How YOU can be a more sustainable artist

I’m sure there are a lot of heavy topics that instantly come to mind when you think about the wonderful little holiday on April 22 (Earth Day). In this day and age, it’s hard to want to celebrate all that is good when there’s so much to be cynical about. Sentences like, “There’s nothing I can do to fix climate change,” are pretty common around this time of year. 

A lucky truth for us all is that we can always make a difference, even if that difference seems quite small. So, as artists and art appreciators, I beckon us all to take a hard look at our art-making habits, and decide if there’s anything we can change to make more green, environmentally-conscious work. 


It seems an almost universal experience for visual artists to take a painting class in high school and have to paint over some older painting. Aside from the awkwardness of painting over an unknown student’s forgotten junior year memorabilia, reusing old canvases is actually a great way to cut down on canvas production. Got an oil painting you never finished that’s just sitting in the back room? Get your paint thinner and palette –– it’s time to make something new out of something old!

Despite our efforts to buy eco-friendly products (including paints), it is sometimes best to look a bit deeper into the products we use, especially when it comes to paints. For example (and this may seem like just common sense, but it’s important to remember), if disposed paints somehow get into streams, sewers or public waters, local animals and citizens could be at risk.


For you makeup artists, here are a few suggestions on sustainable brands to try, as well as the eco-friendly status of your favorite brands!

Fat and the Moon is a small brand and can be found here. They have a wide range of products from lip stains and non toxic perfumes to masks and zero-waste toothpaste. They are a proud women owned business and have a mission to make beauty products more sustainable and healthy, reminding customers that our body products should expire just like anything else with natural ingredients. Their prices are fair, and they are a certified cruelty free, vegan company.

Love Beauty and Planet is an increasingly popular brand that I’m sure you’ve seen in the shampoo aisle of the nearby Meijer. They’re famously cruelty free and vegan, but what’s more impressive is their transparent journey towards sustainability. For large companies, the attempt to reverse their harmful corporate ways is not easy, and they’ll happily tell you about it, if you’re interested. Their products are soaps of all varieties: face, body, hands and hair. Their prices are affordable and better yet, you can shop locally for them!

ILIA describes themselves as a company striving for the cleanest makeup for your skin’s beauty. While they may be a bit more pricey than the aforementioned products, they specialize in makeup in the more traditional sense (foundations, powders, eyeshadows, etc). The company is also cruelty free and vegan, and has an in-house recycling program for when you’re finished with their products. 

As for the bigger names out there, here are their sustainability statuses:

  • Dior: They have made little effort to become more sustainable (i.e. packaging, waste and manufacturing). Their products are not cruelty free, nor vegan.
  • Tarte Cosmetics: They have made a large public effort to be sustainable, and have partnered with multiple charities to do so. Tarte is PETA certified to be cruelty free and vegan. 
  • MAC Cosmetics: They’re not very sustainable, but have a recycling program that can earn you free makeup in return. They claim to be cruelty free, though outside sources say that somewhere in their supply chain, they are not. They are not vegan in the slightest. 
  • E.L.F.: The brand has gone through recent redesigns of all packaging to reduce waste, so there is some effort to be more sustainable. They are cruelty free and vegan.  
  • Morphe: It doesn’t seem that they’re doing much in the sustainability category. They’re cruelty free status is iffy, due to conflicting information, however they have a mix of vegan and non-vegan products that they’re pretty up front about. 
  • Anastasia Beverly Hills: Finding anything to do with sustainability is difficult, however they are certified cruelty free and offer mostly vegan products (depending on how you feel about beeswax and honey).

Curious about other brands? For many, finding cruelty free/vegan/sustainability statements is not very difficult: it’s all a Google search away! 


Hey ceramic artists! The work you do is beautiful, and even more satisfying to watch. However, with every piece needing treatment from the kiln, it can become bleak imagining an eco-friendly way to go about the medium. 

Luckily, there are professionals working towards that very thing! A blogpost on Ceramic Arts Network compiles some of this work best, and I’ll link it here. Check it out, and think about what our Hope College community could change about our ceramics studio. 

Photography and Film

I know what you’re thinking: How can digital art be harmful to our ecosystems? Unlike the older 35mm cameras of yore, our current technology is at a place where it needs to be regularly recycled. Meaning, every five years or so, you’ll more or less need to throw out your old cameras and replace them with new ones. This, over time, makes for a lot of electronic waste. Consider investing in older cameras that will last longer, all the while remaining conscious of how to recycle old equipment. 

Don’t forget to properly dispose of those old batteries! Another helpful tip: try not to use one-use batteries. Find rechargeable ones that will last you for years.

In 2009, filmmaker Larry Engel and producer Andrew Bucanan came together to write a report on sustainable filmmaking and how to do it to the best of one’s abilities. Though the report is older, it still yields a lot of insightful and still accurate information. You can find it here


Printmaking, while beautiful, is a long series of processes that eats up a lot of material. On the surface, it’s not a very environmentally friendly activity. However, there are ways to make it a bit more sustainable, given the care and effort.

One of the easiest ways to step up your green printmaking game is to be conscious of the chemicals you’re using in the studio. Solvent-free and non-toxic printmaking studios are becoming more and more popular across the globe, and you can read more about the history of it here. Reusing and recycling materials and tools as much as possible greatly reduces waste throughout the process as well (it also cuts down on costs!).

There are plenty more sectors of art to sift through and talk about sustainability with. Heck, there are plenty more sectors of life that we could be improving sustainability within, but this is a start. That’s what it’s all about: small steps and earnest attempts until those steps and attempts become lasting habits that we can build off of. 

If you’re curious, here’s a great article talking about contemporary artists who specialize in what they call “sustainable art.” If all this beautiful and earth friendly art doesn’t give you some kind of glimmering hope, I don’t know what will. 

Happy Earth Day, artists. Keep making art, and keep loving earth.

Katy Smith (‘23) is a communications major, theatre and writing minor at Hope. Her passions lie in the arts, specifically playwriting, poetry, performing, and any music that makes you feel wanderlust. She is so honored to be the Anchor’s Arts Editor! She strives to give Hope’s wonderful arts programs the platform they deserve.

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