Australian Fine Artist

Context and Culture

Year 1 Diploma of Visual Arts Assessment Task

Select two materials that are used in your art practice and research the process that these mediums undergo from extraction to disposal

As the Creative Director of my own division of our family business and the OH&S Officer I have to address these issues for myself and the business in general. With this in mind, I am going to select the two most commonly used materials in my arts practice during the last year and do my best to research them from manufacturer to disposal of any waste from usage.

The first is Artists Pastels:

I use mostly Rembrandt Soft Artists Pastels. Rembrandt pastels are made from the purest pigments and mixed with the finest quality kaolin clay binder. No pigments containing heavy metals, such as cadmium, lead, and cobalt, are used in production which ensures that the pastels have no hard bits or sharp edges. This means that the dust from the pastels is mostly very safe. The only unfortunate thing is that they are made in Holland.

I might add at this point that Europe has very high standards for recycling and manufacturing that requires companies to make sure that every part of their assembly and disposal of product is compliant with environmental regulations. Germany, parts of Scandinavia and Holland are especially strict. I have, however, started researching locally made pastels from an artist in Pakenham Victoria. He manufactures in a similar manner to Royal Talens, the company that makes Rembrandt. This will remove the transport issues as he sells through the internet and pastels can be delivered via Australia Post and payments completed using EFT.

It is quite difficult to get a lot of details about how some of your materials are made, so I can only do my best in continually researching better quality at prices I can afford and hopefully locally made to help in lowering the cartage costs of these materials. Rembrandt work well on the paper and blend very well with other pastels that I am researching (Rusty Tone).

Leigh Rust who is the local artist making pastels is a strong wildlife advocate, so I know he is doing his best to make sure he manufactures in a safe manner from start to finish, and is considering safe use and final disposal. I sent him a message to ask where he sources his raw materials and he responded with the following information:

The sites above have many pages of information about pigments. Too many for me to start typing in information here. For anyone interested I suggest you go to the site and have a look just as I did.

Returning to Rembrandt, they don’t leave a lot of dust so there is also value for money by less wastage. I am planning on capturing the dust in the future as the studio is gradually completed, as this can be used to make your own very good grey pastels varying from cools to warms. Because they adhere to the paper very well the framing is a lot easier as well and less fixative is required. On some works I use no fixative at all and still get well over ten layers of colour. The Rusty Tone pastels apply nearly as well on testing so far and happily work with the Rembandts.

At the moment I sweep up the left over dust and put it into plastic bags that are saved from our shopping for re-using. The bags are then put into general art room rubbish as they are not considered to be highly toxic. The bags are sealed just to be absolutely sure they are safe.

Pastel paintings can last for well over a hundred years, as we have samples from the Impressionists in France. Thoughtful storage and use of good quality paper means that they have a long “shelf life” and final disposal is not something I am thinking too hard about since I am trying to use better quality materials that should last.

As an additional safety measure I recommend to students that they do not blow on their pastel drawings and paintings to remove excess pastel dust. They are told to tap the back of the paper. This avoids any prospect of breathing it in and having a reaction to the dust and helps with easy collection later. Some artists also wear thin rubber gloves to protect their hands whilst using pastels. When using the very staining colours this can be a good idea.

The second is Pastel Paper:

We recently had a visit from a representative from Canson. He gave a very informative talk about the manufacturing of the papers that I use for producing pastel paintings.

It is common for representatives to give flowery talks big noting the positives of their product so it can make it hard to be sure about how environmentally sound their manufacturing is. The problem is however, unless you go to the factory yourself, you have to take them at their word unless you can find some laws that they have broken or lawsuits that have been won against them for environmental damage.

I find that if I buy better quality from reputable companies with a good long history in countries that I know are mindful of manufacturing practices, I have a better chance of dong the right thing. This is also good for me as I know I am producing quality art works that will last and my clients are buying something from me that I am proud of. Cheap product from countries that I know are not worrying about how they are impacting the environment are not worth the risk and I think don’t give the quality result I am looking for. If I find a product that is manufactured in Australia that is of equal quality to Canson Tex I will test it and see if it worth swapping over.

Regarding disposal: When producing an artwork I try to use as much of a sheet of paper as possible as they aren’t cheap. Any small off cuts go into recycling as it seems so far to be accepted in the bins.

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