In this time of the coronavirus crisis, we’re being asked to regularly wash our hands to curb infection. If people are anything like me, this will increase our water usage just when we’re meant to be preserving it to save the planet.

When you also consider that, in recent years, the UK faced some kind of water shortage most summers, the prospect becomes frightening: Do we choose infection or saving the planet?

So is it right for artists to use water in their art? As vital as I believe art to be, I do not put it on a par with the importance of fighting infection and the survival of life on Earth. That is why I swapped over to rainwater at the beginning of the year.

Yet rainwater doesn’t need to be the preserve of artists. According to The Renewable Energy Hub, things you can use rainwater for include:

  • Flushing toilets
  • Washing clothes
  • Watering the garden
  • Cleaning the car

That would relieve some of the demand on our water supply – as would being more sensible about our mains water usage. My local water company, United Utilities, has a host of water saving tips on their website. It includes:

  • Turning off the tap whilst brushing your teeth
  • Only filling the kettle with as much water as you really need
  • Using a bowl to do the washing up

Whatever you do, please be mindful of your water consumption. This pandemic doesn’t want to be made any worse than it is already.


It is entirely impossible for me to ignore the coronavirus crisis this week…

As I type, I’m self-isolating, as advised by the UK government, due to having flu symptoms. I don’t know what it was but it passed on Sunday and I don’t believe it was coronavirus.

Isolation doesn’t isolate me from the crisis though. I’ve been forced to observe, helpless, as people panic buy and our shops go into overdrive to meet our demand. All of a sudden, it seems we have woken up to how precious our resources are and the network that provides them is. Whilst I desire sanity to be restored, it is my hope that we don’t close our eyes again when this crisis is over.

Our world is a global network and, as coronavirus has shown, what we do in one part of the world affects the ecology all the way around it.

So I believe we need to improve our way of living. Instead of thinking and acting selfishly, we should think and act globally. We need each other now more than ever. So let’s hook into our global network (at a safe distance) instead of isolating ourselves from it.


Last week I began to follow the eco trail of my Winsor & Newton watercolours. As I don’t wish to single Winsor & Newton out, this week I’ve decided to follow the eco trail of my Royal & Langnickel brushes (see picture).

The first thing I noticed about them is that the pack states the bristles are made of black taklon. A search on the internet found that taklon is a biodegradable and hypoallergenic vegan alternative to animal hair – so far, so good. However, a little more digging found that taklon is made from a thermoplastic polyester called polybutylene therephthalate (PBT), which is prepared through slow and energy consuming processes – not so good.

If you weren’t aware, polyester is a plastic. Plastic has been in the news a lot lately due to the terrible effects it’s having on the global ecology. This is partly because plastic is highly durable, so does not decompose that easily. So, yes, taklon is biodegradable but it takes a long time to do it – which is good for our paintbrushes but not so good for our ecology.

The other reason why plastic is causing ecological problems is because of the way it’s disposed of. If we discount the unethical and disastrous practice of fly tipping or dumping it in the oceans, plastic is typically disposed of in one of three ways: landfill, incineration, or recycling.

I talked about the issue of our recycling not being recycled last week. So lets move straight on to landfill…

Whilst landfill consumes our waste, it produces nothing in return. As mentioned above, plastic is highly durable, which means the land it occupies in landfill will be occupied, and thus unproductive, for a long time. Plastic in landfill is also a source for pollutants such as benzene. It can also lead to production of hydrogen sulphide which, in high enough concentrations, is potentially lethal.

The other method for disposing of plastic is incineration. Incineration is beneficial in that energy can be recovered from the heating process. However, incineration releases harmful compounds into the atmosphere. These can include heavy metals, toxic oxygen-based free radicals, and carbon dioxide.

Now I don’t suppose Royal & Langnickel chose to make their brush bristles out of plastic to create problems for our ecology. I imagine they saw it as being more ethical than using animal hair. However, in trying to solve one problem, they’re contributing to different problems. This puts me in mind of Petro-Subjectivity by Brett Bloom, in which he talks about the dangers of creating a ‘greener’ alternative to our current world. To boil this down to it’s essence, I will phrase it as thus: producing ‘greener’ versions of our problems doesn’t make our problems go away. Instead I believe we should see these ‘greener’ solutions as stepping stones to a truly sustainable planet.

(Credit: a large amount of the above blog post was informed by Plastic Degradation and Its Environmental Implications with Special Reference to Poly(ethylene terephthalate) by Hayden K. Webb, Jaimys Arnott, Russell J. Crawford and Elena P. Ivanova)


Following on from last week, when I started to follow the eco trail of my art materials, this week I’m going to talk about the packaging they arrive in…

Recently, I bought a half pan of Winsor & Newton watercolour (see picture). It was encased in the packaging shown to enable it to be hung up in the shop.

Now consider this for a moment: not only is the paint in a plastic container but it is then wrapped in plastic and paper, which is then wrapped in plastic and cardboard. Just how much packaging does a half pan of paint need!

I was thinking about this when I also happened to see a Friends of the Earth video about ‘recycling’. I’d always imagined what I put into the recycling was recycled but it seems this is not the case. The video showed that some of it is dumped on Indonesia – sometimes on their streets!

So not only is the packaging that my art materials arrive in ridiculous overkill, it is also a health hazard in a country far away that I shall likely never visit. How can I possibly justify my part this? How can the government or Winsor & Newton justify their part in this?

Although I’m alleviating the problem for myself by making dyes from plants, mud, etc it is, as yet, a long way short of being the complete solution. So I’m thinking of leaving the excess packaging my art materials are covered in in the shop. This will not directly solve the problem but it may cause the shop to rethink how they stock their materials and perhaps pressurise their suppliers to rethink their packaging. At the very least, it will stop them passing their problems onto me. After all, it is them that has decided it’s necessary to have all this excess packaging not me.


In last week’s blog, I wrote about becoming more atune to the ecology I’m part of. This inspired me to look closer at the eco trail of my art supplies.

My watercolour paints are supplied my Winsor & Newton. Their parent company is Lindéngrupen, whose portfolio includes Beckers (industrial coatings), Höganäs AB (metal powder supplier to the automotive industry), and Moorbrook Textiles (woven-textiles supplier to the fashion industry) – none of which you could call environmentally friendly.

The paper I use is made by Daler-Rowney who are owned by an Italian company called FILA. As far as I could see, none of the paper they produce is recycled, which I think is shocking in this day and age.

On a more positive note, my paint brush manufacturers, Royal & Langknickel (owned by British company, Royal Brush Mfg), boast of “100% cruelty free art brushes” but then there’s the POSCA pens I use…

POSCA are part of the uni Mitsubishi Pencil company which, as the name implies, is part of the Mitsubishi group. The amount of companies that belong to the group are so numerous, that Mitsubishi have their own search engine to help you find them! However, an admittedly cursory glance found that Mitsubishi produce aluminium, electricity, chemicals, paper, and steel. Plus they also have their fingers in real estate, heavy industries, and banking. But most famous of all are Mitsubishi Motors. As you might imagine, I was shocked to find such a large, environmentally unfriendly, portfolio.

However, whatever the size of the carbon footprint these companies produce, it has to meet me half-way for I will add to it myself by visiting an art shop and returning home with my purchases or, otherwise, ordering home delivery online.

This being the case, I can’t just point my finger at others. Neither do I believe ‘blame and shame’ is helpful. I firmly believe we all need to work together to fight the climate crisis, not sow division. However, I do believe in taking personal responsibility for my actions. I have personal agency to create change – but I can only do that if I am informed of what I am contributing to.