The trouble with art supplies

Charms for her friends, by request.

Charms for friends, by request.

(It turns out this post has been a difficult one to write, and it finally dawned on me that it’s because I’ve been trying to keep the girls’ lives private even though this is a very public project. But in the interest of fair reporting, I feel like I need to come clean about one area we have NOT been zero waste at all: Art supplies. It seems disingenuous to write about the bulk bins and gloss over this little tidbit. So here we are.)

Johanna is an artist. Yes, she’s only 11, and no, I’m not talking hobbies — it’s what she does. She needs to create the way I need words. It’s not something you like to do, it’s something you must do.

Abby is also an artist, but for her it is a hobby — it’s something she does when she feels like it. Her compulsion is reading. It’s just that books are more environmentally friendly — paper can, after all, be reused, recycled and composted — so no one worries about it very much.

I suppose it’s good that I understand the distinction between want and must because otherwise Johanna would be one frustrated chick. It’s not uncommon for her to get an idea and have to immediately explore it, whether that’s with paint or clay or cloth. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but she’s always up to the task. She regularly creates pieces for family and friends on what I would describe as a commission, except there’s no payment involved (“I’m not going to take your money. Unless you pay me in food”) — she gets a lot of requests, sometimes from her “stock,” and sometimes made to order. She’s got art schools on her college radar. She’s already written three graphic novels. There’s no medium that’s off limits.

A recent card she drew for a 50th anniversary party. She's into manga.

A recent card she drew for a 50th anniversary party. This style, she assures me, is called “manga.”

Johanna is not a minimalist. And I think that’s because she sees the world as an art box. She’s totally going to keep those scrap ribbons, discarded magazines and broken crayons just in case. She’s got a pretty decent collection of paints and pastels and pencils … most of which are strewn across her floor for quick access.

But a few times this year, she’s needed new art supplies.

And these things are not zero waste.

We don’t have an art store in town, so I’m not sure what even entails, as far as zero waste or low waste options go. The closest thing we have is a stationary store, and she can get unwrapped notebooks and pencils, but the rest of the meager offerings are all in packages of some sort, usually plastic.

Um, and she goes through a lot of canvases, also wrapped in plastic. And she just requested a glue gun for Christmas.

Here’s the thing: I know I could just say no. I could make her figure out an alternatives. Or make her do without. But I don’t want to. I love the way she looks at the world. And it’s just mean to keep someone from doing something that they love. (Says the compulsive writer.)

I really don’t have a moral to this story, except to say that for us, art supplies are a problem area. And while I feel guilty, I don’t feel guilty enough to want to change, not really. So it may not even get addressed during the project. I can’t see any alternatives, and I don’t know if it’s because I lack artistic ingenuity (I can’t even draw a stick figure and I don’t get the point of crafts) or if I just haven’t thought it through enough.


Not to say that Johanna lacks resourcefulness. One recent project was actually quite zero waste — she repurposed broken crayons into new shapes:


She arranged them just so for the photo.

It was pretty simple — she unwrapped the crayons and broke them into pieces. She used a bunch of different colors to create custom hues, which she melted in the oven using paper muffin cup liners (purchased pre-project) and then poured into egg molds (purchased last year as a stocking stuffer. Can’t say they work very well for eggs, but wow, they do make a cute crayon). The nice thing about these particular molds is that the crayons just popped out after they cooled.

They’re way too cute for her to actually use so they’re just more clutter in her bedroom, and the melting wax made the house stink, but hey — new skill, etc.

Next up: I really need to figure out my next three-month plan. I feel like I’m drifting again.