Did you know acrylic and latex paint are made of plastic? When we wash our brushes or other paint supplies, we are washing plastic into our waterways. Learn how you can reduce your environmental impact when painting your home or art. Get inspired by artists who creatively reuse dried up paint, paint brushes, spray paint cans and even chunks of graffiti.
You can listen to my original podcast on this topic from January 2021 in this YouTube video:
Reducing the Impact of Paint in our Waterways
Check out this interview with Theresa Godin on the podcast Practical(ly) Zero Waste – episode 80. Theresa describes her paint waste water sandbox project. She also recommends Natural Earth Paint which doesn’t contain plastic.
Paint Pouring and Paint Skins
Are you into paint pouring? If so, what do you do with the paint that slides off your canvas? Some artists make “paint skins” for use in other projects. They pour the swirly paint on plastic sheets and let it dry. Then they peel it off and use it as a translucent or dimensional aspect in other artwork.
Check out the work of Seonna Hong, who peels paint off her palettes in big chunk and then incorporates it into her landscapes. You can hear about her process in an interview on The Jealous Curator, episode 150.
Check out the work of Jen Noone, who paints on glass surfaces with paint and then makes sculptural ribbons from it.
Check out the work of Shelley Heffler, who combines paper such as maps and paint to make sculptures.
Make your own dried paint mosaics with inspiration from Tianna Lee:
Creative Reuse of Graffiti
You can also creatively reuse chunks of graffiti that fall off a wall. This is likely to happen because the layers of paint get heavy and the art is exposed to the weather, or because people paint on surfaces that are already falling apart.
Check out Rebel Nell, an organization that makes jewelry from graffiti chunks in Detroit. They then hire women who have been homeless or in other difficult situations to teach them how to make jewelry from the graffiti.
What is Fordite? It is also called Detroit agate or Motor City agate. In the Ford factories, the cars were on tracks as they were painted. They used to be painted by hand but now they are painted by robots. Paint would fall on the ground in layers. The painters noticed this material and chipped it off the tracks, bringing it home and grinding it into jewelry. Many artists continue to work with this material today. The hashtag #fordite has almost 20,000 posts on Instagram.
Creative Reuse of Spray Paint Cans
In most places, these are household hazardous waste and you must bring them to a special depot for processing. Unless the cans are completely empty, those cans are under pressure. There is something called a propellant inside the can which causes the paint to spray when you press the button. So I am not going to recommend any home projects that involve creative reuse of spray paint cans because it takes special procedures to creatively reuse them safely. However, there are artists who creatively reuse spray paints cans.
Check out Mr. Mars, who makes “customized toys” by combining toys and spray cans into sculptures. His interview is the first one featured in this longer set of videos.
Creative Reuse of Dried Out Paint Brushes
When I was growing up, my mom was a painter and one skills she taught me was how to carefully wash my brushes to prolong their life. But inevitably brushes do get to the point where they are no fun to use, especially the wider paint brushes that you use for painting houses.
Some artists make “altered paintbrushes” which involves decorating the paint brush so it’s a piece of art. In 2012, Donna Downey hosted something that she called the “Altered Brush Project” where she encouraged artists to share photos of their altered paint brushes.
Creative Reuse of Plastic Paint Palettes
Here’s a photo of the type of plastic paint palettes that I rescued from the school before they went into the trash:
One project I did where I used up the dried paint was I made homemade play dough and dyed it with the paint.
Terracycle has a program with BIC where they collect dried up pens and other stationery, as well as plastic paint palettes. You can earn funds for your school or charity by collecting these items.
Creative Reuse of Empty Paint Cans
- Script for this podcast episode about creative use of dried paint, graffiti, dried paint brushes, palettes and spray paint cans
- Trashmagination Pinterest board about creative reuse of dried paint, graffiti and spray paint cans
- Trashmagination Pinterest board about creative reuse of dried paint brushes
- The Trashmagination podcast theme music is Kitchen from the Marian Circle Drum Brigade