ZW Work and Play

Being an artist of various stripes, there’s a very blurry line separating work and play for me; and sometimes it’s not there at all. (That is… unless I get a job doing something other than art next!) So that’s why these two are lumped together in the same category.

I’ve been trying to write an entry concerning workplace zero-waste habits and have really just dropped the ball for the most part. In my office space I have a mini fridge, a microwave, a computer, printer, scanner, and external HD all hooked up to outlets. Sometimes I have the lights on, but I have nearly floor-to-ceiling south-facing windows so I have ample light until sundown and rarely use them.

I think part of the issue has been that I had a hard time conceiving of how this lifestyle would work in a not-so-leisurely environment where productivity is top priority. In my building, central air runs 24/7 and there’s no recycling. Oy vey.

The other thing is that my office (really, studio) is my second home. I nap on the couch I have there, read there, browse the internet, run errands from there, eat lunch and sometimes dinner from there. It is the only place that I’ve truly been able to call my own for some years; it’s even twice the square footage of the room that I’m renting from my grandmother. I don’t know what it’s like to work at an office, at a place of employ. All my legitimate jobs thus far have been either freelance or telecommute. So that should make doing ZW at work easier, right? It does… but it doesn’t.

My studio space is a mishmash of projects, disparate parts of my life, and sometimes things I really didn’t have anywhere else to put. Like I said, it’s work and play.

The two things that I’ve done as far as that space goes, though, is collect my recyclables, and use a timer power strip for my computer and peripherals even though I don’t have an electric bill in that building. The power strip gives me some peace of mind– it guarantees that my computer setup only runs at a max of 11 hours a day and draws no energy for the remaining 13. But I started asking myself what else could I do?

I started by taking my own advice, I guess. Take a good, hard look at the things that came easy to me, the things that I enjoyed doing but hadn’t previously thought to make an environmental connection to. The first two things that came to mind were cosplay and printmaking.

I’ve been making costumes for more than 10 years now, but my favorite form of cosplay involved armor-making, and a lot of it. I’m talking full-body suits of armor of ridiculous proportions. For several years I was so incredibly passionate about this niche art form, that I founded one of the foremost communities that specialized in it back in 2008. But cosplay armor isn’t real armor. It’s made out of foams and plastics, glues and resins. One of the members documented how sick she got working with fiberglass a few years back, and it wasn’t pretty.

I’ve had my fair share of inhaling incredibly toxic fumes and airborne particulates, and while none of them ever made me immediately sick, I can’t help but wonder the sorts of damage they did to me over the years. I’m sure I’d be horrified if I knew the exact extent. My materials of choice for about 4 years were PVC fabric and cross-linked polyethylene foam (XLPE), and the cocktail of adhesives used to fuse and sculpt them together just so.

This was one that I was working on while in college and eventually abandoned because I underestimated the complexity of the design:

Ugh, just looking at that picture pains me because I so wish I could have finished it.

But think about it; all those shapes, painstakingly cut from flat pieces of foam and fabric. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of little pieces left over that get thrown away. I’ve tossed a lot of scraps in the trash in my day; all of it completely non-biodegradable, most of it barely photo-degradable, all of it toxic to make, toxic to use, and toxic once it ends up gods-know-where at the end of its life.

As an environmentalist, I can in no way justify pursuing this hobby.

And what about printmaking? Well, it’s really a fantasy of mine more than anything else. Paring down the physical possessions was the easiest part, to be honest; weeding the unnecessary attachments was, and continues to be, the hardest thing. This is an example of one such thing. I got into printmaking about 3 years ago–block printing–because it seemed so cathartic and easy. And cathartic is was! But easy, not so much once I really started getting into it. Keeping your rollers and ink plates clean and your tools sharp was just something… I was kind of not really motivated to do. And then there’s that pulling prints without a press means burnishing, which is very hard on the hands, and that loses its novelty pretty quickly. And then there’s the ink itself: non-toxic water-based inks make for terrible prints and dry too fast. But… good ink is oil-based, sometimes toxic, and is a pain to clean. And then there’s the paper. I’ve wastes a lot of paper trying to pull good prints, and then wasted more from either losing motivation before working on the next color, or messing up registration and having to throw a whole run away. Did I mention that this is all virgin paper too?

If I were really, truly passionate about this art form, I could justify it environmentally, mostly because I’d get good enough to waste far less than I do. But mostly, I can’t justify the money this hobby has cost me, and the space and time it requires.

So where does that leave those things?

I still love dressing up, so I’ve decided to keep one good costume around indefinitely: a Jedi costume! I made it myself a few years ago. The belt is made from quality leather and made in the US, pants (I don’t have a suitable pair yet) can easily be found at a second-hand store, and so can boots. Custom lightsabers, when taken care of, last for years and are very easily found hand-made by artisan prop makers. And honestly, when is dressing up as a Jedi ever going to get old?

As for printmaking, I’ve been transitioning into stamp-making for a little while now, and I’ve found it to be much more manageable. There’s practically no mess involved and far less waste just by virtue of the medium being smaller. Quality recycled papers are much easier to find at those sizes and weights than stuff that’s more appropriate for block printing.

I think this has all been part of the process of analyzing my nervous and creative energies, and thinking hard about what they might be better suited for than what tasks I’ve been directing them toward in the past. What activities can I do to keep my hands busy that don’t require mass amounts of waste? I’ve found that gardening and cooking satisfies many of the things that cosplay used to, and likewise stamping for printmaking.

As for work, that’s going to take a long time to figure out for me, and every time I get a new job I might have to start over. But I have been making more and more of a switch over to digital media, even though I used to be a staunch opponent of the whole thing, preferring the physical over the intangible. But I think that’s a whole different post. ;]

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