60 Ways to Design & Illustrate for a Sustainable Planet

By heather at 8:07 pm on Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Last night I watched a very compelling movie… An Inconvenient Truth. It urges us to look at our current decisions for energy consumption and carbon emissions…and to take action as caretakers of our only planet. I work in my own studio, so considered the amount of waste I generate to be very small…but what about when I’m counted among the thousands of other designers & illustrators out there? Put us together and we can have quite an affect on the environment.

So, I’ve come up with some simple things that as illustrators & designers, we can do in our own studios and work practices to reduce our own energy and resource consumption and carbon emission levels. Pass this list around to any designer you know… and please contact me if you have any ideas for how we can improve resource consumption in our industry.

think before you design

  • 1. Design Less Packaging : a powerful design doesn’t necessarily need a lot of materials. Design the end product to use less materials such as paper, plastic, adhesives. Try a stapled booklet rather than perfect bound booklet. Just design smart for your clients. If they don’t care about reducing waste…they will care about reducing their bottom line.
  • 2. Petite Design : Design slightly smaller brochures and booklets with less pages to reduce materials needed. Bigger isn’t always better.
  • 3. Die Cuts : When creating designs with die cuts, ask your printer if they have any dies in stock…and try to design to what they already have. This saves your client from having to spend money on new dies, and also makes use of existing resources.
  • 4. Green Printing : Ask your offset printer about their recycling program. If they don’t have a one, switch to another printer that does
  • 5. Reusable Promotions : Design promotions usable by the recipient such as calendars, bookmarks, notebooks, or fabric recycle bags. Avoid designing promos with no other use than to promote your work which will be thrown away if not saved. The more attractive and useful it is, the more likely it will be kept and not thrown away
  • 6. Double Up : Encourage clients to double up the function of their printed materials (letterhead, folders, bus cards) by including advertising for their services…reducing the need for separate print jobs, while maintaining your need as a designer to incorporate new promotions into their current print jobs
  • 7. Recycled Materials : Design with intent of printing on recycled materials. There is quite a difference between partially recycled materials & fully recycled materials…know what you’re printing on & purchasing by educating yourself a bit more about the humble recycling symbol (and download a free recycling symbol template!)


  • 8. The obvious : recycle all cans, bottles, paper
  • 9. Ink cartridges : can be refilled. Or, if you’re not willing to compromise the quality of a pristine cartridge, donate used cartridges to local ink-refill shops where they will be refilled & resold.
  • 10. One designer’s junk is an art studen’ts treasure : donate unwanted books, magazines, equipment and art supplies to your local university
  • 11. E-Cycle : Recycle / Donate your computer, celphone & electronic equipment. Many manufacturers have take-back programs…check out this list of e-cyclers to find one near you.

    How to safely dispose of outdated electronics
    …we dump more than 140,000 tonnes of computer equipment, phones, televisions, stereos and small home appliances into landfills each year….Electronic waste includes toxins such as mercury, lead and cadmium — all chemicals that can have a hazardous effect on the environment and human health
    – IBM Canada


  • 12. Spot illustrate on scraps : Save trimmed off scraps of illustration board & watercolor paper for spot illustrations
  • 13. Reincarnate bad artwork : Failed illustrations can be given a second chance to live by priming them and painting over them
  • 14. Give the kiss of life : Revive dried up tubs of gauche and watercolor : slice open the end of the tube, add a little water at a time, and work back into a paste.
  • 15. Resharpen : blades from paper cutters, exactos and pencil sharpeners rather than buying new ones
  • 16. Notepaper : trim down old print-outs to use as scrap paper by the phone
  • 17. Wash up : and reuse empty glass and plastic jars, milk jugs, coffee cans, dairy tubs, and other similar containers for paint water buckets or to organize studio supplies
  • 18. Raggedy : Use old cotton clothing by ripping into rags to use for cleaning brushes…wash, and reuse
  • 19. Stubby Brushes : Reuse damaged brushes for oil painting, stir sticks, painting with adhesives / glues, and any dirty stuff.
  • 20. Second Hand Magic : Buy & sell office gear second hand
  • 21. Plastic makes perfect : Reuse plastic bags from shopping for your garbage bags rather than buying garbage bags
  • 22. Twice as useful : Use some of household products for other useful purposes as suggested here by the EPA :
  • 23. Mailouts : Reuse packing materials for shipping (bubble wrap, popcorn foamies, cardboard boxes)

reduce waste

  • 24. Use ‘em up : Use supplies until they are finished
  • 25. Clean brushes in a glass of water rather than under running water
  • 26. The Dregs : Slice open paint tubes (especially watercolor tubes) to get out that last bit of paint
  • 27. DVD Backups : Backup files on dvd rather than cd…you can fit five times more information on a dvd than cd, so you can store much more, and when you reburn the file a year later you have only 1 dvd to replace, not 5 cds
  • 28. Go paperless : Approve print-runs by accepting color-correct PDFs from your printer. Send invoices digitally, use email, backup files to an external drive or online…but print only what you need
  • 29. PDF-ariffic : Instead of photocopying articles from magazines & books, use your scanner and save multi-paged PDFs instead. It reduces use of tonor, paper and energy
  • 30. Share subscriptions not prescriptions : Share subscriptions to design magazines with other small businesses / colleagues.
  • 31. Packaging Diet : Avoid purchasing products with a lot of packaging
  • 32. Just say no : Don’t take a plastic bag for small purchases, just carry the product out
  • 33. Canvas Bag-it : Bring canvas bags to take with you to the shops…use instead of plastic bags. Emblazon it with your business logo for a bit of easy advertising. In Australia they have a brilliant Green Bag campaign at grocery shops, butchers, the post office….at only a dollar each, it is easy to do your part.
  • 34. Regular Maintenance : Maintain and repair your equipment and tools so they last longer.
  • 35. Party Green : For your hosted events, meetings with clients, and gallery shows, use fabric napkins, and non-disposable plates, glasses, and cutlery…rent them for the night, use your own, or buy them from a dollar store, anything but using disposable. It’s classy and reduces waste. Wash them and save them for your next big event.

reduce the use of harmful chemicals

  • 36. Diluent Disposal : Dispose of artist chemicals (turpentine, mineral spirits, varnishes, paint, etc) safely by contacting your local waste management…do NOT dump down the sink or toilet. Read up a bit more on how to recycle / dispose of turps safely.
  • 37. Earth Friendly Chemicals : Buy biodegradable & environmentally safe chemicals. Todae.com.au
  • 38. Anti-aerosol : Avoid using aerosol sprays and adhesives
  • 39. Cleaners : Keep your studio green & clean with environmentally safe (biodegradable, phosphate free) cleaners, and later reuse the spray nozzle and buy refills instead of new units…they are often better value anyway

reduce energy consumption

  • 40. It’s better out here : Work outside when you can
  • 41. Computers need naps too : Set your computer to switch to sleep mode when idle rather than a screen saver
  • 42. Switch off & unplug : Turn off & unplug electronic devices when not in use, such as scanners and printers when idle. Even when turned off large appliances consume energy…try unplugging the washing machine & dishwasher between uses.
  • 43. Consolidate your office equipment into one : a computer can replace both your stereo, radio, and television with the right software
  • 44. Lower your thermostat by 2 degrees in winter, and up 2 degrees in summer
  • 45. Clean or replace filters on your furnace and air conditioner
  • 46. Switch to green energy…it’s only a dollar more a week, and comes from renewable energy sources (wind/solar)
  • 47. Farmer Hours : Go into the studio earlier and go home earlier to use more of the natural daylight, and consume less energy

reduce energy consumption through illumination

  • 48. Reflected Light : Have a dim studio and need a lot of lighting? Try putting up a few large mirrors…they reflect what little light you may have, make your space feel bigger, and will reduce the need for those extra lights
  • 49. Light Bulb Evolution : Replace your studio bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulb, or swirl bulbs. This is one of the easiest changes you can make with the biggest impact. And guess who else is supporting it?

Wal-Mart Aims To Sell 100 Million Compact Fluorescents In One Year : Wal-Mart’s push into swirls won’t just help consumers and the environment; it will shatter a business–its own light bulb business, and that of every light bulb manufacturer. Because swirls last so long, every one that’s sold represents the loss of 6 or 8 or 10 incandescent bulb sales. Swirls will remake the light bulb industry–dominated by familiar names GE, Philips, Sylvania–the way digital-music downloads have remade selling albums on CD, the way digital cameras revolutionized selling film and envelopes of snapshots. CFLs are a classic example of creative destruction… GE, too, has launched a green business initiative: ecomagination, an effort to make environmentally sustainable technologies an ever-larger part of GE’s business. Swirls fit well, despite the inevitable cannibalization. “The real issue is, if we don’t do it, someone else will,” says GE’s ecomagination vice president, Lorraine Bolsinger, of Wal-Mart’s effort to push CFLs. “It’s old thinking to imagine that you can hold on to a business model and outsmart the consumer. You can’t.”
– Tree Hugger.com

location, location, location

  • 50. Choose a studio location walking distance to ammenities
  • 51. Walk to work, the shops, the library
  • 52. Have a window? Bring in some plants, they are great for the environment, and they bring life into your studio. If you work from home and have a yard, plant a tree.


  • 53. Carpool to work, or take public transit
  • 54. Buy a fuel efficient, low-polluting car
  • 55. Keep your car tuned up : Regular maintenance helps improve fuel efficiency and reduces emissions. When just 1% of car owners properly maintain their cars, nearly a billion pounds of carbon dioxide are kept out of the atmosphere. - an inconvenient truth
  • 56. Check your tires weekly to make sure they’re properly inflated
  • 57. Proper inflation can improve gas mileage by more than 3%. Since every gallon of gasoline saved keeps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, every increase in fuel efficiency makes a difference!
    talk about it :

  • 58. Vote
  • 59. What are your service providers doing to be green? Ask your service providers how they are helping the environment
  • 60. Please pass along this blog to any designer / illustrator you know!!!
    a few more ideas from colleagues…you guys rock, keep ‘em coming! :

  • 61. Spec paper that is recycled, unbleached, wind-power produced, or synthetic.
  • 62. Spec local (local printers and local paper production/warehousing) to reduce freight impact and spec green (some printers are starting to participate in carbon neutral or other eco-friendly programs).
  • 63. Spec alternative printing processes like waterless.
  • 64. Educate your clients: many don’t realize that using greener processes can be comparable in both cost and quality to conventional methods.
  • 65. Keep print runs down by printing a regular business letterhead and in the upper right hand corner include boxes to check whether it is an invoice, regular communication, notice or and other options, that way they could keep down the cost and number of plates they needed for printing.
Filed under: illustrations, business of illustration11 Comments »

Gum Tree Oil Painting

By heather at 10:54 pm on Monday, September 25, 2006

Gum Tree © Heather Castles

I finished this one up today, so now it has a few days left to dry before it is entered into the St. Peter’s Cathedral Art Show where it will be up for sale. This is the biggest painting on canvas I’ve done and have kind of got used to it hanging around our place as it is so dominating in a room (100cm x 100cm), will miss it when it’s at the exhibition!

Filed under: illustrations4 Comments »

Bethany Vinyard Painting - Part 2

By heather at 11:07 pm on Sunday, September 24, 2006

Bethany Vinyard © Heather Castles
Had a couple hours to work on my painting today…I’ll be submitting this one to the St. Peter’s Cathedral Art Show here in Adelaide. So I’ve basically got a couple more days to paint to make sure it is dry and ready to be hung by next week….I think it’s almost there, just a few more hilights and fix those bright white tree trunks and I may be close to done.
To see the underpainting done on-site in the Barossa, click here 

Filed under: work in progress, illustrations Leave A Comment »

10 Tips for Submitting Illustrations to Greeting Card Publishers

By heather at 11:00 pm on Sunday, September 24, 2006

Now that you’ve got some great marketable designs, here are some helpful tips and guidelines for submitting your samples to greeting card publishers.

(Read on …)

Filed under: business of illustration17 Comments »

Roses Oil Painting

By heather at 2:23 am on Sunday, September 24, 2006

Roses © Heather Castles
This is one of the pieces I will be submitting at the St Peter’s Cathedral Art Show here in Adelaide in a couple weeks…I think I’m finally finished! I might knock back the pattern in the back a smidge more, but other than that am happy with it.

I get asked often how I got into painting… I just always have painted and drawn, ever since I was a kid. If you can learn to draw from an early age and keep practicing you’ll have a good start.

(Read on …)

Filed under: work in progress, illustrations1 Comment »

Sandy Castles Sea Shell Artwork

By heather at 2:50 am on Saturday, September 23, 2006

Seashells Sep 23, 2006 © Heather Castles

This is a bit of artwork that I created for a close family member…it’s a pretty fun process, I think finding the shells is as much fun as putting them together. I found all of these shells in South Australia…Glenelg, Yorks Peninsula, and a couple of the cowries were given to me to add to the piece. My favourite are the nautillus shells and the purple scallops. I’m going to be starting another piece like this within the next couple weeks to contribute to Tin Cat Cafés IMOG Charity Art Auction this Nov 2006.

(Read on …)

Filed under: work in progress, illustrations3 Comments »

10 Tips for Illustrating Marketable Greeting Cards

By heather at 11:06 pm on Thursday, September 21, 2006

Greeting cards are a lot of fun to design & illustrate… each individual card is your opportunity to tell a short story. It’s like illustrating for a poem within a larger book…you get ONE chance to sell that story. Here are some tips to make your greeting card designs more marketable. (Read on …)

Filed under: business of illustration22 Comments »

Seasonal Greeting Card Tips : New Years

By heather at 11:06 pm on Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Date : Dec 31 - Jan 1
Publishers start thinking about designs : June

(Read on …)

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Seasonal Greeting Card Tips : Christmas

By heather at 11:04 pm on Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Date : Dec 25
Publishers start thinking about designs : June

(Read on …)

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Seasonal Greeting Card Tips : Thanksgiving

By heather at 11:00 pm on Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Date in US : Nov 23, 2006
Date in Canada : Oct
Publishers start thinking about designs : April

(Read on …)

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