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“One Artist Changes His Art & Saves His Life” Interview, Video and Discount Codes from the Studio of Leah Fanning Mebane and Natural Earth Paints
Artist Inger Jorgenson, uses Eco-Solve to create beautiful drip effects.
ARTIST FOCUS: ROBERTO PARADA
One Artist Changes His Art and Saves His Life
Artist Roberto Parada
Note from the Author: Natural Earth Paint sent Roberto a complimentary bottle of Eco-Solve to try after hearing of his health troubles. We look forward to hearing his feedback!! Roberto Parada is an internationally known oil painter and illustrator, having been published in Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, ESPN The Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, and Huffington Post. Few people know that his art process came close to ending his life in 2004. I had the honor of interviewing him about his journey in discovering which of his art supplies were literally killing him, how it happened and what he did to change his process while continuing to paint very high quality, archival and professional paintings. Were you ever taught about the toxicity in art supplies in art school?
I went to a very prestigious art school in the late 80’s and early 90’s and was never taught about any hazards in art supplies by my painting and illustration teachers. I did have one sculpture teacher who adamantly forbade the use of fixatives, solvents and chemicals because he had gotten lymphoma from the use of those chemicals. He never really explained why we shouldn’t use them but just told us not use them in his classroom. My painting teachers all used toxic materials themselves and probably just didn’t know the health risks involved.
What was your painting technique throughout your school years and career?
I have always been an oil painter and I’m guilty of never wearing gloves or having adequate ventilation or even thinking that I should. Noone ever taught me the risks and on the warning labels on paint thinners I only saw warnings about difficulty breathing and respiratory issues. There was nothing about the fact that it can get into your bloodstream and cause death risks. The warnings are very ambiguous and limited considering the fact that I can list 5 different types of cancer that come from paint thinners. For example, 3 kinds of leukemia AML, ALL, CLL, and Multiple Myeloma and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. I also used all of the heavy metal based paints – cadmiums and cobalts – and didn’t think much about it. In the 90’s the “Odorless Mineral Spirits” came onto the market and we all thought that this was a healthier alternative. Now I know that Odorless mineral spirits still have petroleum based distillates and benzene which is exactly what brought about my illness.
Stop by and say Hi, Sip, Munch and enjoy the great view of the mountains and downtown.
This is my first art show in 6 years and I’m so excited to bring my paintings back into the world! They were all made with natural, hand-made oil paints on organic cotton canvas. Hope to see you there!
I have some super exciting news about my business, Natural Earth Paints! You probably remember 3 years ago when I started this business in my garage with just 2 natural paint kits. We’ve been slowly and steadily growing and have now filled 2 bedrooms, an outdoor workshop and our kitchen and have now created 15 products. We have lots of exciting things happening next year: our first trade shows, new international distributors wanting to take us on and six new eco-friendly art supplies in development! But we’ve reached a kind-of bottle-neck where we don’t have an inch of space left to grow in my home and also not enough income to rent a warehouse or hire employees or develop new products.
It’s so hard to ask for help sometimes but I’m so excited about the upcoming possibilities for Natural Earth Paints that I’ve decided to take the plunge and reach out! I’ve just launched a fundraiser which will last for one month. Check it out and also check out our JUST released new video by Oneal Latimore here….
The Aboriginal Ochre Wars
There was a time when all of Australia was a network of trading posts. And good ochre was one of the most prized items to trade. “Wilga Mia” in Western Australia is one of the most sacred ochre mines on the continent. If
you want to collect any you have to ask permission from the traditional aboriginal owners and also from the sacred beings who live beneath it’s ancient chambers. It was still being mined and traded in the 1980’s, although by the end of the 20th century it was being collected in plastic buckets instead of bark dishes.
In the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, there’s another famous ochre deposit. For thousands of years Aboriginal expeditions (70-80 men) would walk for two months to travel the thousand- mile round trip to collect their red-gold ochre at a place called Parachilna. They would return with 20 kilos of ochre each in possum or kangaroo skin bags, and on their heads they’d carry huge grinding stones from a nearby stone quarry.
Then in 1860, guess what happened, you guessed it, the white guys arrived. Farmers arrived with land and sheep ownership claims and obviously didn’t want the Aboriginals to eat their sheep or walk across their land. But the natives continued to take sheep meat for their journey and walk across their land which soon became punishable by hanging. In 1863 there was an “ochre massacre” when scores of Aboriginals were killed by angry settlers. Then someone from the South Australian administration suggested a solution! They decided to “move the mine to the Aboriginals” so they wouldn’t have to make the journey. But they moved the wrong mine. They removed four tons of ochre from a mine owned by another tribe on the coast and spent weeks hauling it back. It was a completely wasted effort because the Aborigines wanted none of it.
The white settlers missed the point that it was a pilgrimage involving elaborate ceremonies in collecting the ochre and bringing it back. Also, the sacred ochre was essential for trading which happened when one item is seen as equal in value to another. But free ochre had no value. And lastly, the sacred ochre was used for painting ritual designs and this other ochre from the coast was not good enough or sacred enough and didn’t contain the hint of mercury that made it sparkle.
• From “Color” by Victoria Finlay
Creative industries have changed standards and best practices to adopt sustainable and environmental techniques in design and production. Architecture has adopted LEED Performance design into standard practice, and Industrial Design begins with thinking about the end of life of a product and how to leave the least amount of impact on the environment. Both of these industries fought for decades, since the 1970s, against changing habits, systems and academic content. Resistors during the transformation proclaimed they would all go out of business; it was impossible to get all stakeholders on board; and they didn’t want to be creatively strangled.
This shared history of transforming creative industry leads us to a problem we are facing within the Art world. Can artists change the way they create work to make a healthier planet? Personally, I believe so, however, with the inclusion of all key players from the art world, including: art institutions, art media, academia, retailer/manufacturers, collectors and artists. Art seeds culture and influences public behavior. If artists can change their standard of practice then the rest of the world will follow.
Art Inspector assessing quilters studio. Photo by Wendy Crockett.
How is this transformation possible? Incorporating a triangle approach to such transformation isThe Art Inspector, a social practice artwork I founded during my candidacy for a Masters in Fine Arts at San Jose State University, uses aHealthy Art Program (education), Legislative Reform (advocacy) and Third Party Inspections (studio assessments). This project started a few years ago when I noticed fellow studio mates as well as the art school itself seemingly unconsciously teaching and using harmful applications and techniques, disposing of waste, and ineffectively ventilating rooms. I noticed piles of plastic thrown into dumpsters, studio lights left on for what seemed 24 hours at a time, and complete negligence when using harsh chemicals. In my studio, a rusty cabinet labeled “Store Harsh Chemicals Here” written upon faded masking tape hosted a dusty plastic binder labeled MSDS Sheets. Taking a closer look, I realized no one had taught me whatMaterial Safety Data Sheets meant and how they might apply to what I do. I asked around to other artists what they might know about these sheets and what they thought about what they were using and how they were disposing of extra material. Many artists noted that they knew someone, or had experienced themselves, long term health problems from misuse of chemicals in the creation of artwork. Most artists intuitively believed that there was a better way to develop their work and acknowledge the harm of some of the materials, but did not know what to do about it or did not see change as a high priority.
Inspired by artworks using methods of Intervention Art which take on the roles and aesthetics of corporations and disrupt systems in unexpected ways, such as theYes Men andLuther Thie, I decided to become an Art Inspector. Within construction and manufacturing, unaffiliated auditors determine if a building or product can be certified as sustainable. If deemed so, doors open for prospective buyers and subsidies. I wanted to take this method to the Art World.
But how does a third party inspection work? There are at least two inspections to take place. The initial inspection starts with an intake form that asks questions to each artist about their studio environment, materials they are using, and the type of machines or equipment that use power. During this process a series of tests are conducted using similar equipment used for energy audits in residential homes. The Art Inspector tests power outlets, lighting and occupancy, ventilation and Volatile Organic Compounds. Once the inspection process is finished The Art Inspector will write up a report based on the data collected and make suggestions for alternatives and improvements to artists studios and the working process. If the artist makes the recommended modifications, The Art Inspector will return for a re-inspection and award a Healthy Art Certification if the artist passes.
Paint waste from inspection of painter’s studio. Photo by Wendy Crockett.
Artists who fail inspection or those who are interested in diving deeper into changing their habits can join the Healthy Art Program. Various workshops ranging from green materials, sustainable wood products, energy efficiency, lighting and safety are available to artists at varying partner institutions. If the artists are supplied with resources and knowledge, they will be empowered to change. The final part of The Art Inspector is to advocate for change in policy and curriculum on both an institutional and government level. Working with academic and museum institutions to adopt new values and requirements for artworks to be created sustainably will create a shift in the resources for production of art. If a major contemporary art museum such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art sets a standard for new works to be exhibited using a significant amount of low impact materials and works with third party agents such as The Art Inspector, then other practitioners will follow. With this same concept, Public Art Programs can adopt LEED standards into creation of artworks in the public realm.
Even today these concepts of change in the Art World are seen as radical and frightening to some. However, many artists are willing to do what they do best, experiment with new ideas. With the vision of The Art Inspector, we will open up the avenues to sustainable living, healthy living, and simultaneously, changing the way we make art.
By Hummingbird Arts, 147 contributed posts
View all Hummingbird Arts's posts. About the author: Pressed flower and Mandala fine art prints by Janet London influence the atmosphere in any room with a calmness and serenity desirable in many environments. Their natural beauty makes them a welcome addition to the décor in any home, office, spa or professional suite. Janet also teaches mandala workshops to release creativity and more. See Janet's listing at the Southern Oregon Artists Resource to learn more and make contact.
Freedom is Letting Go
Spring 2013 Mandala Drawing Workshop
This one day workshop focuses attention on creating mandalas to facilitate letting go of anxious thoughts, false concepts, wants, and desires in order to experience more peace of mind and happiness. Participants will have the opportunity to examine
I’ve recently recorded an 8 minute video of me explaining how to eliminate all toxins from your oil painting practice. There will be tips and techniques and info on how to use only natural materials (nothing synthetic or petroleum based). Enjoy!
This video is about 8 minutes and describes non-toxic and natural painting techniques with demonstrations and resources on how to create high quality works of art with all natural materials and absolutely nothing toxic.
Holiday Shipping: Packages are guaranteed to arrive before Dec. 25th if placed by Dec. 19th.
Crafting & Scrapbooking
We’ve been getting orders for the Children’s Paint Kits lately by Crafters and Scrapbookers. I never even thought of this but they are apparently working great as a water soluble and natural craft paint for many types of craft projects and decorating scrapbooks!
Every two to three years I have a sale on my abstract work and this is it! This allows me to make room for new inspirations and ideas when my studio begins to clear out. This offer will expire in two weeks (Dec. 22nd) so don’t miss your chance to save up to $400 on each painting. There are many recent Earth Paintings and also older work from the Chakra Series and Medicine Wheel Series. I’ll also be offering 30% off my wild, 3 dimensional paintings in the Flight from the Box Series.
I spent years looking for an alternative to so-called “non-toxic” acrylic gesso to prime my canvases and wood boards. After choking on the fumes that come out of these gesso bottles for years, I finally investigated what it was actually made of and officially decided to find a better option. I’ve always been stumped by the only “natural” alternative being rabbit skin glue. It turns out there is a vegan, animal-friendly option using methyl cellulose (which is made from plant fibers), whiting, and honey! Try out this recipe below…
Mix 1 part whiting (Plaster of Paris or chalk) with 1 part hot water. Add 1 part methyl cellulose glue to 10 parts whiting mixture. Add a few drops of honey. Voila! (To make the glue, mix 5 Tbsps. methylcellulose powder and 1 cup water. Then add enough cold water to make one quart of mixture. Let it sit overnight; then pour it into a jar.)