Painting mediums from red cabbage waste
Artists Ola Ignasiak and Karolina Gebka – painters by education and founders of SLOW PAINTING STUDIO use food waste to create biodegradable mediums for their artistic practice. The material they work with is the colour itself, which can be applied and used in various ways.
Frustrated with overproduction and green-washing in the fine arts, they began their own search for environmentally friendly equivalents of common art supplies available in stores. Both having experiences within the culinary trade, they have decided to source the colour from the generated food waste of their own kitchens.
For two years they have been researching and experimenting with different kinds of vegetable waste. However, their main focus is on red cabbage containing a dye called anthocyanin. This vegetable is very fertile in colour — many hues and shades can be achieved, only by changing the pH of the material. On the other hand, due to its instability, anthocyanin is rather excluded from application in design and art. In contact with light and oxygen, the colour is changing and fades. The same applies to many other natural dyes — unlike synthetic ones.
Initially, the artists were researching the best natural way to preserve the natural colours, but the process and beautiful transitions of their paintings changed their minds. They observed colours on their samples maturing and evolving, which felt very natural and somewhat familiar. Accepting the change (and consequences of passing time) in their artworks grew into being a mindful exercise and influenced the artists' lives outside of their practice. Coming back to the roots of the history of painting and working according to nature’s laws turned out to be future-oriented. The artists believe that instability in colour can be a great asset to create sustainable and even biodegradable art.
In order to create a painting, one needs a painting medium. At the intersection of art, design and culinary, Ola Ignasiak and Karolina Gebka produce cabbage-waste pigments and make crayons, pastels and paints with them. Their favourite medium is the most simple one - cabbage waste ink - simply cabbage boiled in water.
With their research, the artists ask themselves about the role of contemporary painting and its life cycle. While various industries are innovating in order to find the most sustainable solutions — painting techniques are still mostly about preservation and ‘immortality’.
Artists from SLOW PAINTING STUDIO work with the idea of 'Ephemeral Paintings' — that live, react, breathe, and one day may disappear. Those paintings are not to be owned forever but they are a reminder to be present in the moment and accept the laws of nature.
The two painters from Poland aim to educate and inspire other artists to rethink their creative process to be more planet-friendly. Instead of choosing a medium based on personal preferences or convenience, painters could first find a sustainable medium (available sources of colour, waste, minerals, etc) and then work with it. Additionally, painters from SPS encourage the incorporation of the circular economy into their creative practice. They themselves re-use all by-products of the process; pigment, paint, and crayon creation. Often they become art on their own.
In 2022 they presented their circular approach to colour sourcing and applying during Milan Design Week at the MATERIALIZED exhibition and for the Ethical Colour exhibition and talk in Tucson, Arizona (for invitation from Laura Perryman from Colour of Saying.)
In 2022, they entered the world of start-ups to introduce the idea of healthy painting materials to the Polish market and expand their funding opportunities. They continue to experiment and research the most sustainable solutions for contemporary painters. By purchasing their art, customers invest in ongoing research and the future of sustainable art supplies.
Slow Painting Studio creates painting media with different properties and possible applications. The artists combine their knowledge of painting technology and culinary arts. They cook, pickle, press juices, preserve, freeze, or caramelise. They use the specificity of natural dyes to create an asset.
Ink made from the waste of red cabbage is created similarly to those made from other plants:
The artists clean, sort and grind the raw material. This affects the intensity of the acquired colour – the quality of the ink.
The preparation of coloured ink is very much like the preparation of a broth. The main carrier of colour is water, the pH of which (among other things) determines the colour.
Cabbage leaves are boiled for an hour, and the ratio of raw material to water is 1:2.
The liquid is strained, but nothing is wasted – the remaining boiled leaves are used for other purposes (dried and ground into edible powder).
This is the simplest and healthiest of the developed methods of obtaining colour in the studio.
The resulting ink should be kept in a cool and dark place – like most foods in our homes, restaurants or stores. Stored in such conditions has a shelf life of several weeks.
The artists use the nature of these dyes to create multicoloured colour samplers, and consequently paintings, objects and installations. They only change the pH using harmless ingredients/products, such as lemon juice or soda. Acidification of red cabbage ink results in a warming of the colour (pinks and amaranths are created); creating an alkaline environment leads to a colour shift towards blues, greens or turquoises. The whole process seems magical but occurs in full harmony with nature. Various proportions and thermal treatment methods allow artists to create a full palette of colours.
Red cabbage ink is, in other words, a water-based, transparent paint, suitable for painting on paper, linen, and cotton painter's canvas.
Works created with natural dyes change over time and are not resistant to environmental conditions. Their preservation does not ensure 100% permanence, and the chemical processes to which they can be subjected only make them less natural and biodegradable.
Ink is the base for the harmless chemical reaction – lake pigment making, that artists use to produce planet-friendly painting materials (crayons and paints).
Information submitted by the maker and edited by the Future Materials Bank.
Red cabbage waste, water, alum, sodium bicarbonate, citrus acid