been so inspired by The Craftivist Collective subversive methods I have come straight from Sarah’s talk and written up this blog post quickly before I go to bed. But it has really thrown up a lot of questions for me and my own art. How am I inspiring empathy in my work? Does my work inspire action or leave people feeling down in the dumps? Is my work just about raising awareness or true activism? What is true activism? Should activism always be about the result or is the process important too? How can knowledge of psychology and neuroscience help us protest effectively? Does impact have to be LOUD? Or can it be kind, stitched and intimate?

Big thank you to Sarah for coming all the way to Bollington and to Josie Spinks (who was my A Level English Lit teacher! Woop!) for inviting Sarah to come and deliver this inspirational talk.

See more on Twitter and Instagram @craftivist. And of course the website .

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Finally need that one wire!

If you’re familiar with my work you’ll know that I like drawing from redundant objects, particularly lamps and cables. I first started drawing my pile o’ wires about two years ago when I stop being frustrated at it and began to see it as my new muse. When my laptop charger broke a few days ago I thought I better back up my laptop as I realised I hadn’t done this in over a year :-o And yes, the USB cable was tightly entangled in the lump. Thought it would be a good opportunity to film it. I anticipated it would take ages to do so I sat on a cushion and a cup of tea… but it actually only took five minutes much to my artistic frustration! Although I did end up needing that one cable, I expect most of those cables are useless to me now. Can you relate?

Repairing your electronics!

Yesterday I blogged about ‘having’ to buy a new Mac charger. When a piece of clothing loses it’s life I can usually figure out what needs to be mended and how, but when it comes to electronics I have no idea! When looking at my broken charger there was no clue to as to what might be wrong. And even if I did have an understanding of circuit boards, getting into the screwless thing is a mission in itself (see ‘Right to repair’ ‘a series of proposals from European environment ministers to force manufacturers to make goods that last longer and are easier to mend’).

The Restart Project

The Restart Project

After my blog yesterday, my sisters and I discussed what could be done to prevent our electronics being shipped to illegal dumpsites in the developing world. My sister told me about Repair Cafe in Leeds and after I looked into it I’ve discovered there are 1,500 worldwide;

‘Repair Cafés are free meeting places and they’re all about repairing things (together). In the place where a Repair Café is located, you’ll find tools and materials to help you make any repairs you need. On clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, appliances, toys, et cetera. You’ll also find expert volunteers, with repair skills in all kinds of fields.

Visitors bring their broken items from home. Together with the specialists they start making their repairs in the Repair Café. It’s an ongoing learning process. If you have nothing to repair, you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. Or you can lend a hand with someone else’s repair job. You can also get inspired at the reading table – by leafing through books on repairs and DIY.’

I also follow The Restart Project on Instagram which has a similar set-up:

The Restart Project helps people learn how to repair their broken electronics, and rethink how they consume them in the first place.

We run regular Restart Parties where people teach each other how to repair their broken and slow devices – from tablets to toasters, from iPhones to headphones. We maintain a network of groups like ours - some use different names but we all host the same kind of events.

We call ours parties because they have a fun, ad-hoc spirit where all are welcome to meet, mingle, and share in the fun of repair.

This puts me to shame, he took his Mac charger and had it repaired (see previous post)!

This puts me to shame, he took his Mac charger and had it repaired (see previous post)!

Empowering people to fix their own stuff!

Despite loving electronics visually, I have no idea how anything works. A circuit board is a complete mystery. I remember getting monotonous headaches because I didn’t understand Electronics in year 7-9 (but oh! the soldering iron was a highlight!). What I particularly like about The Repair Cafe and The Restart Project is that they create a community where the expectation is that you will learn from each other (from their mission statement and reviews- I’ve never been!).

The Restart Project also runs sessions in schools!

The programme is designed to help students develop hard repair skills – such as disassembly, reassembly, and manual dexterity – at the same time as transferrable skills like teamwork and creative problem-solving.

If anyone has been to one of these events I would love to hear about your experience.

Will my 'first world problem' add to their devastating problem?

My fourth charger for my four year old Apple Mac arrived yesterday…

Photographer Kevin McElvaney, taken from  Guardian images . I have been give permission.  ‘Discarders of electronic goods expect them to be recycled properly. But almost all such devices contain toxic chemicals which, even if they are recyclable, make it expensive to do so. As a result, illegal dumping has become a lucrative business.   Photographer Kevin McElvaney documents Agbogbloshie, a former wetland in Accra, Ghana, which is home to the world’s largest e-waste dumping site. Boys and young men smash devices to get to the metals, especially copper. Injuries, such as burns, untreated wounds, eye damage, lung and back problems, go hand in hand with chronic nausea, anorexia, debilitating headaches and respiratory problems. Most workers die from cancer in their 20s’ Text taken from  Guardian images.

Photographer Kevin McElvaney, taken from Guardian images. I have been give permission.

‘Discarders of electronic goods expect them to be recycled properly. But almost all such devices contain toxic chemicals which, even if they are recyclable, make it expensive to do so. As a result, illegal dumping has become a lucrative business.

Photographer Kevin McElvaney documents Agbogbloshie, a former wetland in Accra, Ghana, which is home to the world’s largest e-waste dumping site. Boys and young men smash devices to get to the metals, especially copper. Injuries, such as burns, untreated wounds, eye damage, lung and back problems, go hand in hand with chronic nausea, anorexia, debilitating headaches and respiratory problems. Most workers die from cancer in their 20s’ Text taken from Guardian images.

‘First world problem’

Old meets new.

Old meets new.

Yesterday, I received my fourth charger for my four year old Mac book, ordered directly from Apple. To be fair to them, my last charger was not Apple branded and only lasted four months before it ceased to light up. However, both Apple branded ones stopped working after a little more than a year, conveniently just out of the one year warranty. It was no surprise to see on the Mac website the charger gets a 1* star review (247 awful ones). The first died after it hissed and spluttered after a miniature explosion, and the second surreptitiously perished leaving no clue as to the cause of it’s departure from the ‘living’ world. And yes it was a costly inconvenience to me (£79) and I had to live without my laptop for 24 hours. Will the ‘inconvenience’ stop with me? As I look at my new bright white and firm life support, I’m wondering what the destiny will be of these weathered ‘dead’ cables?

‘Worldwide, discarded electronics account for an average 35 million tons of trash per year.Such a mass of discards has been compared to an equivalent disposal of 1,000 elephants every hour.’

-‘Digital Rubbish: A natural history of electronics Jennifer Gabrys

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Informative articles

60-90% of OUR electronic waste ends up on illegal dumpsites in the developing world. If you are interested in knowing where your electronic waste might end up have a read of these. I post articles on Twitter too.

Rotten eggs: e-waste from Europe poisons Ghana's food chain 24th April 2019

Where Do 50 Million Tonnes a Year of Toxic E-Waste Go? 27th September 2017

Our thirst for new gadgets has created a vast empire of electronic waste 10th February 2016

Feeling a bit down in the dumps about those statistics?

All the packaging. Set against synthetic looking grass. I have to remind myself that everything we have and consumer comes from the earth.

All the packaging. Set against synthetic looking grass. I have to remind myself that everything we have and consumer comes from the earth.

So I realise this and some of my art work around e-waste can leave people questioning ‘ If 60-90% of EU e-waste ends up on illegal dumpsites how can I ensure mine don’t?’ Yup, that is where I am at too! I certainly feel I’m very much entangled in the system of needing a brand new charger every time one breaks. I don’t deny I am a consumer shackled to Apple’s short life products, at the mercy of their products. But I don’t want my blog posts to be all doom and gloom, so I will be posting up good things that people and companies are doing to tackle e-waste whether it be recycling or fixing. I’d like these blog-posts to be an honest journey- I don’t have the answers… yet!

I’m here to learn, so any up-to-date information you may have please do email me! Thank you!

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