The hard truth is this: fine arts take a special toll on the environment. We use paper, inks, clays, metals, solvents, and rags – and in large quantities. The product of art, while gorgeous, intimate and unique, conceals a process of making and remaking. What ends up on our walls and in our imaginations shrouds a practice of producing waste.

So how might a small letterpress studio, itself secreted away in the basement of an undergraduate house, cope with making waste? In short, how might we go green?

These are the questions I asked myself this past summer, a year after I took on one of the best projects of my creative life: managing the Bow & Arrow Press in Adams House. These questions seemed particularly urgent after we piloted several new courses in the press that ended up packing our small facility with curious and bewildered students, faculty and staff.

This is what we’ve come up with:

  • The initial target when it came to waste was easy: paper. We’re using only 100% post-consumer waste paper; we’re printing double sided; we’re recycling. But we’re also starting to re-use paper that’s been recycled. The world of art loves textures and layers, and printing atop paper with notes, text and images already on it gives us exactly that. We can make art out of waste, one that makes its own history — and its own process — visible. The palimpsest makes for a beautiful image.
  • We’re also targeting how we’re cleaning up after ourselves. We’ve switched to a solvent system that has health ratings of 1 or 0 (the least toxic); we’re using rags that come from discarded bed sheets; we’re recycling and discarding our waste properly and safely. Who knows? Maybe a creative “presser” will reconfigure our rag waste into art as well. The world of art not only loves textures, but textiles as well.
  • And we’re targeting the supply chain. We have local vendors for paper, for clean up supplies, and for ink; we’re cutting down on packaging, processing and delivery by buying in bulk; we’re keeping ourselves organized in the press to minimize waste, and thus minimize the need for supplies. It’s amazing what a $10, six-shelf paper organizer can do for preserving what we have, and cut back on what we have to end up throwing out.

Of course, the other hard truth is this: the only way we’re going to zero out our waste is by zeroing out our production. That’s a hard one to bite — every enterprise comes with its own form of consumption, and every consumption has some kind of byproduct. But there’s a reason why this post is being written in the present progressive. It’s what we’re doing, not what we’ve done or what we will do later on.

We’re learning that the process of making and remaking in the world of art parallels the process of going green: it’s not some inert status to reach, but a goal to get to.

Check out the Bow & Arrow Press online.