Environmentally Friendly Practices in Art & Life

My favorite graphic by artist Mari Andrew


Hi friends and happy World Environment Day!  I’ve been busy around the studio as we finish projects before our summer break and get ready for <<summer sessions>> this August so my apologies for being absent!

As many of you know, I have been attempting to jumpstart my efforts in cutting down on single use plastic in my home and around the art studio*! I’ve stopped using plastic straws, bags, wrap and any other plastic that cannot be recycled or repurposed in some way. It is no easy feat, but I’ve been learning to deal with a minor inconvenience over caving into plastic usage (forgoing straws/plastic utensils at restaurants, toting around cloth and mesh grocery/produce bags, etc.) Along with other environmentally friendly practices we’ve been doing for years in my home (glass tupperware, mason jars for drinks and coffee on the go, cruelty-free and local products, etc), I’m just trying to do my part, and my wish for you is the same!

That being said, I have been ruminating on some things that have worked for me with my students, in my own art making, and at home that have been applicable, so I wanted to share them with my lovely readers 🙂 I am no recycling or zero waste expert/guru/crusader, but merely a constant creative problem solver and a firm believer in “there is always a better way of doing something.” Plus, saving our home planet and ridding our oceans, ozone layer and precious wildlife of our mess is great too, right? 😉

Here are 5 ways to incorporate eco-friendly habits into your art making and life:

1) Salvage what you can

This applies more to art-making and around the art studio. The studio where I teach has been keeping large drawers dedicated to scraps for years- bins of paper, fabric, scrap yarn, and yes- even plastic! This may seem like a no-brainer and falls more into the “repurpose” category, but if a plastic bottle can live a new life as a well-loved art project that sits proudly in my student’s home, that is a win for me (and the earth if it would have otherwise ended up in a landfill)! Also, we like to store things like paintbrushes, pencils, pens, and erasers, etc in reused metal cans, tins, and bowls!

Materials ready to be reused in our bins!
Reusing cans for storage

In our recent doll project in my fiber class, we used mainly scrap fabric and materials to create our dolls and their outfits and they came out amazing! It was fun to see my students getting creative and excited as they perused our bins of fabric from past projects! We have also based many projects on recycled and repurposed materials and the results are always incredible.

Recycled fabric dolls
Dragon made out of a plastic bottle by one of our young students!

2) Use natural materials whenever possible

Since polyester and other synthetic fibers are mostly plastic, I try to buy 100% cotton, wool, silk fabric and yarn (which also happen to be necessary for plant and food dyeing). Some of my favorite materials include natural wool, silk fabric, cotton embroidery floss and thread, cotton muslin for fabric projects with the kids, and cotton rope for macrame. We weave on wooden lap looms and embroider with wooden hoops, and my kids have brought many of their own old shirts and jackets from home that we dye, embroider and breathe new life into! I have covered up many stains on perfectly good shirts with indigo dye! 😉

We buy wholesale if we need brand new supplies, but I love the studio because we have so many recycled and repurposed materials that serve a wide variety of purposes. Plus, I just think it encourages more creativity to transform scraps into a work of art! Furthermore, I am admittedly obsessed with Craigslist, my local Habitat for Humanity Restore, and any consignment store I can find, which brings me to my next point:

3) Shop local and consignment

This may be my favorite point because not only do we have a problem with plastic, but we have a problem with consumption. Why do we have so much stuff?! This addresses bigger questions that I don’t have the answers to, but the truth is the average American has too much stuff. Even Goodwill and consignment stores are being buried in donations because of how much we buy and trash ( 1) !

So what is the solution? Reduce, reuse, recycle. Is there a local consignment store where you can mix and match trendy and vintage pieces (which are often much better quality) and give old clothes a new home? Can you shop local instead of online or at a big retailer where they ship everything in, leading to more fuel costs and pollution (although I do love Target :'( but hey, I can still enjoy in moderation, and you can too) ? Can you budget for a few well made pieces or items that can be worn or used for years instead of many cheap, trendy items? All consignment stores and restores are also great for art and home projects, and often times much cheaper!

4) Just say no to plastic (whenever you can)

Thankfully I live in a town where plastic bags have been banned, but not everyone does. Besides bringing your own bag/cup/utensils and straws, there is the tricky situation of packaging. There is SO much plastic packaging out there! Not only do many fiber materials come in plastic bags, but most packaging is made of plastic bottles–  everything from art supplies to grocery items to beauty products and clothing!  Pretty much anything you order online comes wrapped in plastic (even my reusable bags! talk about defeating the purpose…) which is so much a part of our everyday modern conveniences. 

I find this part the hardest, because sometimes I won’t even realize what I’m buying has plastic packaging, or there is no alternative– especially with things we can’t go without, like food and toilet paper?! This can be frustrating because it can feel like as consumers we have no choice or are set up to fail. I think the best piece of advice I’ve found is to just try. Is there a farmer’s market nearby or even a farm share where you can buy fresh veggies without the plastic wrapping? Does your grocery store have an option where you can bring your own jars and buy goods like nuts, seeds, dried fruit, grains and beans in bulk? Can you buy something in glass or cardboard so it can be recycled? Can you make something easily at home that cuts down on packaging? Does your favorite beauty store or company have a package free option (my fav, Lush does)?

I encourage you to think through your own habits and think about practical ways you can change your waste consumption 🙂 However, if some of these things can’t work for you, don’t sweat it. This article was really helpful for me to understand that achieving “zero waste” can be difficult for those who don’t have access to as many resources as others do, depending on location, time, and $$.

Did you know that many of our coffee cups will outlive us?!

5) Spread awareness

This one is perhaps most important, because I think it’s all about creating a domino effect. If one friend, family member or neighbor sees your efforts and gets inspired to cut down on plastic and waste, that’s one more person or household! Over the course of a year, America generates around 300 million tons of trash (2). Just knowing this makes me want to incite change! I want my great grandchildren to live in a world with coral reefs and polar bears, don’t you?

Cue anecdote: the other day, one of my students was telling me how she’s part of an environmental club at school. She explained how each member was doing a presentation to every class in their entire K-8 school educating their peers on what plastic is doing to the earth and how we can help! I was not only impressed, but I was really glad these kids will know about this problem at such a young age. It is SO important that they have this awareness– imagine what would happen if a whole school or even just a classroom of kids gave up plastic! This gives me hope for a plastic-free future.

Lastly, I just loving sharing what my kids make, because there is so much to explore in the realm of recycled and environmentally friendly art (and loads of books and great ideas out there). I always take photos and post them on our studio page or on my personal art page so people can see just how beautiful recycled projects can be!

I will keep you guys updated on my efforts here if you’d like and over on my own Instagram where I post weekly on my pursuit of eco-friendly practices 😉 Let me know if this has been helpful, and any other tips, ideas, or advice you may have!

One last thing to note– this is by no means an exhaustive list, and I think what’s most important is putting your best effort into being environmentally conscious! I don’t expect to get it right every time and neither should you, nor should anyone shame themselves or get discouraged if they don’t do everything perfect! We are all learning, growing, and changing constantly.

PS- This has less to do with art making, but here are some great reusable alternatives I’ve been loving lately:

  •  Reusable straws (silicone, hard reusable BPA free plastic or metal)
  •  Reusable food wrap (been loving Bees Wrap!)
  • Mesh produce bags (to go in my reusable grocery bags, which are 99 cents at most stores!)
  • Package-free shampoo and conditioner bars (Lush is linked above)
  • BYO cup to Starbucks (they give you a discount of 10 cents a cup!)
  • Paper cups, straws and eco friendly party supplies

*Note: I’ve linked articles throughout this post that have been helpful to me so don’t forget to check those out:) Thanks for following along!





A Photo Tour of my MFA Boston Must Sees

Have you ever smelled something and felt immediately transported back to a certain memory? Or tasted a food that brought you to that one time in that one place? Or heard a song and thought about someone from long ago? That’s how I feel a little bit about the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. I have been there countless times, under different scenarios with different people, but they are all uniquely their own experiences. These layers of memories bring me back to those hallways and rooms, a jolt of electricity in the air, standing in awe of famous works of art.

I remember visiting as a child, then later on many distracted art school field trips, on dates with my then-boyfriend/now-husband, with the little girls I used to babysit, and now as a full fledged adult (sort of) when I get the sliver of a chance. The air inside is slightly sweet, clean, cool. People buzz about the space of stark white walls, and I can navigate the exhibits like a built in map of my childhood neighborhood. I know this place, and it knows me.

Cold January views from one of the MFA’s large windows

I have favorite pieces in every exhibit, but some stand out more than others- for both artistic preferences and sentimental reasons. I am no art expert, but I do have a BFA and teach art classes, so I must know a little sumthin 😉 Having that perspective and as a longtime admirer of this museum, let me take you on my own lil’ photo tour! Ready?

Art of the Americas

I have a bit of an obsession with early American art and history. From Native American art to the daily life and depiction of the colonial era through the 19th century, I am fascinated by it all.

Northern Native tribes embroidered with MOOSE HAIR !
19th century serape, or wool tapestry woven by a Navajo tribe… dreamy
An 18th century Massachusetts home that they pretty much copy and pasted into the museum, original wood floors and all!!!

Fast forward to 19th century American painters- some of my favorite works, as they were heavily influenced by European Impressionism of the time.

Boston Common at Twilight, 1885, Childe Hassam, oil on canvas

Give me a minute to talk about this painting. While I love Hassam (he is an American Impressionist, after all), this is a big sentimental one for me. A print of this piece, depicting a mom and her daughters feeding the birds as the suns sets on the horizon of a snowy Boston, has hung in my parent’s living room as long as I can remember.  My mom says it reminds her of her, my sister, and myself and I will always treasure that. So, I must always visit the original and say a quick hello when I’m there. Ok, onwards!

Don’t fight me on this one. Of course it’s well known but it’s still a must see! The Fog Warning, 1885, Winslow Homer, oil on canvas
The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882, John Singer Sargent, oil on canvas

I did a paper on this painting for my 19th century American art class in college, and it gave me such an appreciation for this piece. It slaps you right in the face as you walk in to the 2nd floor, and for good reason. It’s been debated since the beginning because it’s so different than other portraits of the time. What’s with the composition? Why is that one girl facing away from us? What’s with her twin staring but lurking in the shadow? Why is it so creepy?! People have come up with theories from simple girlhood shyness to family abuse and other strange stories. Ah, the mystery, the intrigue! We will never know I guess.

Egyptian Art

Guys, let me tell you a tale of heartbreak. My freshman year of college I applied to and was accepted into an immersive Egyptian art class that culminated in a trip to Cairo and Alexandria, complete with a Nile River cruise, hot air balloon rides over the Valley of the Kings, camel sightings and more! I was so excited- my first trip out of the country to my number 1 destination! With only a few weeks notice, I received an email from my professor saying the trip was cancelled due to the political unrest and potential danger. I understood the gravity of the situation and was grateful they were putting safety first. However, I was crushed, and I’ve still never been out of the country.

Multiple Egyptian art classes later and my heartbreak lives on, however so does my love for Egyptian art! Here we see some:

Such majesty in this room of reliefs from Egyptian temples! I cry evrytym.
Rishi coffin, Egyptian, 1580-1550 BC, painted sycamore

This exhibit also features giant pharaoh heads, ancient daggers that King David may have used, and Roman mummies with creepy portraits glued on to their faces! 10/10 would recommend.

European Art

I won’t linger on European art because there’s not much to say about Monet or Van Gogh that hasn’t already been overstated. That being said, don’t skip over this exhibit just yet- it’s not my favorite, mainly because its always crowded! Nonetheless, do go see:

This dancer sculpture by Degas. I’m a sucker for his ballerina paintings and sketches
Dance at Bougival, 1883, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, oil on canvas. This makes me think of Gilmore Girls of all things (“I am the Renoir girl!”) If that’s so wrong I don’t want to be right (I wasn’t an Art History major, after all)
Composition with Blue, Yellow and Red, 1927, Piet Mondrian, oil on canvas
Art of the English Regency gallery, 19th century interiors
Dont forget to take your daily moody selfie in the old glass mirror!

Greek and Roman Art

Breeze through the Greek pottery and then to the 2nd floor of the hall of Roman sculptures! It’s funny to read the chat labels here because a lot of them will tell you they are reworked busts of fallen or disgraced emperors made to look like someone else!

Priestess burning incense, Roman, 125-130 AD, marble
Beautiful Juno in all her glory!

Asian Art

Last but deffo not least!!! Some of my favesies from Japan and China!

Snowy Landscape, mid-1880’s, Hashimoto Gahō, ink and light color on paper (folding screen)
Aizen King of Passion… Sometimes I wish I was this intimidating
The gorgeous Buddhist temple


Some rotating exhibit photos…

Takashi Murakami (saw a toddler touch this and I audibly yelped NO!!! in the crowd)
Mark Rothko: Reflection

In conclusion, I think art unites us. It bridges the gap of culture, age, race, class, religion, language. Anybody anywhere can appreciate a work of art, and you don’t have to be anybody at all really to take in a piece in all its glory. Thank you for enjoying this with me, dear reader!

Jonesin’ to visit now? Pssst- here’s a tip if you didn’t know- its free Wednesday nights after 4 (do make a donation, tho!) and certain holidays!  Have you ever been to the MFA Boston? If so, what are your favorite areas, spaces or pieces? Let me know in the comments 🙂 Also, if y’all liked this let me know and I’ll visit and post on the Gardner Museum next (arguably my favorite of the two)!